“The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more than that. It is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition.” -ACIM
Why do you see the world the way you do? How can you change it if you don’t like what you see? According to the current thinking within the field of psychology, the reason we see the world the way we do is the result of how we as individuals sense and perceive information. More formally, sensation is defined as the process by which our sensory receptors, or our senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell), receive and represent stimulus energies from the physical environment in our brains. Perception is then the process of organizing and interpreting the information received by the senses, which enables us to give meaning to the world around us. However, and this is the most important thing to understand, the “meaning” given to the information received by the senses is biased, you decide what it means. Perception is not objective; it is determined by the subjective needs of the individual. In other words, no one perceives the world the same way; how a person perceives, or “sees”, the world is a function of his or her unique set of life experiences (biological, psychological, and socio-cultural). No one sees the world in the same way. How someone perceives the world, therefore, says a lot about that person’s identity, or “sense of self”; or who someone believes themselves to be.
We all have an identity, or a “sense of self”, which provides sameness and continuity in our personality over time. Our sense of self developed as a result of a story authored by how each of us uniquely chose to perceive the biopsychosocial influences we encountered in our lives. The cause of why you see the world the way you do is you. Your perception of the world is the result of your looking upon and reacting to an image of yourself that you created both consciously and unconsciously over the course of your life. The world you see is exactly as you need to see it given who you believe yourself to be. For example, if I believe myself to be depressed, I will see the world in a way that confirms my depression. Depressed people don’t think happy thoughts, or non-depressed thoughts. Otherwise, they would see themselves as not depressed. They believe themselves to be depressed and therefore need to see the world that way as well. And in order to change it, all you need to do is look at it differently; see it from another perspective. Easier said than done? Maybe? But if we have learned anything from Anders Eriksson it’s that practice makes us proficient. The more you practice being depressed the better you get at it, but it is important to realize that the inverse is true as well.
So, why is it hard to change the way we see? The greatest obstacle to change is chaos. As humans, we need sameness and continuity to feel safe and to be able make sense of the world around us. When things don’t make sense our identity is threatened; the world suddenly becomes uncertain and unpredictable. In an effort to restore order, we turn to what we’ve come to believe is certain and stable, the knowing of ourselves. Thus, given the ever changing circumstances we are presented with in the environment, we constantly need to reaffirm who we believe ourselves to be in an attempt to make solid that which is mutable. There is a three-fold problem as I see it, (1) we make things sold whether we want to or not! As we know, reinforcement increases the likelihood of a behavior to occur. Therefore, the more you reinforce your ideas or beliefs you have about yourself, the more likely they will persist, and you subsequently limit possibility for yourself. (2) What happens when you are inaccurate in your perception of yourself? Or when you are not aware of whom you believe yourself to be? It is only logical that you end up building a sense of self based on a foundation of misperception, which can only lead to conflict. (3) The third fold is the most disturbing: Consider that your identity, who you believe yourself to be, is not real, and never has been; it’s simply a story you’ve been telling yourself for years, and you’ve been saying it for so long that it has become true in you mind. And you don’t even realize you were the one who authored it in the first place.
The problem with this way of thinking is that you are getting in your own way and you don’t even know it. Thus, any evaluation you make of your performance is based on false information, and the chances of your performance suffering as a result are very high. By growing your awareness of these blind spots, you can then make an assessment of your performance based on accurate information; i.e. what is actually happening versus what you think is happening. As a result, your chances of improved performance dramatically increase. This is a set up for failure, and it should be to no one’s surprise. Yet people are often amazed when they don’t succeed. Without being able to make this distinction, any change in performance will simply be the result of chance leaving you with either a sense of frustration (not knowing why something is happening) or false hope (thinking you know why something is happening when you really don’t). Either case meets Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results”. In order to make effective change, you have to know what you are changing; awareness is the key to any meaningful change. This requires effortful practice, and a willingness to consider things from a different perspective. Once again quoting Einstein, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them”. If we want things to change we need to be willing to look at them differently.