Change your perception. Change your reality and life.

Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions – not outside.

Marcus Aurelius

Perception can be defined as the way you think about or understand someone or something. It is a position, an attitude, or interpretation of events. It determines the way you respond to a given stimulus. Your perception in life is determined by your past experiences, values, beliefs, and overall psychological makeup. In short, your perception is your reality. It is the way you see the world. It is your life. However, you can change your perception. Just like looking at a photo from another angle, your point of view on life can be modified as well. And, if you change your perception, you change your reality, and in turn, you change life.

In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen R. Covey discuss what he calls the paradigm and how to make a paradigm shift to better your outlook and your life. A paradigm is basically one’s perspective and perception. He gives a great example of a lesson taught at Harvard. In this lesson, students were divided into separate groups. The first group looked at the photo below. They were asked to continually look at this picture and focus on it.

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The second group was asked to look at this next image. They too were asked to focus on it and keep it in their minds.

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Finally, the two groups reconvened into one and were shown the following picture.

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Invariably, the individuals overwhelmingly saw the same image that they did initially when observing this third photograph. The group who observed the young woman pic first, saw a young woman. The group who observed the elderly woman, saw an elderly woman.

This exercise, while simple, is a direct reflection of our perception, how we create it, and how it determines what we observe. It was used by the professor to show that two people can observe the exact same thing, have differing opinions and interpretations, and both be right.

So what does this mean and what does it have to do with your life? Think about it. Think about the way you deal with adversity. Think about the way you deal with a differing opinion. How about rejection? How do you deal with that? More importantly, how do you perceive yourself? Are you athletic? Are you a problem solver? Are you a screw up? Are you being too hard on yourself? I am guessing that you probably are.

The good news is, if you work on changing your perception, you will deal with all of life’s issues and stresses issues in a much more empowering way. Here are the steps you need to get started:

  1. Become Aware – The fist step is that you need to be aware that it is happening and when it is happening. Mostly, you need to be able to gauge when your perception is creating your problem and your stress. Feel it, see it, and then prepare to modify.
  2. Have an Open Mind – Once you are aware, you need to mentally view all your options. Ask yourself, how can I view this issue differently? Be open to suggestions. You’re much more creative than you think.
  3. Redefine – Add a definition that’s empowering. Instead of a co-worker being a jerk, label them a friend sharing their opinion or problem or weaknesses. Instead of a constantly nagging spouse, label them someone who is seeking communication and validation. The difference in words drastically affects perception.
  4. Practice – Practice this method daily, even to your self and in insignificant situations. Work on it while reading, watching a television show or the news. Heck, our current political climate is a great time to practice!
  5. Empowering Self-Talk– Once you have outlined some empowering perspectives and perceptions, engage in self-talk everyday to change your beliefs and even modify your values. For example, if adversity brings you down and causes you to ball up, use self-talk like “There are no problems. There are only challenges. And I dive head first into challenges and solve them quickly.” Something like that. Obviously, it has to be something relevant and empowering to you, but you will want to repeat this at a minimum every morning and every night multiple times with an exciting tone. Feel it. Believe it. Become energized with it. Over time this practice will modify your innate beliefs.

Now make no mistake, I am not telling you to be a pushover. I am not necessarily saying to get rid of your convictions. However, I am telling you to be mindful. Be empathetic. Empower yourself. Our perceptions can easily get us into trouble or cause stress that isn’t needed. It can make you see and interpret problems that aren’t even there. In fact, you may just find that this way of thinking will help you find ways to actually eliminate the problem and the stress. It could give you a new strategy and new motivation. Like Ryan Holliday quotes in his book, The Obstacle is the Way, stop looking for angels and start looking for angles.

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