Discover the Power of Perception

Our perceptions of events that occur in our daily lives have profound and far-reaching consequences. These perceptions predict how we react to various situations. It is always fascinating how several different people can share a similar experience but record quite different perceptions. Each individual reacts in a manner consistent with their previous experiences, culture, beliefs and personal characteristics. In a particular situations certain people feel threatened, overwhelmed or afraid. Different individuals exposed to a similar type of situation perceive an opportunity and feel challenged or stimulated. Often people feel emotionally crushed after an episode of failure or rejection. Other individuals simply choose to reaffirm their commitment and learn from the experience. They recover from the experience stronger and smarter. Why does this happen? Are there lessons that we can learn to cope more effectively with difficulties in our lives?

                             Similar observations  can also be made concerning individual reactions                               to significant  life events. There  is no  particular unique, correct way of                               perceiving  major  life  events.  All  of the different personal reactions to                               adversity  and  life  trauma  are  quite  understandable  and  legitimate.                               Some  ways  that  we  perceive life traumas however prove unhelpful or                               even counterproductive. Distorted, irrational, fanciful or even dangerous                               perceptions  can  cause  all manner of difficulties. Our perceptions can                               significantly compound personal problems or even preclude a solution. Certain perceptions cause us to feel inappropriately guilty, angry or frustrated can cause all kinds of effects long  after  the  initial  situation may have resolved. However understandable they might be, some perceptions can certainly harm our cause.

Conversely, challenging our perceptions can lead to healing and rebuilding. This brief article examines the critical issue of perceptions and their importance in our response to adversity. I hope it will encourage you to question your individual perceptions and learn more about the most vital issues. Some techniques for developing more productive and effective ways of perceiving life events will be discussed to start you on your way. I hope that this discussion guides you towards personal healing and growth. Take the challenge. Thinking differently and more positively might just provide the inspiration that you have been seeking!

Why do different people think and act differently when exposed to certain significant life events? The explanation is fairly complex and depends on many factors. Personality would appear to play an important role but does not provide the whole picture. Several other influences colour our perceptions of the events which occur during our lifetime including:

     Previous experiences
     Influence of parents and friends
     Our culture and beliefs
     Mass media and advertisers
     Our age and sex
     Access to education and resources

When all of these different influences are fully considered, a diverse and complex range of possible perceptions and reactions emerges. In addition, different people filter these different influences and place greater importance on certain ones in particular situations. Teenagers, for instance, often place considerable weight on the opinion of the peer group and may ignore the well-intentioned and informed advice from their family group. In the next section we shall identify some specific types of perceptions that commonly result in problems.

Perceptions that may be unhelpful

When things are not going well, many individuals automatically jump to unreasonable and illogical conclusions. They make statements like "I've failed this time and I'll fail next time too" and "Nobody loves me". When we receive a setback or bad news the temptation to negatively overgeneralise must be firmly resisted. An event is just one small part of the overall picture of life. See the situation in its true perspective.

Loss of Control
Frequently there is a perception that certain difficult situations are completely beyond our control. Specific aspects of the situation may be beyond control but in almost all cases there are critical aspects of the situation that can be influenced in a positive way. People have overcome all different types of adversity including illness, relationship problems, financial difficulties or even disability and reclaimed their lives. These individuals have identified important aspects of their lives which they are able to control and have acted positively and decisively.

All or Nothing thoughts
Very few situations are completely good or completely bad. The same applies to people. Good people sometimes do bad things. Even the worst of individuals sometimes do good things. Life is not black or white. Usually it is somewhere in between. In the real world, positive and negative may coexist. We also need to realize that life is not some exam where we pass or fail. Life is complex and imperfect but still a wonderful journey when seen in its true perspective. A large number of people become involved in a futile search for perfect or unreasonable solutions when the answer may be staring them in the face.

Inappropriate linkage
It is easy to fall into a trap of inappropriately linking things that are unrelated. All kinds of spurious associations, erroneous leaps of faith and conspiracies become possible when we think this way. We need to learn to think analytically and look for evidence before jumping to conclusions. The relationship between cause and effect is often quite complicated. Find out the facts before passing judgment on people or events.

Another common pattern of thinking in adversity is to automatically assume the absolute worst. Many people believe that their problem will spiral completely out of control and cause all kinds of damage and mayhem. Our first instinct is often to think negatively. Things are rarely as quite as bad as they first appear. In the real world, the worst case scenario is a rare event. All situations in life must be seen in their correct perspective.

Blaming people is rarely helpful. Blaming ourselves simply causes guilt and lowers our self-esteem. Blaming other people often makes us angry and frustrated. Blame also damages personal relationships. Without doubt, we should try to understand what has occurred and learn from our experiences. Responsibility can be accepted and used in a positive way. Blaming, labeling people or seeking retribution are unsatisfying, hollow and unrewarding. Blaming provides no answers, only problems.

My problems are permanent
There is an old saying that "Tough times never last but tough people do". Most problems in life are temporary in nature. Even in situations where there has been some life-changing event with long-term consequences, many people are able to readjust, compensate and rebuild. When we experience a setback, there is often a natural reaction overstate the negative impacts. Human beings are remarkably resilient creatures. Never underestimate your ability to overcome adversity. Time is a wonderful healer and problem solver.

Everybody must love me
Sadly we cannot control how other people feel about us. It is their choice, pure and simple. Do not spend your life seeking universal approval. It simply does not exist. First and foremost learn to love the beautiful person inside! Build relationships with quality and meaning with the important people in your life but remain realistic. Other people surprise us and sometimes disappoint us too. Be philosophical.

There is a unique perfect solution to all problems
There are often multiple approaches to different situations. Thinking creatively is often helpful. Don't waste time looking for perfect, painless solutions like 'miracle cures' or 'instant riches'. Perfect solutions are as rare as hen's teeth! Normally there is a price to pay.

Life is fair
In a perfect world, life should be just. In the real world, life sometimes is unfair, disappointing or even cruel. Despite its imperfections life is unique, precious and wonderful. Don't embark on a futile journey for justice. The destination is nebulous and elusive. Embrace life's inherent imperfections and enjoy the journey. Often we are able to triumph over the injustices anyway!

Developing Life-enhancing Perceptions

There are often multiple ways of looking at the events which occur in our
lives. We can simply be negative and defeatist. We can just blame people
for our problems. Such an approach leads us nowhere and is highly
unrewarding. We feel angry, powerless and frustrated. Alternatively, we
can choose to remain positive and become actively involved in learning,
building new relationships and healing our hurt. We can regain control of our
lives and solve practical issues. If we choose the latter course, there
are several different techniques we can use to consolidate our new approach.

1. Spend time with positive people
They do not need to be rich or successful just folks who have a positive approach to life. Individuals who make us feel good and inspire and enrich our lives. Spending time with negative people who are constantly critical is not a good idea. We should however be receptive to constructive feedback.

2. Heal the hurt, don't drown it!
Many people respond to emotional hurt by attempting to dull the senses with alcohol, drugs or even gambling. It never works and only adds to our hurt and alienation. It is always better to acknowledge our pain and seek help to tackle the underlying cause of their suffering. Many people are pleasantly surprised when they chose to follow this more sensible course of action! Frequently people realise that they no longer need to feel negative, guilty or inadequate when their feelings are communicated and understood.

3. Keep an open mind about perceptions
Realise that there are different ways to view most situations in life. Keeping an open mind allows us to see opportunities and other more positive ways to approach life events. Risks and problems may be seen in their true proportion. Sometimes we need to honestly communicate our perceptions to other more positive-thinking people or individuals from an appropriate professional background to appreciate the alternative ways of looking at the situation. Be flexible and question any negative perceptions.

4. Identify positive role models
Try to locate other people who have overcome similar challenges and learn from their experience. You may be fortunate and encounter such individuals in your local area. Often there are prominent individuals in the media who have triumphed over considerable adversity who might serve as appropriate role models. You will probably find the 'In The News' section of a useful place to start a search for positive role models.

5. Learn more about the most important issues
Increasing your knowledge regarding critical issues is often helpful in overcoming negative perceptions and stereotypes. As you learn more about issues, irrational fears and anxieties can often be overcome. There is also an opportunity to see how other people have overcome similar situations. Become an information magnet.

6. Seek professional help
There are a considerable number of people who can help you. In recent years some special techniques called cognitive therapies have proved helpful for many people. You can learn to re-evaluate your perceptions in an alternative and positive way. Ask a trained psychologist or your family doctor.

7. Reinforce positive thoughts and actions
Never become complacent. Maintaining those positive perceptions and attitudes takes patience and commitment. Build on your work to create a happier future.

Good luck and happiness to you!

By Andrew Rylatt (Medical Doctor)
1st April 2004
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