The Power of Perception

Why perceiving it right matters so much.

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”
― Wayne W. Dyer

Imagine you are standing inside a train. Someone hits you quite hard on your shoulder, from behind. How would you feel? Angry, right? You turn around and see that this person is actually a blind man who happened to trip behind you. How would you feel now? Sympathetic, right? Now, you might even extend your hand to help the blind man stand on his feet.

How is it that the same event can cause polarizing emotions in us?

The event didn’t change. But your perception about the event did. This change in perception also caused your emotions and actions to change.

Perceptions are crucial to understanding our emotions, actions, and our personality. In other words, our perceptions define us. If we want a better reality, a better life, we need to strive for better perceptions.

Take the case of the great athlete, Michael Jordan. Every time an opponent “trash-talked” to him, he didn’t react right away, or react like normal people do. He took them personally as a fuel to outdo his own potential. He channeled that “angry” emotion into action that would enable him to beat his opponent in the game. In fact, he excelled every time someone from the other team insulted him.

Instead of reacting normally by “talking back” to his opponent, Jordan perceived a different reality. A reality where he saw himself winning. He perceived “insults” as opportunities to push his potential. This won him victory and respect, many times over.

A winner chooses the perception that propels her to grow, and disregards the rest.

Different people show different behaviors to the same situation. Winners choose perceptions that allow them to respond differently than the rest, and thus behave differently. What allows them to respond differently is rooted in the perception they choose.

A “winner” takes any emotional challenge from an event and uses it as fuel for her growth inwards, towards achieving greatness. The focus in not on the event (or the ‘other’ person) but on the self.

First, let us get a clear understanding of what perception actually is.

What is Perception?

“The quality of your life depends on the state of your mental programming.”
― Edmond Mbiaka

Perception is a way of understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.

It can also be understood as a “programmed response” to an event (a stimulus). Perceptions are prepared responses that come from previous experiences.

If you feel something or have an emotion about an event or a person, you are basically executing an already prepared response. In other others, your brain has identified this event or person as the “past” that has already been “experienced” and thus formed a perception.

Perceptions help us define events to create emotions. Emotions (energy in motion) help us act — be it for our survival or growth. Our actions determine our behavior, and our behavior determines our character, our personality. Perceptions shape our personality.

Our perceptions have everything to do with the choices we make, the behaviors we exhibit, the relationships we choose, and the reality we create. We don’t perceive things in our reality the way they are; we perceive reality the way we are. (Source)

Let’s delve a little deeper in cellular biology to understand perception from a different angle, one that is based on the fact that we (our bodies) are made of systems (digestive, immune, respiration, etc); our systems are made of organs (kidneys, liver, lungs, etc); and our organs are made of cells. So we are our cells. What the cells “perceive”, we perceive.

In his book, The Biology of Belief, Dr. Bruce Lipton explains how cells are involved in turning our perceptions into biology:

“The research (behavioral epigenetics) has confirmed that cells translate the mind’s perceptions (beliefs) of the world into complimentary and unique chemical profiles that, when secreted into the blood, control the fate of the body’s 50 trillion cells. So blood, the body’s culture medium, not only nourishes cells, its neurochemical components also regulate cells’ genetic and behavioral activity.” (Source: The Biology of Belief, Dr Bruce Lipton, Pg 139)

How just how powerful are our perceptions?

Hypnotists told individuals in a trance that a burning cigarette touched them. Though in reality they were touched only with the hypnotists’ fingertips, the individuals expressed a full burn response in the form of blister and wheal and flare (inflammation of the skin). (Source)

For these “hypnotized” individuals, their thoughts affected their reality.

In the well known study “Counterclockwise”, social psychologist Ellen Langer had eight elderly men live in a residential retreat that was recreated with the social-physical environment of 1959. After being sequestered for one week in this virtual 20-year journey back in time, all eight participants showed marked improvements in their hearing, memory, dexterity, appetite, and general well-being. They even looked younger to outside observers who saw photos of them before and after the experiment.

What happened here is that these eight men’s perception of their environment changed, which caused their biology to change.

So there we go. Perceptions are not just concepts, but literally chemicals, proteins organized in certain patterns, affecting our cells and us in specific ways. Mind and matter are one.

How are Perceptions Formed?

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”
― Aldous Huxley

So who/what provides our cells the information so they may be “memorized” as our perceptions? Turns out, this information that turns into perceptions, are our own experiences — firsthand, or those “taught” to us by our teachers, and parents.

In his book, Becoming Supernatural, Dr. Joe Dispenza, explains that all perception is based on how the brain is wired from our experiences in the past (Source). And in his meditation: Changing Beliefs and Perceptions Meditation, he goes on to explain:

“Your thoughts and feelings come from your memories. If you think and feel a certain way, you begin to create an attitude. An attitude is a cycle of short-term thoughts and feelings experienced over and over again. Over time, a series of attitudes together create beliefs. Beliefs are elongated states of being and tend to become subconscious. In other words, our beliefs aren’t always as conscious as we think they are. When you add beliefs together, you create a perception. Your perceptions have everything to do with the choices you make, the behaviors you exhibit, the relationships you choose, and the reality you create.”

Our perceptions are stored in our subconscious. That is why it is our subconscious that runs the show, not the conscious mind.

By the time we are in our mid-30s, 95 percent of who we are is habituated through repetition. This is why it feels normal to keep thinking, acting, and feeling the same way because we are simply a memorized set of automatic thoughts, reflexive emotional reactions, unconscious habits and behaviors, subconscious beliefs and perceptions, and routine familiar attitudes (Source: Supernatural, Dr Joe Dispenza, Pg 138).

A lot of our perceptions are “learned.” Take swimming for example. Dr Lipton explains that the infants ability to swim when placed in water moments after they are born are just as innate as their instincts to suckle, or move their hands away from fire. However, children quickly acquire the fear of water from their parents who instill fear in them when getting close to a pool of open water. Later, the same parents struggle to teach the child how to swim.

This is how “learned” perceptions become so powerful that they override genetically programmed instincts (Source: The Biology of Belief, Dr Bruce Lipton, Pg 170).

A mother’s perception of her environment, in the form of regulatory hormones and emotional chemicals, transfers to her baby even before birth. (Source: The Biology of Belief, Dr Bruce Lipton, Pg 186)

Perceptions are learned by a child from the moment of conception to 6 years of age.

Can we break out of this routine? How can we re-form our perceptions so they can serve us, make us healthy, happy? The good news is that we no longer have to get stuck with our self-defeating perceptions. We can change them.

How to Change/Upgrade Our Perceptions?

“Weak is who permits his thoughts to control his actions; strong is he who forces his actions to control his thoughts.” — Og Mandino

Recall the first hypothetical example of the you and the blind man in the train? While the event was the same, your perception and thus your emotion changed; from anger to sympathy. This shows that our mental model of reality is plastic, flexible depending on what information we feed ourselves through our senses.

Just like searching for a word using the search function in a computer program, our perceptions are constantly seeking events that they can attach to. Stronger the perception, the faster the search results will show up. The results correspond to the emotions we have about the event. And the quality of the results depends on the type of perception (our programmed response) we have.

As humans, we are opportunity seeking beings, and every perception is an opportunity. That is why we try to define an event with emotions. Emotion allow for efficient and powerful action. Emotions come from perceptions.

So, if there an emotion that you don’t want, try changing your perception.

Perceptions are the past. Your past brought you to your present. If you are struggling to go somewhere else, and feel stuck, change your past. In other words, change your perception. Break the pattern. Rewrite your program.

1. Question your perception.

This is the first step.

Improvement always starts with telling yourself the truth, and questioning your perceptions.

It is extremely important to realize that emotions are the product of perceptions, so it is important to “use” them to your benefit instead of falling victim to them. As emotions are energy in motion, they can be hard to stop. So why not use them to your benefit regardless of how bad your emotions make you feel?

While almost all organisms have to actually experience the stimuli of life firsthand, the human brain’s ability to “learn” perception is so advanced that we can actually acquire perceptions indirectly from teachers. We have to question such perceptions, as they could be inaccurate, misleading that habitually engage us in inappropriate and limiting behaviors (Source: The Biology of Belief, Dr Bruce Lipton, Pg 128).

Go against your emotion so you can experience something new. When your experience is new, you gain a different perception. With meaningful experience created by intent, you develop positive and powerful perception.

In other words, if you are feeling low, feel high. If you are feeling angry, feel grateful. If you are feeling sad, feel happy. But how do you make this 180 degrees change?

2. Take action.

This is the trick.

Good emotions are NOT necessary for growth. In fact, any strong emotion, good or bad, is a great ingredient for high achievement. What you need to do is direct your focus from your emotion to your perception. And then act in alignment with this new perception. Taking action will bring you achievement (no matter small or big), which will then change your thoughts and emotions.

When you have the right perception combined by the right action, your emotions will change.

In fact, a lot of successful people have used negative bad emotions to grow individually and collectively. Like Michael Jordan, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Oprah, Jane Goodall, to name a few.

So the key is action aligned with the right perception.

3. Intend and practice.

Just like any habit changes.

This image of the spinning ballerina is a good example that allows your to change what you see using your intention, and thus change your perception. As you can see, our brain is plastic, flexible, trainable, programmable. You can make the ballerina rotate either way.

Practice your perception changes. With focused practice and intention, you will become better in having better perceptions.

Conclusion: Take Control and Become the Driver

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
― Carl Gustav Jung

We see with your brain, not your eyes. Eyes simply send information to our brain. Our brain decodes that information. The program that does the decoding is our perception. And perceptions are programmed, consciously or unconsciously.

Perceptions pick our emotions, and emotions lead to specific actions. Our actions determine our behavior, and character. Perceptions make our character, our personality.

The harder it is to change our perception of something or someone, the more important it is to do so if we are aiming for a winner mentality.

Take control of your life. Take control of your reality. Learn to develop healthy and conscious perceptions of a winner.

Positive perceptions of the mind enhance health by engaging immune functions, while inhibition of immune activities by negative perceptions can precipitate diseases.

Your perception carries more power than your reality.

Your intention and commitment to gain healthy perceptions changes your experiences, starting from the inside. You feel different. This inner feeling, or experience, then changed your perception of what is happening in your outer world. And when this happens, you have awakened…

and this…

…is the power of perception.

One last thing…

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