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A Solitary Figure, Walking Along A Road In The Setting Sun.

The impact of perception on our reality

Perception and reality

Are perception and reality separate? French author Gustave Flaubert once said, “there is no truth, there is only perception”. As attractive and media friendly as that little soundbite is, it’s also rubbish.

Certain truths are objectively so, regardless of perception.  I might genuinely believe the world to be flat. However strong my conviction, in this case my perception won’t make any difference. In reality we know the world to be round (sorry, flat-Earthers, you’re just wrong). I can sail all my life looking for the edge of the world – I’m never going to find it.  Here, perception can’t override reality – the world simply isn’t flat.

So, are Flaubert’s words meaningless? Not at all. He points toward a very important aspect of the human condition – that the way we perceive things influences the way we experience the world. Our perception acts as a filter, colouring the way the outside world affects us, and that’s seldom been as important as it is now.

A choice of reaction

One of the most inspiring people to have lived in the last 100 years, Viktor Frankl, said, “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”. Frankl was a psychiatrist. He was also an Austrian Jew held in Auschwitz in the most unimaginable conditions. The reality of his situation was dire, but he chose to control the filter through which he viewed those conditions. He chose to find purpose in the suffering, even if that purpose was no more than helping the person next to him. If you’ve never read his book ‘Man’s search for meaning’, you should.

Why does this matter now? Well, the reality of the current world isn’t all songbirds and flowers. There is huge suffering, with Covid, war and financial hardship. Times are, undoubtedly, tough. We can’t change that reality, but we can choose the manner of our individual response.

Confirmation bias

You may have heard of something called ‘confirmation bias’. First discovered by Peter Wason in the 1960, this says we tend to notice information which relates to our pre-conceived ideas. If you believe most cars are red, you’re likely to notice red cars more than other cars because every red car confirms your existing bias. And if you believe, like an episode of Dad’s Army, that ‘we’re doomed’, you’ll find plenty of war, poverty, illness, and even still-lurking Trump-based evidence to prove you right. But if you believe that things will improve, that there’s still plenty of good in the world, you’ll be surprised how much proof you’ll find.

The implications…

“What’s this got to do with money, Jon?” I hear you cry. OK, fair one, so let’s bring it together.

If, in most cases, there is no objective reality, the way we view the world is dictated by the lens we create. Our brains take our very limited view of the world, and they fill in the gaps for us… with a more than decent dose of confirmation-bias thrown in there.

Those lenses are often developed early in life and can be quite hard to alter once in place. Quite hard, but not impossible. We work with people on a daily basis to do just that! Why not get in touch and see if we can help you too?

Jon Dunckley

Jon Dunckley is an author, coach, trainer, and keynote speaker. With nearly 30 years' experience, he holds multiple specialisms across financial services and psychology. A fellow of no fewer than seven organisations, he is widely sought after for his keen insight and motivational keynotes.

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