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What is Perception and Why Should it Matter?

What is Perception and Why Should it Matter?

We can all relate to an instance where time has flown by in the blink of an eye where hours felt like minutes. 


Perhaps this was when you were working on a project at work, playing sport or knees deep in a night out with your best mates. I think we can also relate to minutes feeling like hours being stuck in long traffic jams or waiting in an orderly standstill British queue. 


This is all down to your perception.


How we see and understand what occurs around us—and what we decide those events will mean.” - Ryan Holiday


Time has a nifty habit of doing the opposite of what you want, the more you beg it to speed up the more the clock hand seems to petulantly resist. This is perhaps the downside to enjoying the hell out of your life… it seems to flash before your eyes (definitely worse problems to have). 


Your perception though isn’t just limited to how you experience and process time, it is the lens through which you see the world. If you have ever tried on a friend’s glasses and seen the world through their perspective you will know how disorientating seeing the world through the wrong lens can be. 


The great thing about being human is that our thoughts and emotions are choices.


We can choose to see the good in something, we can choose to see the silver lining in a cloud. 


When you're hungry, stressed and you've just been shat on (either figuratively or literally) it may feel like you have no choice but to break into an emotional outburst showing that brick wall who’s boss by breaking your hand on it.


While it can definitely feel like you don’t have a choice, I would encourage you to dig a little deeper. 


Viktor Frankl is a testament to this. Over the 1940s Frankl spent time in four separate Nazi Concentration Camps and was the only survivor from his family. I recommend checking out his book based on his theories from his time in the camps, ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’.


Frankl wrote: ‘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.’ 


He was able to cultivate this opinion based on his experiences of suffering which dwarf the suffering felt in everyday struggles. 


Through his perception of his reality, he was able to find meaning through his suffering. 


In this way, Frankl believed that when we can no longer change a situation, we are forced to change ourselves. So many situations we face are completely out of our control and are only really made bad by our thoughts and reactions to the situation. 


Ryan Holiday writes in his book ‘The obstacle is the way’ - “There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.”


If you have ever checked out Stoicism you will be familiar with this concept. 


Situations are neither good nor bad, we as people make them so through our lenses and the meaning we give to situations.


A car breakdown for person A could be met with elation that they are finally able to justify getting rid of an old rust bucket and replace it with a newer model however for person B they could be seething at the inconvenience and the time wasted spent waiting for breakdown recovery. 


This example lends itself to the circumstance each person is in but if we strip it back everyone has the choice available to them to think rationally and calmly and to choose to focus on solving problems. 


If you look at a task as a mountain that must be climbed in one go, undoubtedly this will lead you to freak out about how insurmountable the task ahead is.


Instead, if you break it down into small bite-sized chunks each manageable in their own right it is simply just a case of shooting the ducks that are in front of you and before you know it you will be looking down from the summit of the mountain with great satisfaction.


Haitians have a proverb that translates to ‘Beyond mountains, there are mountains’. You must learn to enjoy the process and realise that when you do reach the summit it will soon be time to climb again. 


While it may sometimes be testing we should all try to shift away from perception and into observation. 


Perceiving relies on our subjective emotions which can be deceiving. 


With observation, we can use logic to make a rational decision and choose how we feel about something. 


This gives us the freedom to choose how we think and feel which is so liberating.


With this in your tool kit, you no longer need to live in dread or fear of disaster or worry about the worst-case scenario which so many are guilty of.


Instead, you can remain in the present knowing that if issues do arise the one thing you do have control of how you choose to perceive and observe them giving you the best chance to handle them as the best version of yourself. 


You can use a bit of mental hokey pokey in order to find the lesson or the purpose of the pain caused by an event or issue.


Great questions to ask yourself are ‘What can I control in this situation?’, ‘What can I learn from this situation?’ ‘’Is my perception of the situation helping me or hindering me?’.


“Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.” – Marcus Aurelius


Mindset is such a powerful tool to play around with and in many ways, it can be the secret to living a fulfilling and empowered mind. 

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