"We see the world not as it is but as we are"
Our beliefs, concerns, fears and moods distort our perception of reality and as
a result we don’t see reality as it is but instead we see it through our own
unique lens. People of
discernment have always understood this fact but those who are
not aware of it are at the risk of seeing a distorted version of reality
throughout their life.
Due to the distortion and deletion of information that occurs when we process
our reality, the information that gets stored in our mind may be completely
different from reality!
The following examples will give you an idea as to how our mind modifies
reality and makes us perceive an altered version of it:-
interpret reality according to our own belief systems. We are always collecting
proofs in a situation that match our pre-existing internal beliefs about that
situation. Whenever we come across information or situations that do not match
with our beliefs, we either delete that information completely or distort it in
such a way that it matches with our beliefs.
For example if John has a belief that “all rich people are
thieves” then whenever he comes across or hears about Martin who is a
billionaire and at the same time very honest, he will forget about Martin
quickly or in extreme cases might even deny that Martin is honest!
This happens because John already has a belief that “all rich people are
thieves” and since our subconscious mind tries
to always hold on to its beliefs, it deletes or distorts all contradictory
So instead of really pondering over the case of Martin that has the potential
of changing his belief about rich people, John rejects this info. Instead he
goes on collecting proofs that convince him about the dishonesty of rich
reality sometimes gets distorted by the things we are concerned about. This is
especially true for the concerns that we have about ourselves. Take the example
of Nick who thinks he is a boring and an uninteresting person. One day he got
an opportunity to have a little conversation with a stranger but the
conversation did not go well. Both of them talked very little and felt awkward
most of the time.
Because our mind always tries to 'fill in the gaps' and explain things that
it’s unsure of, Nick concluded that the conversation did not turn out well
because he is boring.
the other person was shy and so didn't talk much?
the other person was having a bad day and didn't feel like talking?
the other person had an important work to finish and so was pre-occupied with
Nick, out of all these possibilities, choose the one he was concerned about the
can see in such situations we are justifying our own concerns to ourselves
instead of trying to obtain more information so that we can see reality
accurately. Similarly, a person who has doubts about his looks will conclude
that he got rejected because he is not good-looking.
Our concerns do not solely comprise of the things related
to our personality. We may be concerned about other external things such as
doing well in an exam, making a good impression in the interview, losing
weight, etc. When we are concerned about these things, our mind is usually
preoccupied by their thoughts and this distorts our perception.
For example, you may happen to tell a person who is concerned about his weight
“Look at that” but he might mishear it as “You look fat”. This is because he is
obsessively concerned about his body fat! Pay attention to situations where
people say, “Oh! I thought you were saying….” “Did you just say…..” These
usually, if not all the time, reveal the things they are concerned about.
distort reality the same way as concerns do the only difference being that fear is a more intense
emotion and because of that the distortion is more pronounced. For
example, a person who has a phobia of snakes might mistake a piece of rope
lying on the ground for a snake or a person who fears cats may mistake a small
bag for a cat. We've all heard about people who claim to have seen ghosts and
wondered if they are telling the truth.Well here's the answer...
Yes they are! It’s because they ‘fear’ ghosts. It is this
fear that distorted their reality to such an extent. You’ll never find a person
who does not fear ghosts claiming that he has seen ghosts.You might ridicule
these people for being stupid but you also are not immune to such distortions!
Whenever you see a really scary horror movie, your mind temporarily starts
fearing ghosts. This is why you might mistake a coat hanging from the door of
your room or any humanly shape for a ghost!
- Moods and emotional state
perception of situations and other people is not any by any means constant but
changes according to our emotional state. e.g. if you are in a great mood and someone
you barely know asks you to do a couple of favors, then you might be glad to
help. It’s a fact that whenever we help someone, we tend to like that person
especially a stranger.
This happens because our mind needs some kind of justification
for helping a stranger, therefore by making you like him it thinks “I helped
that person because I like him”! So, in this case you judged this person in a
Now what if the same scenario happened but you were really stressed out and
were having a bad day? On top of it a stranger comes out of the blue and is
asking for ‘favours’?! You're like...
“Are you kidding me? I have my own problems to worry about! Leave me alone and
get lost you annoying prick” :)
In this case, you clearly judged the person
negatively (annoying) and it had nothing to do with the other person. Stress
tends to decrease our patience and tolerance. Similarly, when someone is depressed, he tends to
get inclined to negative thoughts such as “there isn't a way out” or “all hope
is gone” and always expects the worse. Even jokes he used to find very funny
don’t seem to be funny anymore.
Is there a way out of these illusions?
The best thing you can do to perceive reality correctly is develop awareness
and open-mindedness. By that I mean not being rigidly attached to your own
beliefs and considering the possibility that you might be wrongly perceiving
It also includes understanding the fact that the way you judge others and the
way others judge you has got a lot to do with beliefs, concerns, fears and
emotional states of the person doing the judging.
Being non-judgmental: How to really stop judging others
What are emotions? The basic
concept of emotions