"Perception molds, shapes, and influences our experience of our personal reality,” says Linda Humphreys, PhD, a psychologist and life, relationship, and spirituality coach. “Perception is merely a lens or mindset from which we view people, events, and things.”
In other words, we believe what we perceive to be accurate, and we create our own realities based on those perceptions. And although our perceptions feel very real, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily factual.
Dr. Humphreys says that our past experiences greatly influence how we decode things. Certain people, things, and situations can trigger you to interpret things through a positive or negative lens based on those past experiences.
If you’re the type that leans more toward the glass-half-empty perspective, don’t worry. Although it does require some work, your perception is something you can change because we choose how we see things. That power is in your hands (er, mind).
Keep reading to learn more about the pros and cons of this way of thinking, how it impacts different areas of life, and what actionable steps you can take to change the way you view yourself, other people, and life in general.
The pros and cons of negative perception
Your perceptions influence all areas of life. "The totality of your perceptions— regarding yourself, your life, life in general, others, and so on—creates and impacts your personal reality and ultimately your experience of life," Dr. Humphreys. "Specifically, your perceptions affect the quality of your experience of life." So, if you perceive things in a positive light, you’ll experience a happier existence.
Perception informs your relationships, too. “If you constantly perceive people (your boss, teacher, parent, sibling) as always being against you, you will most likely react in a defensive, combative, negatively reactive, and victim-like way,” Dr. Humphreys says. “This way of perceiving people can lead to experiencing intense levels of unhappiness, and both inner-personal and outer disturbances.” On the flip side, perceiving people through a positive lens leads to experiencing higher levels of joy and inner peace.
Furthermore, Kevin Gilliland, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist, mental health expert, and executive director of Innovation 360 says, misperceiving certain situations, likely because of previous negative experiences you’ve endured, can also cause you to miss out on some fantastic things life has to offer, such as promotions at work or romantic relationships.
Fear also influences the way we view things, but that’s not always a bad thing. “If our perception is based on fear, then we may end up avoiding things that we misperceive as dangerous when in fact, they aren’t,” Dr. Gilliland says. “At the same time, our perception of a situation may keep us safe from harm.” To distinguish between the two, question how accurate your perceptions are or are not.
How to switch to a more positive perception of life
1. Take personal responsibility
Changing your perceptions requires that you, first and foremost, take responsibility for your past unconscious reactions, Dr. Humphreys says. It’s only then that you can begin to see people, events, things, and even yourself from a more neutral or positive perspective.
2. Have compassion for yourself and others
Shifting the way you view the world is no easy feat, so it’s essential to be patient and gentle with yourself. “Have compassion for yourself as you work [on] taking proactive steps towards perceiving your reality in a more conscious and empowered way,” Dr. Humphreys says.
She also notes that the changes you make in your perception may even ruffle other people’s feathers, so express compassion for them, too. Your growth may be a catalyst for their growth as well.
3. Have a willingness to see things differently
Change of any kind, Dr. Humphreys says, requires willingness. Often people say they want to change, but they aren’t actually prepared to make said changes. So having a desire to see things differently is a vital component. This readiness, Dr. Gilliland adds, creates room for us to learn and create new perceptions.
4. Activate your pause button when triggered
Whenever you feel triggered by someone, something, or some situation, Dr. Humphreys suggests "hitting pause" and taking a moment to breathe and ground yourself into the present moment so you can choose how you will respond from a more empowered place.
And if a few deep breaths aren’t enough to help you shift, don’t be afraid to give yourself a grown-up time out. Dr. Humphreys recommends letting other people know that you need some time to process things, and you will address the issue at a later time.
5. Enlist support
We’re so accustomed to perceiving things a certain way that sometimes it’s difficult to see our blindspots and where perhaps we’re not looking at things in the most favorable light.
That’s why Dr. Gilliland suggests running your perceptions past someone else. Whether it’s a trusted friend or family member or a professional such as a psychologist, talk to someone who can help you see things from a different perspective that you might not have thought of before. “It’s the only way we improve our perceptions and reduce the number of mistakes we make,” he says.
6. Look for patterns
“We all have patterns,” says Dr. Gilliland of the way we perceive things. To spot those patterns, he recommends asking yourself if other independent, objective people would look at the same situation and come to the same assessment as you have.
This practice will cause you to think more critically and less emotionally, and open you up to notice things that you may have initially missed because you were caught up in your pattern.
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