You’ve heard it before, “perception is reality”. This isn’t just true in specific situations, it is always true. We as human beings don’t actually own reality as such. We all see things, hear things, feel things, experience things a bit differently. As much as we try to perceive the pure essence of something, the more we become aware of our perceptual filters. Our prior experiences, prejudices, and conditioning all impact and influence our perceptions. The old notion of “rose colored glasses” makes the point well – when wearing them, everything is filtered through those lenses. Everything appears “rosy” as it were. That filter necessarily changes how we view the world. So the notion of “it” being “what it is” suddenly sits on some very shaky ground. “It is what my biases and past experiences tell me to perceive” – though not as marketable a sound byte – appears to be more accurate.
Why pick on a common expression? What did “it” ever do to me? Because perception is reality, and perception is necessarily influenced by many things. Therefore, so is “reality”. And “it” is all about reality.
Humans routinely distort our idea of reality based on our beliefs, expectations, past experiences, and so forth. Facts don’t typically change people’s minds so much as we disort our perception of facts that don’t fit our prior expectations.
Now we have a still-greater evolved version of our expression: “It is what I expect it to be.”
So now I feel more bold in asking, “It is what it is…or is it?”
How do those rose colored glasses get formed? Milton H. Erickson MD pioneered modern hypnotherapy, and in Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP), we refer to the above phenomenon as “The Milton Model” in his honor. Well, more than honoring him, we are describing a model that he used in creating hypnotic experiences for his clients. Through Distortion, Deletion, and Generalization, we alter our perceptions to match our expectations. Let’s very quickly (too quickly to capture the feel meaning, so we can revisit this later on – or you can just agree to only use these where they are useful, and know where they aren’t.)
Distortion may be self-explanatory – we distort or tranform the information we perceive to match our expecations, commonly referred to as our “Map of the World”. Likewise, when we process information that doesn’t match our Map of the World, we can just ignore it, omit it, or delete it from consciousness. Some have called these “inconvenient truths”. Generalizations are a little more, well, generic. Think of words like “always” and “never”, and you’ll start spotting where you, as do all humans, generalize. The trick is to only generalize, delete, and distort where it makes your life better – not any place it limits you or challenges your success and happiness.
Consider this contrast between two generalizations, one that could help you, and one that might limit you. “I always find a way to make things work!” and “I always screw things up once they start going well for me!”. Neither is absolutely true, only perhaps in some circumstances. After all, take the most successful people in the world, and when you look closely, you will recognize that they, like the rest of us, are often not successful, just as they often are successful. So that first generalization, while not necessarily true in all circumstances, certainly could give you the inner strength and access to your creativity in such ways as to bring out your very best. It’s also what in NLP we call a “useful” belief – whether or not it’s objectively true, it has value because it’s useful to hold such a belief.
What about that second generalization? What do you think would happen if you believed that, once things started going well, you would ultimately screw things up? How likely are you to persist when things get tough? Moreover, how likely are you to persist when things are going well? Remember, it’s still a generalization, certainly not true at all times and in all circumstances. Sure, we may have all been guilty of it at some point, but to imply that it always happens, or that we never do things right are generalizations and something we could never prove. As much as you might hold to such generalizations, our lives are filled with counterexamples.
Worse, that second generalization has the potential to zap our enthusiasm, our ambition, our drive, and perseverence. We may believe it, though we’re already clear that it can’t be proven, and while possibly true at times, is certainly not true always. However worse than being a generalization, the real challenge is that it’s an unuseful belief. Believing it has great potential to limit our success in whatever endeavor we’re pursuing. See? These Deletions, Distortions and Generalizations are not always bad – that itself would be a generalization, wouldn’t it? In fact, if you choose examples that serve you, that support your ambitions, your endeavor, you actually are leveraging the power of your mind to do more than you’d perhaps believed possible. That’s the power of a useful belief – whether or not it’s actually “true”.
So that’s just three ways we can taint our perception of “what’s real”. And if “reality” is so prone to manipulation, what can we trust? Well, what if we architected our own reality, one that doesn’t infringe upon that of others, but enables us, equips us to achieve as much as we can, to find the love of our lives, to raise the greatest children, to create the most fulfilling career or vocation, and to ultimately lead lives that we would call “excellent”? What if?
What if we refused to acknowledge “it is what it is” and instead influenced ourselves for a change, offering ourselves a useful set of deletions, distortions, and generalizations? What if we created a truly wonderful reality to live and work within?
What if we started…right…now?!