Altering Reality Through The Power of Perception

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How different would our lives be if we could manipulate our perception of the reality, the shade of the lenses, and change how we feel and think about practically anything? Based on personal experience, I’d argue that at least partially – you can.

Marketing to ourselves

Psychologist Daniel Schacter defines perception as the organisation, identification, and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the environment. Apart from our sensory experience we also perceive ideas, concepts, things, people, and literally everything around us. It’s how we make sense of the chaos and complexity.

Advertisers spend billions to change the perceptions and associations we have for their products. When most people think of Coca-Cola, they don’t think of a sugary brown liquid. Instead, they think of something extremely refreshing, perhaps a summer day with friends, or the Santa Claus smiling broadly.  And Apple’s Mac isn’t just a piece of metal with software for many of its users, it’s an artefact of a certain way of life and a part of an identity. Those associations aren’t an accident. They’ve been carefully crafted in quirky agency meeting rooms filled with bean bags in order to link the brands or products to us through emotion and intentional associations.

The good news is that we can use those techniques from the world of marketing to alter our perception of a variety of concepts and turn life more enjoyable and productive. Before we look at ideas on how to change our internal dialogue, however, it might make sense to examine what could we even do with our newfound power to alter perceptions.

Dishwashing for relaxation

Imagine a large pile of dishes waiting for you in the sink when you come back home after a long day at work. The grease has dried up and you can sense the bacteria building a colony in the tomato sauce, inviting guests for their housewarming party. Dishwashing was certainly not my favourite chore out there. However, once upon a time on a cold winter day I came home with my hands completely numb and noticed that doing the dishes with hot water was actually a pleasant experience. That made me wonder whether I could alter my perception of washing dishes completely. Transform it from a chore into something I like (or at least don’t mind) doing.

In general, I’ve found it most useful to apply this reality distortion to either (1) things we can’t avoid facing and cause negativity, or (2) things that might be good for you yet seem negative. The list of things is endless but let me give you some ideas.

Examples of things that are hard to avoid and perceived as negative:

  • Vacuum cleaning
  • Boring part of a job (adding notes to CRM / ESP)
  • That annoying colleague next to you
  • Homework from school
  • Dealing with taxes
  • Bad weather
  • Self-trait you see as weakness (e.g. height)

Examples of things that are probably good for you but perceived as negative:

  • Running in rain
  • Eating broccoli
  • Reading books relevant to your work
  • Uncomfortable conversations  (the useful kind)
  • Cold showers
  • Writing thank you notes regularly
  • Following up over phone on job applications

The roadmap for altering reality

The first step to most change is to understand where we are now. In the case of perceptions, you need to map out the existing associations with a specific concept. As an example, I’d  associated washing dishes with being: annoying, cumbersome, dirty, time consuming. No wonder I wasn’t keen on it!

After acknowledging the current through patterns, we can question their validity and the underlying beliefs behind them. Is washing dishes really that time-consuming? Turns out it took me about 7 minutes on average, so that was quite easy to debunk. Annoying and cumbersome? Not if was listening to good podcasts while doing it. Another example could be associating running in the rain with catching a cold. Why do you believe this, because it’s common knowledge? A quick reality check tells otherwise and at least according to LiveStrong’s review of scientific studies, it’s not being in the rain that increases the spreading of viruses – it’s the cold and people being stuck indoors contaminating each other.

The final step is to adopt a marketer mindset and rebrand your target concept with more positive but believable associations. For example, with dash washing I purposefully started associating it with: quick, relaxing, a chance to learn, and clean (by focusing on the result).    To help with advertising this new rebranded concept it helps if you journal about it regularly, talk about it, and build habits that support the adoption.

To go further even, you can use Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) techniques popularised by Tony Robbins and work on the associations on a thought level. Below is a bastardised version of the exercise I’ve found helpful, but you can read more about the full version on NLP Wiki.

Altering perception through NLP 

  1. Close your eyes and think of a something you enjoy (e.g. pizza)
  2. Notice what does the image in your mind look like. Is it video or still? Black and white or with colour? Where is the image located in your mind? Are there sounds or smells?
  3. Now think of something you would like to enjoy but don’t (e.g. broccoli) and do the same steps as above.
  4. Finally, purposefully take the characteristics of your desired concept and implant them onto the disliked one, perhaps making it brighter and more colourful.
  5. Repeat step four regularly distilling this new image in your mind until it’s automatic.

Alchemist’s dilemma

By mastering the inner interpretations you become the alchemist of your own life, capable of turning dust into gold. But do you want everything to be gold? It’s worth differentiating between things in and out of our control. You can’t do anything about the weather so it makes sense to change how you view it to be more positive. But if your boss treats you horribly for no reason, should you change your job or change the perception of that person?

When it comes to people, give everyone the benefit of doubt and they might just surprise you. When they don’t – at least you know you did your best to help them be their best self before quitting on them. Just like you, they are the products on their perceptions.

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