Reality Check: It wasn’t what I expected

The other day, I was giving a presentation in an unfamiliar room using an unfamiliar computer. For some reason, my presentation wasn’t working quite right. While it looked more or less the way it should, the system wasn’t responding as I expected; my usual shortcuts weren’t working; things just weren’t right.

I fiddled and fussed a bit, but carried on.

During the break, one of my fine young participants gently took me aside and pointed out that I wasn’t using the software than I normally use.

Huh! Suddenly it made sense. With a few adjustments, everything was back to normal.

The mind-boggling aspect of this little episode for me is that even though the evidence was clearly indicating that something was different, it didn’t register. Reality was giving me feedback, but I wasn’t taking it in.

Why not?

It wasn’t what I expected to see.

I had a fixed view of what I use and how it works. It’s worked before; I expected it to work now. Despite evidence telling me, “Something has changed!” I kept expecting it to be the same.

There is a real world out there—people, situations, and things that exist. Yet, that’s not what we perceive. Choice theory tells us that our senses provide us with information about the real world, but that information gets filtered by our “perceptual filtering system.”

That’s pretty fancy language. What does it mean in practical terms?

We gain knowledge through our perceptions. Fortunately, we perceive much of the world in pretty much the same way; both you and I perceive a chair to be a chair; we don’t perceive it to be a turnip.

But we don’t all perceive everything in the same way. One way to explain those differences is that our sensed information is filtered. Choice theory refers to one of those filters as a “total knowledge filter” which compares what we’ve sensed to what has meaning for us.

There are three possible outcomes:

  1. If what we sense has meaning, it becomes a perception which we then assess for value: positive, negative or neutral.
  2. If what we sense might have meaning, we investigate further.
  3. If it has no meaning for us, the information basically goes nowhere.

So, my eyes were providing information to show, “This is not what you usually see.” Yet, that didn’t take on meaning for me until my participant pointed it out.

What’s the bigger picture here?

When we have fixed expectations, we can sometimes mistake those expectations for reality, even when the feedback we get says, “No, this is different.”

I like to think that what I see is reality. But it’s being filtered—by me. It’s easy to forget that. So I’m grateful to have had this little reminder about my own perceptual filters.

This also provides insight into why people sometimes seem to be wearing “blinders.” For example, why would some parents persist in believing that their teenagers are studying with friends, when evidence clearly indicates that this isn’t so?

Why do some people live beyond their means, even though evidence is telling them, “You’re broke!”

Why do some spouses completely trust their partner when evidence indicates that their trust is misplaced? Or vice versa?

Have you ever said, “How could I have been so blind?” Then you know that just because something is in front of our eyes doesn’t mean we see it.

Do you find it difficult to recognize the feedback that reality provides for you?

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