Reality Check: Does thinking make it so?

“.. for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Shakespeare’s famous line elegantly expresses that different people perceive things in different ways. In this case, Hamlet expressed that he perceived Denmark as a prison; others didn’t share that perception.

We get information about the real world through our senses: we see, hear, touch… That information is processed through our personal internal filters, which choice theory refers to as the “perceptual system.” It plays a major role in how you and I can see the same real world, yet perceive it quite differently.

Take weather, for example. Some folks love hot and humid weather, but for others (possibly including me) that weather is the source of a litany of complaints, ”The heat makes me tired; I feel sticky; It’s hard to get anything done.”

Is perception involved? That is, does thinking make it so?

Try this experiment: Picture your friends at the lake, but you’re at work (it doesn’t matter what workplace.). You don’t want to be there, but you have to finish seemingly unending tasks before you can leave. It’s hot, humid, and sticky. How do you feel? Miserable.

Now, picture this: You’re at the lake. Your friends are at work. You have food, adult beverages, and there’s nothing that you are required to do.  It’s hot, humid, and sticky. In spite of the heat, you dash around playing a game with the kids. How do you feel? Excellent!

The weather is identical in both pictures. What’s the difference?

In addition to the information coming through our senses, we also perceive how well our basic needs are being satisfied.  In the work picture, there’s a perception of being trapped and powerless; your needs, especially your power need, are not being met effectively.

In the lake picture, many basic needs: belonging, freedom, having fun, even power, are met easily.

Great! All we need to do is spend our days having fun at the lake and there will be no griping, eh? Unfortunately, that approach (no work, therefore no money) puts those basic needs in severe jeopardy in the long run!

When our basic needs are not met, we become uncomfortable and dissatisfied. Add sweltering heat or other unpleasantness, it’s even more difficult to feel good.

If you can find ways to satisfy your basic needs, you may be able to respond to a less-than-ideal environment with more resilience.

For example, to improve that work picture, break your work into small steps that are possible to complete, so you can satisfy that power need with the feeling of accomplishment.  Recognize the control that you do have over your situation.

I know that some women of “a certain age” choose to refer to hot flashes as “Caribbean moments,” welcoming them as a reminder (or a fantasy) of a vacation rather than viewing them as a disturbance.

Thinking warm (or cool) thoughts won’t change the temperature, but it might change your attitude toward it. Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself. Do you think you can change your thoughts to perceive hot weather as a tropical vacation?

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