Perception and Reality: What’s What?

You know what’s real, right? Your senses connect you to the world; we see sunsets, hear music, and pet the cat. So how can different people look at the same object, person, or event, and come away with different perceptions?

To explain how we get information, Reality Therapy uses the model of a perceptual system containing filters. First is a knowledge filter: through it we identify things. For example, there’s a prototype picture of a cat in your mind; when you see a cat, you recognize and identify it. There’s no “good” or “bad” attached; it’s just information.

A higher-level filter—the valuing filter—puts a value on your perception. Now, a cat is not just a cat! Cindy perceives the cat as a sweet, cuddly delight while Jane perceives an uncontrollable, frightening monster. In reality, it’s the same cat. However, perhaps because of pleasant cat-related experiences, Cindy’s perceptual value of the cat is different from Jane’s.

The values that we place on our perceptions influence how we behave. Reality Therapy is all about improving relationships, and positive or negative perceptions play a huge role in the quality of relationships.

Alicia and Allison were asked to attend a gathering of people neither had met before. Alicia looked forward to meeting people who might become friends. Allison felt she had to go but wasn’t happy about it.

What happens when Alicia and Allison arrive? Alicia perceives that she’s in a room full of friendly people she wants to meet. She smiles, begins introducing herself, and chats. When a new acquaintance mispronounces her name, she jokes, “It’s A-Leash-Ah!” By the end of the event, she’s met many friendly people and made plans to meet again.

Allison perceives that people look at her critically. When someone asks, “How did you know about the event?” she perceives that as suggesting she doesn’t belong. “Well, I was asked to come!” Allison huffs. The event reinforces her perception that strangers are not welcome.

If you habitually put excessively negative values on your perceptions, you’ll feel dissatisfied. Perceptions such as, “nothing is as good as it used to be,” or “everybody puts me down” can lead to habitual unhappiness.

It’s hard to change perception directly, even when you know it would help you. As Dr. Bob Wubbolding says in Reality Therapy for the 21st Century, “Only through a change in behavior, i.e. acting differently, or thinking differently, do we gain new experience or new information which will result in a changed world view.”

So, one method of changing a perception is doing something differently. Say you perceive that people are unfriendly. If you want to change that perception, why not try a change in your behaviour? Act as if you expect people to be friendly; see what happens. Does anything change? You are welcome to let me know

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