Perception and Reality: Never Photographed Together Coincidence? I Think Not.

For the school year 1999-2000, I was the Behavior Intervention Specialist for a start-up charter school in Charlotte, NC.  On paper, I was supposed to teach and reinforce the positive behavior program that the school had adopted, recognizing Kind and Loving Children on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.  In real life, what it meant was that I got to know all the children in the school who had behavior problems Very Very Well.  What started out as a system for accentuating positive behavior and thereby diminishing negative behavior turned into In School Suspension, Out of School Suspensions, endless behavior contracts and bitter, bitter tears.

When the charter school opened, all the elementary schools in the area breathed a sigh of relief as they counseled the parents of their "Problem" Children to "give the new charter school a try.  It might be a better fit for you child and his/her needs."  Of course, what they were really saying was "Don't let the door hit your Little Precious in the ass on his/her way out."  So, we lifted our lamp beside our plate glass door, and the teeming, wretched masses arrived on our doorstep: all the kids with behavior problems from all over the city, all in one place.  Truly a Recipe for Success.

Needless to say, it was a Challenging First Year.  For all of us: administrators, teachers, kids, parents--all of us.  Some of the parents thought that the administration were all Horrible, Horrible people because we were all trying so hard to keep our heads above water that we were, perhaps, not as Shiny and Happy as they would've liked.  One of the Big Bosses came down from Boston to talk to the administration team about some complaints they had been receiving, and our director tried to explain what was really going on and that the parents weren't aware of the whole situation.  And, the rather Smug Boss from Boston put up her wee little hand, and said, "Stop! It doesn't matter what is really happening, because perception is reality."

We all stopped, stunned.  We kinda wanted to throw up a little, too. What does she mean that she doesn't care what's really going on?!  That it's only what the parents think that matters?  We might even have made some Finger Down the Throat Gagging Motions when her back was turned.

But, once I got home (and often right up to today), I pondered that statement in my heart. Like Mary.  And I started to see what she meant.  Perception is reality.  What we think about a something is what is true about that something for us.

I think Gordon Ramsey is a bit of a wanker.  I base this on Hard Facts.  You know, like Restaurant Nightmares and Hell's Kitchen.  But I have no idea what really makes Gordon Ramsay tick.  I'm not aware of what happens in his real life, or even in the scenes on those shows that end up on the cutting room floor.  As far as I know (perceive), though, Dude is a Wanker.

I have never eaten a snail.  But I know that I don't want to.  My perception is that it would be Slimy and Nasty and that I can always go eat something else.  I will never be so Starving, I hope, that I will have to resort to gagging down gastropods for dinner.  I figure that they will be Gross (and don't argue with me--how could they not be?!), and therefore, they are gross.

I used to get very Grumpsome with The Beloved when he would come home from work and immediately begin cleaning the house.  I took it as a Sign that he thought I was an Inadequate Housekeeper, and I would become Tight Lipped and Nasty.  As far as I was concerned, he was making me Feel Bad about my Cleaning Skillz.  When I finally exploded one day and screamed at him about how Inadequate I was feeling, he looked at me like I was crazy (lovingly, though).  Then, he explained to me that he always started cleaning when he got home because he wanted to do his share.  Huh!  Turns out that he was feeling guilty about my having to do a lot of cleaning and What Not!  Once we actually, you know, Communicated, I realized that my perception had been Wrong, but until we talked, the reality was that he didn't think I was a good enough Cleaner.

I get it.  And I've understood the principle for awhile now.  But I had an Aha! Moment just a few days ago.  Does the equation "perception=reality" hold true for how we view ourselves?  My best friend is a delight at parties.  She can flit from one group to the next, putting a hand on a shoulder, saying an appropriate Witty Thing and then moving on to the next group without missing a beat.  She is the Perfect Hostess.  But to hear her tell it, she hates to be in groups and she Sucks at making small talk.  Well, she could've fooled me.  My perception/reality of her at parties is that she is Awesome.  Her truth is that she is Awkward and Dumb.  So, which is true?  I guess both are true.  And I guess she's "faking it 'til she makes it." Even though I think she has already made it.

She tells herself and me and I assume others that she Sucks at making Small Talk.  That is her perception.  But what if she started saying, "I am Awesome at Small Talk!"?  Could the power of her changed thought actually change her perception and hence her reality In re: small tal?

And I guess this is where this whole unwieldy post veers off into Affirmation Territory.  Affirmations are "yes" statements.  That can mean statements like, "Yes, I am amazing," "I am successful," and "I am a confident cook."  But we can also use affirmations to keep us stuck in negative patterns: "Damn, but I am bad at small talk," is nothing more than an Affirmation of Suckiness.  Here are some others with which I, and you, might be Familiar: "I'm fat," "I can't cook," "He/she is Way out of my league," "I am the Worst Dancer." "My job completely sucks the life right out of me."

Thoughts are powerful.  They kinda vibrate with power.  And the power of our thoughts can either lift us up or suck us down.  The Bright Side is that, when we recognize that our own perceptions of ourselves are reinforced by our thoughts, we can start to consciously change those thoughts. And when we change our thoughts, we change how we perceive ourselves. And we make a new reality.

While it is true that perception is reality when it comes to our views of others--people, situations, relationships, jobs--our most potent perceptions are of ourselves.  If you find yourself affirming in the negative, make an effort to turn that around and start affirming in the positive.  And when you can do that, your perceptions of yourself will start to change. And you will build a whole new reality for yourself. One in which you are the Life of the Party.

For several months now, I have been saying positive affirmations every day.  And every so often, I change my affirmations.  I have to, because once they become my reality, I don't really have to keep practicing saying them.  I just have to live them.  As I change my perceptions of myself, I change my reality.

Do you say affirmations?  Are you affirming in the negative without even realizing it?  If you are, how are you going to change those negatives into positives?

Until next time, have a lovely day.



  1. J. Davis says

    I’ll own up to it, I do have some negative perceptions–mostly about work. Up until I read this I really did believe that my perception of work was true because that’s how work made me feel, and all I could do was react, in this case with a negative affirmation. But reading this gave me a new thought: I might not be able to change the negative circumstances at work for me and my team, but I can change how I think of myself in this space. And that is exactly what I’m going to do–find something positive in me to beat back the negative influence, and keep that positive on my side. I’m not in a position to fix the things that are wrong, but I can fix how I react to them.

  2. says

    That’s really interesting. I recently had a similar epiphany at work. I used to send pdfs to someone who requested them, for example, and add a “sorry it took me a bit to get back to you,” not because it was late but because it took longer than I expected (negative affirmation). Over time, I realized that most people have no idea how long it takes me to send stuff, and with the absence of an apology, they probably wouldn’t think twice about how long it took. *I* planted that perception in their head and I could just as easily *not* put it there. So I stopped apologizing. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you can also alter perception/reality by non-action as well, if that makes sense…

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