Our experience of the world has little to do with what is actually happening, and everything to do with how we interpret it. What does that mean practically, and how can we use that to our advantage?
The only thing we can control in life is our response—period.
We can’t control the wind or rain or snow or sun, but we can control whether we b*tch about it or revel in its wild glory. We can’t control if someone cuts us off in L.A. traffic, but we can control whether we start cursing and honking, or simply shrug it off and continue in a peaceful state.
So how can we learn to harness this and use it to feel better? First of all, it is critical to understand why we perceive things the way we do. Everyone has an emotional home, and we manipulate our perception of the world to help us go there.
It might be time to change your address.
What does that mean? It means that every person has an emotional state they return to frequently because it is familiar and fulfills a need. That emotional home directly colors our perception so that we can easily get back to where we feel “comfortable.” The way we perceive things is directly connected to where our mind wants to go to feel safe. It might sound crazy and strange, but by golly, it’s the truth.
Mine used to be fear, and then it became anger. There were years of my life where I spent the majority of my waking hours in a constant state of anxiety. “What if” was the dominant precursor to all of my thoughts, and my brain became quite good at sending me into extreme states of distress by focusing on all the bad things that could possibly happen. This was further propelled by my incessant caffeine intake and lack of food that led me into a state of being vāta deranged and physically depleted.
What happened next was I started to become angry. Fear is an emotion of uncertainty, and anger is extremely certain, so I used anger to manage my fear. I was tired of being scared and uncertain, and at some point my brain figured that anger was an effective way to overcome uncertainty. So I got pissed.
How did I get here? Through my perception.
It was not a good pattern and certainly not one I recommend to anyone. But the truth is this: I unwittingly chose to interpret events in a way that would lead me back to an emotional home that was fulfilling a need that wasn’t being met. We do it all the time and paying attention to the way we interpret events can provide powerful insight into what our emotional needs really are. It is also an opportunity to tease fact from fiction.
Every emotion we generate is our brain’s attempt at meeting a need, and we must learn to untangle habits from helpful, reaction from reasoning, and perception from reality.
We have two choices: change our perception or change our response. I am not telling you to ignore your perception, because we need this to help us make good choices. What am saying is we must learn to discriminate bad patterns from real warning signs.
Is your partner consistently letting you down? You have to figure out if it’s because they are not the one for you, or if it’s because you are putting unreasonable expectations on them. Does them not returning your call mean they don’t care about you? Or does it mean that they are stressed out because their workload is overwhelming? That is for you to determine and decide, and understanding how your perception colors your judgment is a powerful tool for making decisions from a place of clarity rather than confusion.