Perception is Reality; Not really

You’ve heard it said, “Perception is reality.” What that means is how someone experiences something has a huge impact on their thoughts, emotions and behavior but, make no mistake about it, perception is not always reality.

Take two people who experience the very same thing but react completely differently. Suppose they are turned down for the same job. Let’s suppose one person decides to go back to the interview team to learn what he or she can do to perhaps get that job in the future. Imagine the other person sees the situation as a confirmation that he or she doesn’t have what it takes because in the past they’ve not gotten what they wanted.

The reality is exactly the same for each person – they were turned down for the same job – but each person’s interpretation is what impacts their future reality. From How-To Guide for Generations at Work by Robby Slaughter and Nancy Ahlrichs, it says “Most importantly, perception is reality. A strong conviction about a colleague’s perceived opinion has more bearing on a person’s actions than the truth.”

Reality can usually be measured and agreed upon. It’s truth. For example, the sky is blue. The colors that come through the atmosphere produce a prism of light we’ve agreed to call blue. You can call it green, red or anything else you want but the reality of the light emanating from the sky is the same.

Another reality is 2+2=4. You can wish it were something different and even call it something different but that doesn’t change the reality that having two items and adding two more means you now have four items.

Fortunately you can change your perception of situations! The famous American philosopher and psychologist William James said, “The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

In other words, we may not change reality but when we choose to change how we think about reality, that choice can transform us.

Here’s a great example. In the spring of 2011 storms and tornadoes ravaged the Midwest. Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Joplin, Mo., were two communities that were devastated. In that one quarter State Auto Insurance lost more money than in any previous year in the 90-year history of the company! Employees were down because the focus was “the worst quarter in the history of the company.”

John Petrucci, my boss and VP of Sales at the time, took a different approach. He started telling people it was the best quarter in the history of the company! You see, when people buy insurance they’re buying a promise – a promise that the company will be there to help when misfortune and tragedy strike. John’s view was, “This is the best quarter in the history of the company because we’ve never been able to fulfill our promise more than in this quarter!” That different viewpoint began to lift people’s spirits and that was important because we needed to be at our best physically and mentally to help our customers who needed us.

Is perception reality? No, because reality is neutral. How we interpret reality is entirely up to us. We need to make conscious choices to let go of thoughts that are not true and all too often hold us back.

Let me end with a quote from Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right.” Which will you choose?

4 replies
  1. Caroline Foote
    Caroline Foote says:

    Kudos to your old boss! That was exactly the right response to rally the troops. When you work for an insurance carrier, responding well in the aftermath of disaster is what gives our work purpose and meaning.


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