“Your perception is not reality” is a phrase I often hear and repeat myself. It’s a great expression to help illustrate a false reality. For ourselves, a reality we may sincerely believe yet doesn’t hold true for others.
Until recently, I never really dug into how our realities come to be and what their implications are. As it turns out, getting to the core of these perceived realities opens a world of opportunity and growth, and requires changing how we think.
The Harm of Our Realities
What we experience, pay attention to, act on, and respond to allows us to make theories and judgements. Those theories and judgments, over patterns of repetition, become our beliefs. These beliefs, however, are built by our limited set of experiences, and are further limited by what we pay attention to within each experience.
Given ten people with the exact same experience, their beliefs may be completely different based on what they notice. While they may experience the same thing, they may see it entirely different. Expand this across a lifetime of experiences, and you fundamentally have different beliefs for different people.
While they may experience the same thing, they may see it entirely different.
Here, conflict arises when we confuse our beliefs with reality. Particularly when we try to compare our version of reality to someone else’s. Based off different experiences and observations alone, they will not align. It’s not to say we’ll disagree, we simply won’t understand one another as we’re viewing our situations from different points of view. When we attempt to align our realities, we tend to argue over who is right and wrong rather than recognizing our realities may be inherently different, and valuable.
Instead, we need to use these differences to learn about the other. To leverage the situation and understand how we can challenge our existing beliefs. We need to, for all intents and purposes, change how we think and create our beliefs and subsequent realities.
Adopt a Beginner’s Mind
One of the best ways to challenge our beliefs and change how we think is to recognize the unconscious process in which we create our beliefs today. If we realize our beliefs, and therefore our realities, are shaped by our past experiences and that those experiences are different for everyone, we should understand and accept when someone else’s beliefs differ from our own.
When we notice a difference in beliefs with someone we should adopt a beginner’s mind. A mind that is open, eager to learn, and lacks of any preconceptions. A mind that, even as an expert, treats any new beliefs as a beginner’s mind who knows no difference. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, while in the expert’s mind there are few.
Given a beginner’s mind, we should ask questions and seek to understand someone else’s beliefs. We should ask what events took place that shaped their beliefs, and how might we share the beliefs had we shared a similar experience? We should ask them for their goals and frustrations, and what they hope for in a given situation. These questions should be asked genuinely, honestly, and acceptingly.
By showing respect, we earn respect.
By showing respect, we earn respect. Withholding judgement and being open allows us to expand our understanding and provide clarity to another’s beliefs. Perhaps more importantly though, we treat others are they are meant to be treated, as rightful human beings.
Attack the “Obvious”
In addition to recognizing a difference in beliefs, we should also look to recognize when we have a sense or feel as if something is “obvious.” Obvious is based on our beliefs, and as our beliefs can differ from others based off our experiences so can what we perceive as obvious. Any sense of obvious warrants further exploration.
For example, it’s not unheard of for the solution to a problem to actually make the problem worse. To solve the problem, we have to take a closer look at the solution and what beliefs led us there. Doing so requires us to challenge our existing beliefs.
In this scenario we can form a new, relatively random, hypothesis and test it. The beauty is, we don’t have to believe a hypothesis in order to test it. We can act as if we believed it were true and see what happens. If it works, great! If not, we dust ourselves off and try again.
When we’re stuck and need to change, we should try something random. In the process we will create a different outcome and provide a new lense to learn from an existing situation. A lense that allows us to make different theories and judgements, and create new beliefs.
The Importance of Liminal Thinking
The idea of challenging my beliefs and changing the way I think was highlighted when I read Liminal Thinking by Dave Gray. It’s an excellent book and one I wish existed earlier in my career.
In the book, Dave describes liminal thinking as a way of navigating change by opening the door to ambiguity and uncertainty, and by exploring the boundary between the known and the unknown, the familiar and the different. He describes a mentality of courage. One that, as our beliefs are threatened we should resist the urge to defend them, and instead embrace the fear, introduce some chaos, and seek to challenge our beliefs and change how we think.
If this resonates with you, as it did with me, I can’t recommend the book enough. It goes far deeper into how our beliefs shape how we think and what we can do about it. Dave gets to the core of our emotions and provides a framework to create the change we want by changing the way we think. It’s excellent!