Joseph F. McCaffrey MD, FACS


How Real Is Your Reality?

Here's a concept for you to consider.

Our experience of the world isn’t what’s out there; it’s what we perceive to be out there. That means our reality can be quite arbitrary because we sense the outside world through filters. These filters exist beneath our conscious mind. Most people aren't even aware they're there. Yet they determine just what we perceive and therefore deterimine our reality.

We need these filters – we couldn’t possibly keep track of all the information coming in otherwise.

For example, if I asked you what your right foot feels like right now, you could tell me. It feels warm or cool or you shoe’s too tight or it’s comfortable or whatever. The point is you could immediately tell me. Yet a moment before I asked, you weren’t aware of your foot.

How did that happen? What changed? Is there a little switch in your brain that turned on the nerves to your foot when I asked the question so you could answer it?

No, of course not. The nerves in your foot, and everywhere else, send a constant stream of information to your brain. That information gets filtered out at a pre-conscious level unless you need it – I ask a question or you step on a nail.

The same thing goes on with all your other senses and perceptions. There's a flood of information coming in. Only a small bit that the filters pass along reaches conscious awareness.

This works at a higher level of functioning as well. This filtering is why, for example, you buy a certain make and model of a car and then start to notice all the other cars like it on the road.

I used to drive a green 1994 Intrepid. I still notice green Intrepids of that model when I see them.

The cars like yours were always there – it just didn’t mean anything to you until you had one of them. Before you bought the car, ones like it were filtered out. When you bought your car, your filter changed and you began to see them.

As I began, this means your experience of life isn’t as much determined by what’s out there as by what you perceive to be out there.

Here's something else: your perceptions may well be distorted by your filters.

A real life example of this is a lunch my brother Chris had with a client in New York. They had a lousy waiter. The client was convinced they received such terrible service because he was Jewish. He saw the waiter as anti-Semitic.

Chris just thought the waiter was a frustrated aspiring actor not at all into his job as waiter.

Which perception was accurate? Who knows? We do know that two men sitting at the same table at the same time with the same external events had different experiences based on their filters.

Also, we can be pretty sure that that lunch wasn’t the first time Chris’s client saw life through the filter of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism exists, but it probably doesn’t exist in as many places as he sees it. He might be able to improve the quality of his life if he adjusted his filter somewhat.

There’s a very effective form of psychological therapy called cognitive restructuring that does just that. It’s based on the premise that most emotional distress arises from distorted perceptions and that if you clear up the distortions, the distress goes away.

I’ll teach some cognitive restructuring techniques in future notes. For now I just want you to realize that these filters exist, that there’s a possibility they might be distorted, and, most importantly, that you can change them.

Dr. Bruce Lipton has a fun exercise at his talks. He has the audience select a pair of glasses with either green or red lenses. Then he shows a slide. Depending on which color glasses the audience member is wearing, they see either a friendly cottage and the word “love” or a scary haunted house and the word “fear.”

What they see depends on which set of filters they use. When they change filters, they change their experience.

Most of us develop our filters haphazardly as we go through life. We pick them up from family, the media, early experiences and any number of other sources. We never examine them for accuracy or usefulness.

Now you’re different. You know they exist. That’s the first step to taking control of them and using them to give you the life you desire and deserve.

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