Dr. Ken Larsen
In our efforts to maintain or regain mental health and happiness I believe it is important to understand the internal processes that influence why we do what we do and why we feel what we feel.
A cornerstone of understanding ourselves is to study the differences between “sensations “and the subsequent “perceptions” that guide our choices in behavior.
William James, recognized as the father of American Psychology, devoted three chapters of his monumental book, “The Principles of Psychology”, (first published in 1890.) to what he described as the functions of sensations and perceptions and how they are different, and why it is important to understand the difference.
Most succinctly we can describe sensations as the data gathered from the real world outside ourselves through our senses. Sensations are what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch.
The information from our senses is then interpreted by what we already know about the world around us, and by what we value and believe about that world. This interpreted data is what we call “perceptions”. What is most important to know and remember about perceptions is that we put them together ourselves, we construct them in our mind to form what Dr. Glasser called “the perceived world.”
It is this perceived world that is more real to us than the real world because it is what guides our choices as we relate to our external world and all that this world contains, especially our relationships. We’ve heard the expression “stinkin thinkin”. This is a way for us to sabotage ourselves with our own thinking.
If this is true, the good news is that we can change our “stinkin thinkin” by changing what is going on in my personally constructed perceived world.
I experienced a major “Aha!” in my life when I first saw that our perceived world was an internal construction based on my past experiences, what I have learned, what I value and believe. The corollary to this insight is that if my learning or my values or my beliefs are shaping perceptions that are not needs satisfying, I can change. Changing my perceptions changes my behavioral choices, and changes my experience of the world I live in.
An example of how wrong perceptions can lead to tragic consequences is the death of George Washington. He had what started out as a sore throat. Physicians were brought in to treat the sore throat. One common treatment option in those days was bloodletting. “Bloodletting was based on an ancient system of medicine in which blood and other bodily fluid were regarded as “humors” that had to remain in proper balance to maintain health.” In Washington’s case, this bloodletting killed him.
Physicians saw the symptoms. They then formed a perception of the cause of those symptoms, which led to an ineffective, even disastrous, treatment.
The lesson for all of us is that if what we are doing is not getting us what we want, we can pause, step back and evaluate how our internal beliefs about reality are influencing our choices. Based on new insights, we can change our behavior to more effectively get what we want. Or we can change what we want, based on a new understanding of what is motivating us.
It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean. Tony Robbins