Through a glass darkly: the dangers of faulty perception

How you see the world determines success or failure.One of the stories that was told in my family as far back as I can remember is that I was the child with “the good brain.”  (My older sisters were dubbed “the no-nonsense one” and “the sensitive one.”)  Needless to say, I liked this particular story a lot, and it’s served me pretty darn well throughout my life.  (Remember, storytelling can be a powerful tool for business development.)

The down side is that I haven’t always filled that good brain with good thoughts.  In fact, I spent years accumulating quite a variety of counterproductive thoughts; now I’m in the process of letting go of them.

You may be in a similar situation, where your thoughts sabotage your success rather than fuel it.  If that’s the case, I’m willing to bet that at least some of your challenges are the result of whacked-out perceptions.

I use the term “perception” to refer to how you deal with information — how you take it in and what meaning you assign to it.  Unfortunately, there are a number of ways in which faulty perception can make succeeding an uphill battle.

Filtering is a type of faulty perception which involves ignoring any information that doesn’t fit in with or support your existing view of the world.  Filtering, also known as selective perception, is a kissing cousin to the Pygmalion effect.  People who indulge in filtering typically approach life by implicitly saying “My mind’s made up.  Don’t confuse me with the facts.”

How does such an approach set you up for failure?  When you filter in only negative information, it can mire you in pessimism and blind you to achievement.  If you tell yourself the story that “nothing good ever happens to me,” you’re very unlikely to notice the good things that inevitably do come your way.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take immediately to combat this negative mental habit.  You’ll do this by taking advantage of a handy paradox:  Filtering can be an extremely powerful success tool if you choose to filter in the right information.

Counterproductive thoughts have no place in a success mindset!

“Must-have” thinking is operating when you view outcomes as needs rather than preferences.  If you fail to get something you’ve told yourself you need, you’ll probably feel helpless and find that your forward motion screeches to a halt.  Failing to get something you “need” implies that you can’t move on because you simply don’t have the required personal resources.

The key to changing this habitually counterproductive way of thinking is to shift your focus from needs to wants.  Although I know from painful personal experience that this is easier said than done, I also know that it’s very do-able.  Here are some specific steps that will help you make the shift.

Demanding perfection is another way to use counterproductive perceptions to set yourself up for ongoing failure.  This mental habit takes a variety of forms: refusing to acknowledge achievements that are good but not perfect; delaying launch of a new product or service until it’s…well…perfect; consistently labeling your efforts as inadequate (or, at best, mediocre) because there’s always something more that you could have done.

When you fall prey to perfectionism, you make it impossible to celebrate your achievement, no matter how significant it may actually be.  You’re likely to get caught in “perfection paralysis,” which means it’s unlikely you’ll ever grow much beyond where you currently are.  Insisting on perfection also often means missing out on opportunities that present themselves.

So where’s the good news?

It is, once again, all in your mind — and in your choice to let go of this success-strangling habit of thought.

So where do you fall when it comes to perceptions?  Do you filter success in or out?  Are you strong enough to work hard for what you want, but not insist that you get it? Are you compassionate enough to appreciate your not-perfect results?  Let me know how you’re using your good brain to create the results you want.

By the way, thanks to jetheriot for posting the brain image in the Creative Commons section of Flickr.

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