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“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

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 Arthur Schopenhauer, Studies in Pessimism: The Essays

Perception is a funny thing. We all know that things like our environment, experiences, thoughts, and feelings influence the way we perceive and interact with the world around us, but often we don’t stop to consider how exactly this fact is reflected in our everyday lives. A simple example is the expression, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” We generally have an easy time agreeing with this statement, but will still feel pretty strongly that our opinion is the most valid. We say, “He is ugly” and not “In my limited view, he does not appear attractive.”

By that same token, we are often our own worst critics. Someone with low self esteem gazing into the mirror is more likely to notice the pimple on their nose or bags under their eyes than the silkiness of their hair or shapeliness of their legs. They are more likely to zero in on specific, negative aspects of themselves rather than taking a step back and seeing the whole, beautiful picture.

But perhaps someone pays them a compliment that day, or something good happens to them at work. Maybe with their improved mood comes a boost in confidence, so that the next time they look in the mirror, they are feeling pretty ‘fine’ indeed. The only thing that has changed is focus, and it can just as easily change again. Negative emotions can cause us to narrow our field of vision, and positive ones can cause us to widen it.

Similarly, someone who believes that only bad things happen to them is more likely to take note of every negative occurrence and forget or dismiss the good. The events which are in line with that belief hold a more prominent role in their mind, thereby reinforcing it further. It becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

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But sometimes our ability to focus is important. If we were to pay attention to every detail of all the things we come across in a day, we would simply become overwhelmed. Our brain’s ability to filter out the unimportant is what allows us to actually function.

But what if we’re filtering out the wrong things?

There is no such thing as ‘reality.’ There is only your reality, which is defined by your worldly experience (or lack thereof).

Obviously we cannot make a decision without considering our own experience. Nor can we afford to consider every single variable for every single decision – sometimes we need to make snap choices, and the ability to do so is important. What we can do is take the time to reflect on our opinions and feelings about things, keeping some of the below biases in mind. Do you truly believe that all people of < insert race, gender, occupation > are lazy? Or did you encounter someone like that and formed an opinion based on that limited experience? Do you truly think that climate change is nonsense, or have you only looked at information which supports that belief?

It’s important that we take the time to make conscious, informed decisions about the things that matter.

Take a look at the chart below and see how often you fall into these perceptual traps! For the placebo effect, click here for more.


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