Why Can You Achieve Your Goals More Easily? (By (Simply!) Changing Your Perception?)
“I 5 sensi sono ofitiali dell' anima.” (The 5 senses are the ministers of the soul.)
— Leonardo da Vinci
People react to the same occurrence in innumerable ways. The incident does not determine our reaction to it. The way our senses perceive and store information can often determine how a person proceeds and reacts to an experience. Understanding how we can influence the processing of sensory information can help us better achieve our objectives in our everyday lives. Let’s look at Eva B, for example. Eva has been able to accomplish dealing with Ms Monster, her boss. You will meet Eva and Ms Monster momentarily.
You will learn below how our sensory information is processed and why knowing how to alter this sensory information can immediately assist you in implementing positive change. The easy-to-learn and fun-to-do exercises will get you sailing on course immediately. Bon voyage.
Control your Inner Balance – make sense of your senses
So, in other words, the five senses (or modalities) – visual, auditory, touch, smell and taste – convey information to the “soul”. Significantly, it is how this sensory information is processed by the ‘soul’ that can cause us to interpret the world in a certain way and, consequently, behave in a manner which, ideally, will help us to achieve survival. For our purposes, the ‘soul’ (anima) or inner personality can refer to one’s map of the world, point of view, reason, mind or judgement.
During this processing, the sensory information can become deleted, distorted or generalised. This enables our lives to continue on their merry ways without overloading our senses. There is nothing wrong with this per se, since otherwise our brains would become bombarded by too much information to process.
This process is how our neurology ticks; it is how we are wired. It is not the senses that misinform, it is what happens to the conveyed sensory during processing. Goethe said: Die Sinne trügen nicht, aber das Urteil trügt.—The senses don’t deceive, our judgment deceives.
Understanding the significance of sense perceptions and how to potentially use this to our advantage can help us enormously in our daily affairs.
How? Let’s briefly explore how states, such as anger or happiness, can be created. One’s emotion and behaviour can be a result of how the sensory information is mentally represented in sense perceptions because this is how experiences are defined and represented. When we know this, we can determine how we react in given situation.
Eva B. and Ms Monster morphs into Ms Chihuahua: what’s in a name anyway?
When experiencing an event, our brains, or more specifically, our neurology, might search for similar past experiences. This perpetuates our survival and helps us avoid making the same mistake. Although the context of a present experience may be different, sense perceptions for similar events can be recalled and can influence how a person acts in the present situation. Although it is designed to protect and help us, this reaction might be completely inappropriate and disadvantageous.
One of my coachees, Eva, used to regularly experience “serious and emotionally devastating issues” with her boss. It became so bad that Eva even referred to her boss not by her actual name but as Ms Monster when speaking or thinking about her. Eva’s description of her boss was so graphic and precise that you could almost see smoke and flames pouring out of the Ms Monster’s mouth, nostrils and ears. You could hear her shrill voice berating you. Whenever Eva thought about her boss, she envisioned a towering, shadowy image. She would cringe. Her body became tight and rigid. She would internalise her boss’s criticism and, in turn, berate herself. Eva’s boss, from Eva’s perspective, lost her human qualities and appeared to Eva as a monster.
Is it really any wonder then that, considering Eva had these sensory images of Ms Monster wired into her neurology, she would lose both her self-confidence and motivation to move forward in her career?
This negative imagery had a devastating effect on Eva’s well-being. My goal was to help Eva reshape how she viewed her boss, so I proposed an exercise: “Eva, for the next two weeks, whenever you talk or think about your boss, I want you to refer to her as Ms Chihuahua.”
Eva immediately burst out laughing and said: “I feel better already.”
The goal here was to help Eva learn how to reshape how she viewed previously negative people, things, or experiences. Just the simple act of giving a previously scary mental image a humorous name helps the brain think about it differently. It helps to “recode” or “rewire” the memory.
In the follow-up session, Eva described a spontaneous encounter she had several days before with her boss, Ms Chihuahua.
While this normally would have been a very unpleasant encounter for Eva, Eva was pleasantly surprised that she was better able to assert herself. Her negative physical symptoms had almost subsided. What previously would have been a negative encounter was now, Eva was pleasantly surprised to find, a lot more manageable!
Since re-naming her boss Ms Chihuahua., Eva’s other sensory perceptions automatically changed. To Eva, Ms Chihuahua automatically changed: she seemed pale, smaller, and less overbearing. Her voice was timid and hardly audible compared to the “Ms Monster” voice before. ‘Now she is sort of Chihuahua-like’, quipped Eva with a wry smile.
Whilst Eva and her boss may well never become regular dinner guests at each other`s home, the initial indication is that Eva can now better cope with situations involving her boss.
Give it a try - become in tune with your senses and learn how they can assist you.
The following process demonstrates how your sense perceptions can impact your state, and how you, by changing the original sensory perceptions of an experience, can better determine and influence the state you wish to achieve. (From Systemic NLP and NLP New Code, Dilts/DeLozier)
Sit down in a comfortable place. Take several slow, deep breaths. And relax. Recall a pleasant experience you often think about. See yourself in this experience. Picture it vividly. When you are ready, try to answer these questions. How do you know it is a good memory? How do you know it is not a disagreeable one? What do you see, hear and feel? Notice how your body reacts to it. Are you calm or tense?
Now tweak the memory a bit. Imagine the room is darker, or brighter. Make the visuals brighter, darker or lighter. Change the colours. Increase the size to larger than life. Imagine the volume of any sounds getting louder. And then softer. Play a melody in the background. Notice any changes in your feelings? In your body? Do you feel warmer? Or lighter? What about your posture? What about your facial expressions? Experiment in a variety of ways and try to determine which changes in stimuli act as ‘triggers’ by changing your perception of the event in a beneficial way.
Perceive how these alterations affect what you are feeling and perceiving. If you determine that certain sensory combinations make the experience even more pleasant, then you can benefit from a pleasant experience by recalling the event in this new way.
Now break this state (by moving around or shaking your body) and think of an unpleasant experience. How did you know it was an unpleasant experience and not a pleasant one? What did you see, hear and feel? If you remember the experience in colour, make it black and white and then shrink down the size so you can hardly see it. Recall the sensory perceptions from the pleasant experience you have just re-visited and use the ‘pleasant’ sensory perceptions in place of the unpleasant ones.
Compare your present sensation about the event with the way it was before. Have the pleasant sensory perceptions made a positive difference? Is it any easier to cope with the negative experience?
As with many exercises, it is often helpful to repeat the same exercise again.
So even if it was successful the first time, I propose that you repeat the above several more times in the near future in order to better ingrain the new perceptions of the event in your neurology.
This does not change the memory into a ‘lie’ or something you have to run away from. It simply changes your perception of and perspective on the situation or event in order to for you to better manage the stored perception. Remember, stored perception is already only a subjective and often distorted interpretation of what actually happened and nothing more. So why not alter it to your advantage?
Some Final Thoughts
Von den Sinnen her kommt erst alle Glaubwürdigkeit, alles gute Gewissen, aller Augenschein der Wahrheit. (All credibility, good conscience, and evidence of truth first come from the senses.)
— Friedrich Nietzsche
Coaching clients are keen to tap into their reservoir of talents and resources which they all know they have. Becoming acquainted with the power of sense perception and practising these methods have often proved helpful. The exercises are easy to learn and can be done on one’s own.
Being aware of this and then experimenting with altering the sense perceptions might just tip things in a person’s favour, even if the event is long past and stored in memory.
Indeed, experiments by Drs Joseph LeDoux and Karim Nader and others indicate, contrary to the held belief that memories were written in stone, that it might be possible to reshape memories. According to LeDoux, “when you retrieve a memory it becomes unstable and new information can be incorporated into the memory at that point”.
How can this help you? As we have already learnt, it is not necessarily the event itself which determines our reaction and behaviour but rather, how we perceive and remember the event. Eva’s boss, Ms Monster, morphed into Ms Chihuahua. The scary, inhumane, monstrous boss became meek and human. This name change triggered a change in Eva’s perception: her boss was no longer the monster with throbbing nostrils emitting flames but was shrunk down to a meek little runt. Eva was able to better assert herself in workplace interactions. By having achieved this, she may better be able to counter the workplace bullying which she obviously perceived and thus concentrate more on achieving her career goals, which is her top priority.
No exercise offers the silver bullet for all problems on the road to success. However, using this simple mind-trick might provide you with motivation to move forward. Cheers.
Bibliography & Further Reading
The Emotional Brain by Joseph LeDoux, Phoenix (1999)
The Scientist Magazine, March 2009 Issue, https://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/27171/title/Manipulating-Memory/
Systemic Neuro-Linguistic Programming and NLP New Code by Robert Dilts and Judith DeLozier
Tranceformations by Richard Bandler, Copyright 2010 by HarperElement
HUFFPOST, 25th May 2011, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/joseph-ledoux