I was at a house party a couple nights ago when I noticed to my side a gentleman, let’s call him Kenny, whom I’ve met a few times before. I turned towards him and greeted him. He responded to my greeting saying: “you know, every time I meet you, it’s like you’re not impressed”.
Generally people who meet me for the first time get the impression that I’m a friendly guy who everyone enjoys being around. A few years ago I was so far away from this and I’ll talk about how this changed in another blog entry. So if someone tells me that I look like I’m “not impressed” it might normally come as a surprise to me. Not this time though. This time, I wasn’t surprised. I knew exactly what he meant. Because any one remotely interested in NLP would have heard of the notion ‘perception is projection’. The case with Kenny was this concept in action. I’ll explain in a minute.
Now Kenny is a humorous guy and I very much respected the way he addressed me. So I wanted him to elaborate. With a big grin on my face I asked: “what are you talking about man? Look at me, I’m smiling!” He replied: “yes but your eyes are not smiling”. Even though this conversation was had in humor and light heartedness, it had a lot of truth to it.
Our five senses receive millions of bits of information per second. In order to not get overwhelmed our mind deletes, distorts and generalises information.
My mom is an expert on deletion detection. In my teenage years when I’d ask her: “mom, where’s my shirt?” she’d usually answer: “it’s in your closet”. To that I’d angrily respond: “no it’s not!” Then, bless her, and to my embarrassment she would patiently go and pull the shirt out and hand it to me. This is an example of deletion because even when the shirt was actually there I didn’t see it. It’s similar to when you’re looking for your glasses while you’re wearing them.
Distortion is when you interpret an experience or a view similarly to a previous one. An example is when Carry broke up with Mr. Big and she started seeing him everywhere she went. Of course it was only her imagination. (In case you’re wondering, it was a female friend of mine who told me about this episode of Sex and the City while I was wrestling a bear riding my manly motorbike)
Generalisation allows us to remember and categorise what we learned so we don’t have to relearn that, for example, a chair is a chair every time we see a different one. Another example of generalisation is: all men are… from Mars[i]. More on this later.
The way we filter (i.e. delete, distort, and generalise) creates our perception of reality which puts us in a certain emotional state consequently changing our physiology and thus resulting in a certain behaviour. I’ve touched on this very briefly in a previous entry here. I’ll now explain how this was applied to my case with Kenny.
I remember that a while ago I decided I don’t really like Kenny. That was because of a single incident and how I deleted, distorted and generalised information relating to this incident (I won’t go into details because it took place in the men’s room). Of course this got projected into a reality that I created about Kenny being not a likeable person. This consequently resulted in a certain emotional state when I saw him at the party. And this is why my eyes were not smiling even when I put a smile on my face and shook his hand.
This is how it all linked together. My filtering: assigning meaning to the incident -> my perception of reality: Kenny is not likeable -> my emotional state of dislike -> my physiology: eyes not smiling -> my behaviour.
This is why it’s extremely important to understand how our mind filters input from our senses. It’s what starts this whole chain. A life coach or an NLP practitioner should be able to bring to your awareness the details of how your mind filters input so you could influence your own behaviour.
A Side Effect
Because of my own perception of Kenny, my mind started looking for all evidence of why he’s not a likeable guy and hence giving me all the reasons not to like him. It’s very similar to when parents think that their child “could never do it”. They are filtering for evidence that proves them right, and like a self fulfilling prophecy, the child never manages to do it. Similar, are women who think that all men are from Mars. Or men who think all women are from Venus. Every time a Venusian woman meets a man she’ll be consciously or unconsciously looking for proof that he’s from Mars. And as soon as the first, tiniest shred of what she perceives as evidence immerges, she would turn to her friend saying: “See, I told you! I give up. I’m buying a cat”.
First become aware of yourself when you’re quick to judge. Whether you’re judging a person, a thing, a situation, an event etc. It just so happens that this example is about a person. However you can easily adapt this process to change, for example, a crap night out to a blast!
Second, realise that however you perceive someone is actually a reflection of a part of yourself. One time I introduced a friend of mine to another. A few minutes later my friend tells me: “I don’t like this guy. He’s arrogant. But what’s weird is that I think we’re too similar”. My friend later realised that perhaps because he has a little arrogant part within him that he didn’t like my other friend. Imagine if my friend didn’t know what arrogance is. How would he have perceived my other friend differently?
Third, perceive people how you want them to be. Realise that by doing this, you will influence people’s behaviours and get them responding to what your perception of them is. If you perceive them as fun and interesting, they’ll most likely live up to your expectations and be fun and interesting. Remember the last time someone told you: “I think you’re such a trustworthy, hard working person”. How did you behave or project yourself differently after that comment? So next time you meet someone and you think they, for example, are arrogant, decide to treat them as if they were the most humble person you’ve ever met.
Fourth, get ready to meet lots of people that are exactly “your type” and be prepared to make lots of friends!
Fifth, keep it real. Yes there are bad men and bad women out there. Yes there are arrogant unlikeable people or people who just want to hurt you. And that is unfortunately the reality. Be realistic but don’t be too quick to judge. And always remember that perception is projection so there’s always the option that you can create the change you want to see in people around you.
Until next time,
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[i] In no way am I undermining ‘Men are from Mars and women are from Venus’