We are not very good at perceiving things as they are. We habitually add an interpretational layer to events and we unconsciously pay more attention to details that fit with the narrative we are currently invested in while overlooking or downplaying any evidence to the contrary. An insecure person is overly sensitive to other people's judgment of them, and an overly secure person tends to be oblivious to criticism.
Reality distorting lenses
I like to think of continuous and persistent misinterpretation of reality as lenses that distort events in a specific and predictable fashion, just like wearing someone else's prescription glasses. If you ever fell in, and then out of love you have a first hand experience with what it's like to have such a lens standing between you and reality. While you're in love you have a filter between you and your loved one; this filter lets in proof that this person is the best person ever, while simultaneously filtering signals that may indicate you two don't really match. Something about that person that could normally turn you off would be practically invisible to you when you're still in the swooning stage. Even if you're aware that that something may bother you in anyone else, you'd find it incredibly hard to imagine being bothered by it with this person. In bojack horseman it was beautifully put: 'When you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags'. Eventually though, reality will start seeping through, the swooning phase will dissipate and you may find yourself disillusioned as those various flags start on taking different colors than you initially imagined. Even if they are not entirely red flags, the disillusionment can be very hard to get over as you realize that this perfect person you fell in love with is just a human being.
False perception carries a price. When we don't perceive things how they really are we operate under false information and false assumptions. We are slow to react to events that require our attention, or we are react disproportionately and cause more good than harm.
Let's examine another lens, one that is surprisingly common even with very experienced individuals. That's the lens of having no control over our circumstances and surroundings. It's the intuitive sense that as an individual you'll always be fated to be the way you are or that you're going to be. You'll be as out of shape as your dad. You'll have that passive aggressiveness of your mom. That's your destiny. Donning such a lens would make it a psychologically monumental challenge to actually follow through the actions required to overcome these self fulfilling prophecies, such as maintaining a work out regime. During my time working at a large corporation I saw plenty of otherwise capable and creative people who persistently failed to engage their enthusiasm and creativity. This stemmed from the feeling that they lack any control over how the company operates, that the culture is as it is and the power structure is as it is, so any attempt at changing it is futile. This lead to people passively sitting in meetings that they knew were a waste of time, because they felt like any attempt at change would be at best pointless, and at worst risk their own position on the cultural ladder. Similarly, I've encountered plenty of team leaders who hold a deep conviction that the composition of the team, the existing processes and bureaucracy and the nature of the project are static realities. They see little point, or even don't see at all the potential of trying new ways of working or seeking out and solving problems with how the team operates. When people feel that they can't make a change they tend to go through the motions and take no risks. They rarely come up with creative solutions to the problems their team is facing. It's not due to some lack of creativity but rather due to the psychological barrier that is placed when they perceive things around them to be more permanent than they actually are.
You can be an incredibly creative and effective team leader, but if you wear a lens that makes you believe that things are "as they are" then you will never realize your full potential.
What's the solution then?
It's almost impossible unfortunately to completely eliminate all lenses, or even recognize all the lenses.
That doesn't mean that it isn't impossible to gradually "flatten out" these lenses and significantly reduce their impact. In a follow up article I will outline what I believe is the way to achieve that.
In the meantime, just being aware that we habitually don't perceive things as they really are is a first powerful step at reducing the impact of these lenses on our lives. I invite you to identify some of the lenses you are wearing and examine the depth to which they influence and dictate your decisions and relationships. You'd be surprised how deep it goes.