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Recalibrate Your Reality

Wish you were better/smarter/stronger/faster? Sure, hard work helps, but the truth is your self-perception may be getting in the way. We all form our own realities, and those realities aren’t perfect. Your self-perception can be very limiting, and shaking up your notion of the world can do wonders for your productivity, creativity, and happiness. Here’s how to recalibrate your reality.

Remember the last time you lost confidence after your boss was disappointed in your work — or maybe you were stood up by a friend? You second-guessed yourself after that, and ultimately your work or personal life suffered.

The idea behind recalibrating your reality is pretty simple. When you get locked into a view of the world you get stuck in routines and you lose sight of different viewpoints. Recalibrating that view can help you solve problems, win arguments, and even be happier. But how do we actually do it? We’ll take a look at a few of the different methods you can use to recalibrate your perception of the world and yourself, but first, we have to understand how we perceive the world to begin with.

The Basics Of How We Perceive The World

To get a grasp on how we perceive the world, I talked with David Eaglemen, neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine and author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain and Timothy Wilson, psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Chance.

In a literal sense, you can’t perceive much more of the world than you already do. You only perceive what you really need in order to survive. David Eaglemen explains:

We open our eyes and we think we’re seeing the whole world out there. But what has become clear — and really just in the last few centuries — is that when you look at the electro-magnetic spectrum we are seeing less than 1/10 billionth of the information that’s riding on there. So we call that visible light. But everything else passing through our bodies is completely invisible to us.

Even though we accept the reality that’s presented to us, we’re really only seeing a little window of what’s happening. There’s so many examples of this, but one that’s interesting to third-graders, but also neuroscience is optical illusions. [Illusions demonstrate] that these really simple things that you think are going on in front of you are not actually representing physical reality but instead your brain is constructing something.

Our construction of reality shapes and alters our view of the physical world. It also limits our cognitive ability because we weigh our views more importantly than others. Timothy Wilson explains:

A lot of this happens unconsciously. We don’t know how much we’re interpreting. The world presents itself like it’s reality and we don’t know how much we’ve already filtered that. There’s a psychologist name Lee Brosan who calls this naive realism. We perceive the world as real, but we’re doing a lot of spinning as the information comes in. He talks about it as a real impediment when we’re in an argument because each person sees the world as real and thinks the other must be crazy or deliberately trying to destroy things when in fact they’re just trying to bring their own expectations and facts to the table.

Recognising this limited view is the first step. David Eaglemen describes this as the umwelt: the assumption that our reality is the only reality out there. He suggests the first thing we have to do is recognise our umwelt.

The key is when you appreciate the umwelt it gives you intellectual humility. You realise that even though you assume this is reality, there is so much you’re not seeing and so much that’s a part of other people’s reality. The usefulness is recognising this humility when making a hypothesis.

Recognizing our own umwelt can help us recalibrate our version of reality and start looking at the world in a new and different way. Most of us can’t do this by flipping a switch and require some exercises to get our brains into the habit of looking through other perspectives before making choices. Let’s look at some of the ways you can utilise and act on this idea. Photo by neuroticcamel.

How To Alter Your Larger Outlook

One of the biggest reasons to recalibrate your reality is to attempt to expand your world outlook outside of yourself to help you become a better communicator and expand your problem solving ability. This is easier said than done. Let’s look at ways you can actually implement it in your day.

Wait Five Minutes Before Your Response

One regret most of us have is our stupid responses during debates or heated arguments. To help cure that and give yourself time to think, 37signals author Jason Fried suggests a simple approach: give it five minutes. He describes a situation where he was arguing with a speaker at a conference who eventually offered him this advice:

He said “Man, give it five minutes”. I asked him what he meant by that? He said, it’s fine to disagree, it’s fine to push back, it’s great to have strong opinions and beliefs, but give my ideas some time to set in before you’re sure you want to argue against them. “Five minutes” represented “think”, not react. He was totally right. I came into the discussion looking to prove something, not learn something.

Many arguments don’t offer the luxury of a five minute response, but others, like email, social networks, or even conferences, give you plenty of time to formulate your response and recalibrate your reality before you say something stupid. Simply letting ideas settle in will inevitably force you to reconsider your own viewpoints, weigh them against your own, and give you an opportunity to come up with a better response. Photo by Valentina Powers.

Force Yourself To Think From Alternate Points of View In Monotonous Situations

It’s not all about making yourself better at arguing a point. It can also be used as a form of stress relief for daily annoyances. In his commencement speech given to the graduating class at Kenyon University in 2005, author David Foster Wallace talked about the dangers of self-centered worldview and the importance of disrupting our “default setting” and views of the world by considering other options.

His suggestion is pretty simple. When you get annoyed at a situation or another person, think about why you would do what they’re doing. For example, if you’re in the checkout line and a woman smacks her kid, consider how you would end up in that situation. Alternately, if someone cuts you off in traffic, imagine why (or even when) you’ve done the same thing. Putting yourself in that mindset can change your view of a situation. As Wallace points out, doing this on a regular basis disrupts your default-setting and makes you more conscious of the world around you.

Write Out Your Day From Another Point Of View

In his book, Timothy Wilson talks about the importance of writing things down as a means to understand different perspectives and one way to do that is to take a look at your day — whether that’s work, your creative life, or happiness — from the third person. He explains:

Some researchers have developed a method where they say, if something is nagging at us, write about it in the third person so we can look at it as objectively as we can as opposed to immersing ourselves in a negative experience. That kind of distance can be really helpful to change our story and to look at it in a new way and give new meaning to it.

I think I try to do this sometimes. I remind myself that my interpretation of something is just that — an interpretation. It’s not the only way. Sometimes it’s good to to look at a situation the opposite way as an exercise.

Writing out your day from a different point of view will give you a unique perspective of your situation and can help you pinpoint where a problem is.

This isn’t just about altering your view of the rest of the world though, it’s also useful to recalibrate your perception of yourself. Let’s see how you can do it. Photo by vtsr.

Alter Your Perception Of Self To Expand Your Notions Of The World

As we’ve seen above, we see the world through our own set of filters, but changing and recognising those filters isn’t too difficult. More difficult is editing your self-perception in order to change how you view the world. It’s a bit difficult to imagine changing your own view, but here’s a few ways you can do it.

Edit Your Own Story

One of the central themes in Wilson’s book is the idea that you unconsciously form your own narratives that frame the world and shape your sense of reality. Like any story, these narratives can be edited with a technique he calls story-editing.

The goal of story-editing is to change your personal interpretations of yourself and the social world to make yourself happier. One way Mr. Wilson suggests doing this is using the Pennebaker Writing Exercise. The process is pretty simple.

  1. Find a quiet, private place to write.
  2. Commit to writing about a problem for fifteen minutes a day for three consecutive days.

Each time your write about a stress or problem, you reveal more and can subsequently edit your version of the story and understand it more. It’s the same premise as the five minute idea mentioned above. The writing exercise creates a self-assessment of your view and helps you consider other sides of a problem. This helps you interpret yourself differently in the social world and can provide insight into how you umwelt affects your decisions, creativity, and productivity.

Change How You Present Yourself

New research from Northwestern University suggests that you may be influenced by how you present yourself. The researchers call this “enclothed cognition” and theorise that clothes have an effect not just on how you’re seen by the world, but also how you see yourself. Basically, you can alter your self-perception and subsequently your reality by wearing different clothes.

The research doesn’t prove anything yet. Instead, it suggests that our clothes have an impact on how we view ourselves. As an experiment, outfit yourself differently for a day and take note of how people perceive you how you perceive yourself. Does wearing a tie make you feel like more of an adult? Does a uniform change the way you view work? When your self-perception is changed, so is your view of reality.

Try On A Different Personality For An Hour

The idea of trying on a new personality might seem a little strange if you do it around friends and family, but doing so on a short flight or even in with a random conversation on the bus is an experience that completely alters your reality. It’s also surprisingly easy to do. Wilson offers his experience:

The idea of trying on a new self can be a fun exercise. So, you’re on a train or a plane and you’re chatting with the person next to you and you just try on a new personality. For example, I tend to be a bit more on the introverted side and I often wish I was a little more talkative and socially skilled at parties and things. And that’s something you can change if you practice it. So sometimes I’ll just say, I’m going to be an extrovert. And you know, I’ll never be Mr. Extrovert, but it’s amazing how easy it can be if you just try to adopt a different trait.

I tried this idea myself. As a bit of an introvert, I tried on an extrovert hat while doing some work in a coffee shop one night. To my surprise, simply telling myself “I’m an extrovert for the next two hours” actually made me more forthcoming to the person who was clearly trying to ignore me at the next table. It also gave me an idea of the difference in perception between an extrovert and an introvert. Where I typically would go to a coffee shop to work quietly in the corner, I took a seat closer to someone and actually engaged with them. I did this all automatically after I decided I was an extrovert and it wasn’t until I looked back on it that I realised my seating choice and disposition was influenced by the conscious choice I made earlier. Photo by Strangeinterlude.

Create Hiccups In Your Physical Reality To Recalibrate Your Views

One of the problems of falling into a set notion of the world is that we stop being mindful of the world around us and that closes our perception even more. In a lot of ways it’s a good thing, because it’s a great boon to productivity to not have to give cognitive thought to a lot of our daily actions, but it’s still good to change your world slightly now and again. It’s easy to do and can have a surprising effect.

Rearrange Your Home Environment To See New Things

Rearranging your home is an oddly relaxing way to explore your own dwelling and take a good look at the reality you form. Over years of living in an apartment or house, objects get hidden away, pictures you meant to hang get stuffed in storage, and you get so relaxed in the world you create that you don’t spend any time paying attention to it.

You don’t have to completely redo your living room or go out and buy anything. It is as simple as taking down the art on your walls and rearranging them in new places. You could even consider flipping a room to offer a different perspective. The goal is to provide that cognitive bump in the road so that when you walk into your house you’re forced to reassess the situation slightly and take the time to actually think about what you’re seeing.

Take Different Routes And Find New Areas to Explore

Like the rearranging of your furniture, taking alternate routes is about expanding your reality into something larger and breaking your routine enough to cause you to pause. This doesn’t mean you have to take a new way to work every day, but it might mean taking a different street to the grocery store or jogging along a different path. When you break your routine, you move away from your reality and take in another section of the world. Photo by Frank Tobia.

The end goal of recalibrating your reality is to expand your perception so you can make your life better and more interesting. The above methods can be used to work through creative blocks, problem solve issues at work, and even to deal with minor traumatic events. Once you recognise the umwelt and the embrace the idea that your perception is limited, it opens up all types of new ideas. Do you do things to recalibrate your notion of reality? Share them in the comments.

Title image remixed from Alberto Zornetta (Shutterstock) and Petr84 (Shutterstock).

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