The Power You Have to Control Reality

Perception is reality. More specifically, YOUR perception is YOUR reality.

Understanding this is critical to how you view circumstances and your life in general. We do not interact directly with reality. We filter everything through our senses. We take the empirical evidence we see, hear, taste, smell and feel; then extract meaning from it. We determine that meaning based on our understanding of how the world works. This means our reality is largely created by combining what we sense with what we already understand. So, we take a limited sample of facts, blend it with our narrow story to create our perception of reality. PerceptionThis individualized recipe for reality explains why we have so many conflicting opinions. Conservative vs. liberal, Apple vs. Android, Yankees vs. Red Sox. If you listen to the arguments without having a bias yourself, the opposing viewpoints can sound convincing. At the same time, they present alternative realities that seem to be unable to coexist. When we recognize our perception of reality is based on the intersection of facts we know and the story we tell, we better understand how different people can have world views that are polar opposites.

Perceptions of RealitySo, the story you tell yourself has incredible power over your reality. You may be cast in your story as the victorious hero, the underdog against huge odds, the lovable fool, the helpful sidekick, an unlucky loser who can’t get a break, or even the villain. This story colors reality differently and affects how you see the world around you. By controlling the story you tell yourself, you gain power to influence the reality you experience.

We are pattern recognition “machines.”

No one has all the facts. We build the puzzle of reality with a small fraction of the actual puzzle pieces. The rest of the picture we fill in using the incredible human capacity for pattern recognition. For example – when you visit a hotel, you may find the toilet tissue has been folded. With just that bit of information, you fill in the gaps and create a story telling you the maid has been in the hotel room and has cleaned it since the last guest’s stay.

Al Seckel’s Ted talk shows how this pattern recognition skill can lead to misinterpretations. If we can be so wrong about small things like a pattern in a vase or the size and shape of a table, then we could conceivably be wrong about significant things as well.

The two children figures above are the same size.

Our perception of our lives could be misinterpreted just as easily. You may mistakenly think the world is out to get you when it would be much more helpful to believe others are cheering for your success. You may believe everything will fall apart if you’re not in control, but delegating to others would help you be more effective. Maybe you think pacifying someone who disagrees with you is your best option, but you would do better to stick to your guns even if it rocks the boat.

“You are the storyteller of your own life, and you can create your own legend or not.”
—Isabel Allende 

“Carpenters bend wood; fletchers bend arrows; wise men fashion themselves.”

“Make your life itself a creative work of art.”
—Mike Ray, The Highest Goal

The above quotes are from Tom Peter’s ebook, Radical Personal Development.

So, what do you do now?

  1. Get other perspectives.
    Find trusted advisors in your life you can use as sounding boards. These should not be people who completely agree with your worldview. Be willing to hear and consider opinions that may be in complete opposition to your own. Look for solutions created in unrelated industries or markets. You may find innovative solutions that have been applied in other areas will help you with your application. By getting other perspectives, you can obtain a 3-dimensional view of reality instead of your 2-dimensional perception.
  2. Step back.
    Take time to get some space from the work at hand. Spend some moments meditating and/or praying about  your perception of things. Take a walk or visit an art gallery. Do something that engages your body, but leaves your mind idle. Your subconscious may tap into answers hidden in the corner of your mind. Open yourself up to alternate possibilities and see if you receive any new insight.
  3. Craft the story you want your life to tell.
    Are you happy with the story your telling? If not, what do you want your story to be? Wrestle with this question and build an epic story worthy of your life’s work… because that’s exactly what it is. Your life’s work. In the end, if your story were a movie, you shouldn’t be left wanting a refund on your ticket.

By considering your perspective and adjusting your story, you may find that you have more power over reality than you realized. You can’t change facts so that you’re 5 inches taller or so your distant and rich uncle leaves you a million dollars tomorrow. But you can see yourself in a new way and realize that opportunities exist in every moment. At least, that’s the story I’m telling myself right now.


What You See is What You Get. This is a common phrase used to describe software programs that allow you to edit something and simultaneously see how it will look in the end. What You See Is What You Get is often shortened to WYSIWYG (pronouced “Wizzy-Wig”) and it applies to more than just using software to edit.

We live in a WYSIWYG culture. Without time to dig under the surface, we take things at face value. This creates opportunity for confusion and misrepresentation. It also creates frustration for people trying to live an authentic life, because in order to communicate what you want your life to say, you have to use other people’s words.

This is where we can take humbrage or take charge.

People will misinterpret you seemingly with every breath you take. But are they truly misinterpreting YOU? The clothes you wear, the style of your hair (or lack thereof), the car you drive and the accent you speak with all form a representation. You may not be happy with the representation it creates. A metaphor for this would be company websites. There are many companies out there that would say their website doesn’t represent them well. “It hasn’t changed in years. It’s outdated.” “It doesn’t show everything we can do. It needs a refresh.”

Sound familiar? These statements could reflect how you feel about how others see you. So, what keeps you from changing your life’s “website?” Is it a fear of changing who you are? A fear of what others will think? You’re not changing YOU, just the “site” people visit to find out more about you. Your everyday choices are simply status updates about your life.  

Don’t be afraid, just be aware that you have an opportunity to make intentional choices for what your life represents… and how it is represented.


Landscapers and Clockmakers

I was thinking today of leaders with very different approaches, both effective in their own way.

The first approached leadership like a landscaper approaches his work. He would try and plant people in the area they could best grow. The right environment of grounding (soil) and inspiration (light) was integral to good growth. He didn’t stop with the front-end of the process, he continued as a caretaker with routine check-ins which were incredibly personable. If someone was burning out, he watered their soil with compassion and encouragement. The focus of his work was to take his environment, marry it with his resources and reveal their potential for beauty. He was a master at this.

The second individual I considered approached leadership like a clockmaker. He analyzed what was needed for a particular role and made sure candidates fit the proper specifications. There was a precision and polish which often translated into impressive performance. His teams were calibrated to meet high expectations and create a fantastic product. Not everyone would make the cut, but this attracted amazing talent. If he sensed the timing within his team was off, he would hone in on the issue and recalibrate the components. This may be an adjustment to someone’s role or a change of personnel. The focus of his work was to maximize his opportunity for impact. He was a master at this.

Neither of these approaches is “right” or “wrong” but they are not interchangeable. These two individuals recognized their leadership style and leaned into it. Do one of these resemble your style of leadership, or is your approach different? We all have a leadership style whether or not we’re aware. Do you know what yours is?

On Being a Creative Thinker

I have often described myself as a creative thinker. It’s not an exercise in self-aggrandizement, it just happened to be the quickest way I could sum up how I love brainstorming, white boards, quizzical questions and looking at things differently. “Creative thinker” has become somewhat tired as a descriptor though, and to think creatively may not be the loftiest goal. It certainly can’t be the end game, otherwise we fulfill the old IBM commercial with a room full of people “ideating” and seemingly accomplishing nothing.

Perhaps we got it backwards. Do we want the emphasis on thinking or creating? I would argue the world has no shortage of creative thinkers. We have a wealth of ideas spoiling away like excess food in the dumpsters behind your favorite restaurant. What the world is actually starving for is not just imagination. It craves courage with wisdom, initiative with judgment and a reckless abandon tethered to integrity. We have the resources, but fail to deliver them.

Your friends, our culture, the global community… we are all aching for thoughtful creators who understand they cannot afford to let their talent and efforts remain on a dry erase board. We need THOUGHTFUL CREATORS to help MAKE a new world, not just imagine it.

Willful Suspension of Disbelief

“Pfft. That’s not believable.”

I have found myself saying this during a movie or play that just didn’t ring true. And if we’re honest with ourselves, at the beginning of ANY performance we could cross our arms and furrow our brows in absolute refusal to believe the artists’ portrayals. What a loss this would be.

In cinema, performing arts and literature, willful suspension of disbelief describes the cooperation between the artist and the audience to create believability in what is presented. The artist does her work to create plot, characters and dialogue which resonate with the truth of the world they author. The audience is left to connect the dots which, if it they are in close enough alignment with each other, is done cheerfully and voluntarily.

Writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the phrase in order to re-introduce poetry and fantasy to 19th century readers whose sensibilities no longer found stories of magic and sorcery true to life. He suggested that infusing human interest and “a semblance of truth” into a fantastic tale would allow readers to suspend judgement of its plausibility.

As helpful as this theory may be toward the arts, it is also of use for life in general. Disbelief can plague us daily like the dust cloud surrounding Pig-Pen. When we are faced with decisions in life, we all too often succumb to the billowing cloud of disbelief reminding us of our past failures we feel doomed to repeat. Possibilities become implausible and we no longer allow ourselves to believe in magic.

But isn’t there a kernel of something deep inside of us that yearns to believe? A little trapeze artist within tired of standing on the platform; begging for a simple net he can twist and twirl above? Just a momentary suspension may give him the window he needs to dazzle and amaze.

Launching a new business calls for this suspension. So does admitting you love someone, as does ascribing to religious faith.

What disbelief do you need to suspend? Let’s not forget an operative word… willing. Are you willing to suspend your disbelief? Share it with others. You might be surprised how many are more than willing to do the same along with you.

Someone Like You

Don’t worry, I’m not going to break into a song by Adele. This morning, as I read Seth Godin’s post on extending the narrative, I latched onto one of his comments.

The socialite walks into the ski shop and buys a $3000 ski jacket she’ll wear once. Why? Not because she’ll stay warmer in it more than a different jacket, but because that’s what someone like her does. It’s part of her story. In fact, it’s easier for her to buy the jacket than it is to change her story.

Once I recovered from the idea of paying $3000 for basically renting a jacket for a day, the idea of doing something “because that’s what someone like [you] does.” stuck with me. The phrase elucidates how we allow our lives to become parodies of ourselves. This is how we sleepwalk through vast segments of our life, only to awaken one day and not recognize the person we have become. A person living a life based on the expectations, desires and decisions of ‘someone like you.’

When you think of living according to what you know deep inside yourself, how does that make you feel? Does it excite you or simply raise your blood pressure with anxiety? Does it fill you with ideas or simply leave you feeling like you’re staring at an insultingly blank slate? Ask yourself why you feel this way. See if it connects with a deeper truth inside of you. It may be a truth you are unwilling to uncover from the shovels of dirt the world has piled on through the years.

If the idea scares you, perhaps it is because you have no clue what awaits under the lid of this box. I don’t blame you for being nervous, but be aware that you may be leaving yourself buried alive in that box as you let “someone like you” walk away, continuing to live your life for you.

Critical Anecdotal Mass

My wife and I visited a church while visiting some relatives. Their pastor began his message with an anecdote. It was a personal story that involved the pastor and his wife during their dating years. It was funny and seemed to get people’s attention. He then continued into a 3-point sermon about… something. I don’t remember the message, and all I remember about the anecdote was that it involved a futon. I do recall being very confused because the message had nothing to do with the futon story. There was no connection.

Anecdotes are recommended to presenters (including pastors) to help break the ice, bring comic relief and engage the audience. The problem is when the story doesn’t relate to the message. Even if you’re not a pastor or someone who presents, this is relevant to you.

What is the TRUTH about your company’s story, your family’s story, your story?

If you asked colleagues, employees and customers to tell YOUR story, would it be consistent or would the stories vary?

Why would they vary? Because everyone has their own personal experience. We possess our own anecdotal evidence to support our perceptions about most everything. There often isn’t one story, there are several personal stories that make up the narrative. And our personal story IS our truth. Unfortunately, we may be telling a story that doesn’t connect with what people experience. Like the case of the pastor’s sermon I mentioned earlier. You’re telling a story, but people can’t connect it to their experience.

The idea of telling a consistent story isn’t new. Not even close. But are you paying attention to the anecdotes you are creating? Every interaction with someone else is an opportunity to frame the story they tell. If others all start telling the same basic story, you may reach a (tipping) point where people you’ve never directly contacted are helping tell your story. We could call this Critical Anecdotal Mass.

It isn’t about manipulating or distorting the truth. It’s about being authentic, but intentional. It’s stories like Apple’s hyper-controlled design standards, the brilliant generosity of Tom’s Shoes or the affordable build-it-yourself eurostyle of IKEA.

So, let’s put down the futon anecdote, step away slowly and start telling the stories that connect… and matter.