The Power of Perception:
Transform Fear Using 4 Simple Questions
By Christine Lewis
If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
Dr. Wayne Dyer
Our mind colors our perception of the world. When we perceive the world around us through our five senses, we quickly apply a label to that information in the form of a value judgement for instance good, bad, pleasant, unpleasant, true, false, right, wrong, etc.
Sometimes, we react to what we see, hear and feel only to realize at a later point that our reaction was based on a mistaken perception — in psychology, this is known as cognitive distortion.
Whilst out hiking, a piece of discarded rope might appear to be a snake, triggering the nervous system to activate the freeze or flight response. The unexpected appearance of someone in your personal space might trigger a hostile or fearful reaction as you perceive that person to be a threat.
Times of crisis and uncertainty heighten feelings of anxiety. Anxiety, by nature, takes us into the future. It’s all too easy, especially in times of uncertainty to get caught up in imagining future scenarios; most of which are unlikely to ever happen. This in turn, diminishes our ability to process information and experiences in a rational way. If we don’t bring mindful awareness to our thoughts, we can find ourselves caught up in a cycle of perpetual future-tripping which can wreak havoc on our nervous system and propel us into one anxiety-fuelled spiral after another.
Being aware of the mind’s tendency to distort what we experience empowers us to shift our response to a place of compassion and curiosity, as opposed to reacting from a place of judgment and fear.
Let’s think about how this plays out in our own lives. Reflect on the last few days or weeks and think about the following questions:
- Have you had an interaction, whether face-to-face, via phone, email, message, or online which has caused you to become triggered? (By triggered, I mean that the interaction provoked uncomfortable feelings and emotions for you such as frustration, anger, irritation, jealousy, or sadness).
- After that interaction, did you create a “story” in your mind about the person or situation? Be honest.
- To what extent has your “story” influenced subsequent interactions with that person(s)?
The vast majority of people answer “yes” to the first two questions, and, if being completely honest, they likewise acknowledge that their “story” has influenced subsequent interactions. This happens a LOT. We all do it. So, go easy on yourself and resist the temptation to assign any judgment or shame!
You see, we human beings are hardwired to assign a “story” to events which trigger feelings of fear, hurt, and discomfort. It’s an evolutionary response. A by-product of having a nervous system that’s designed to constantly scan our environment for perceived threats to our safety and security.
Typical reactions when we’re triggered may include ignoring the person(s), being sarcastic, rude, confrontational, or even aggressive. You may recognize these responses in yourself and others.
Most of us default to the same modes of reacting when we’re triggered. Our default response is the by-product of a behaviour pattern that we most likely learned early on in our lives that was reinforced by family relationship dynamics.
But these reactions can be changed.
The good news is that we don’t have to be at the mercy of the mind and its drama! We can learn to intercept and reprogram our thought process to avoid making flawed judgements.
The next time you notice yourself being triggered, ask yourself the following four questions suggested by author Byron Katie:
Q1. Do I know this is true?
Q2. Can I absolutely know that this is true?
Q3. How do I react when I believe this to be true? (What emotions arise when I believe that thought? How do I treat myself and others when I believe the thought?)
Q4. How would I react if I didn’t hold this belief?
Asking these four simple questions when we notice ourselves being triggered enables us to circumvent habitual (and often unproductive) responses by checking our thought process before we respond. By bringing conscious awareness to our thoughts, we create the space between the stimulus (the situation or event that triggers us) and give ourselves the opportunity to choose our response. We give ourselves a chance to notice if we are making flawed judgments before we respond.
Doing this is hugely empowering and enables us to:
~ Bring awareness to the inherent flaws in our thinking in a curious and compassionate way rather than a self-critical and judgemental way.
~ Stop distorted perceptions from gathering momentum and leading us down a path of unproductive responses and unnecessary drama, which can jeopardize relationships with others and harm others’ perceptions of us.
~ Enhance our Emotional Intelligence by cultivating greater emotional control when we’re triggered. Instead of allowing our primitive brain to hijack the show, we are able to choose our response.
This seemingly simple technique from Byron Katie can be a game-changer in creating a state of harmony and centeredness within ourselves and releasing us from the drama of the mind.
With 20 years’ experience in the training, coaching, consulting, and occupational psychology field working in the UK and the Middle East, Christine Lewis is a certified executive coach, licensed psychometric assessment practitioner and member of the British Psychological Society, and a certified yoga teacher, therapist, and founder of Life Elevated.
Life Elevated’s purpose is to bridge yogic models of health and wellbeing and psychology to offer an integrative and truly holistic approach to empower people to thrive. Harnessing yoga, yoga therap,y and Ayurvedic living practices, together with psychology, neuroscience, and transformational coaching methodologies to support health and wellbeing, personal transformation, and growth.