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What you think will shape your reality

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

Understanding how perception and experience are linked can help us to respond to difficult situations in new ways - and move us forwards in our working lives.



Imagine you are asleep in bed and you hear a sudden bang. What might you think has happened? You might think it's a burglar. If so, you might feel anxious and then hide and call the Police. You might think that it's dog ripping up the project you've been working on. If you thought that was true, you might feel angry and go and shout at the dog. Equally, you might think that it's the sound of the door closing and your partner is home safe - in which case you might feel relived and go back to sleep. In each case, the emotional response and subsequent behaviour makes sense. Each scenario has a very different outcome (calling the Police; shouting at the dog; going back to sleep), BUT it was the same thing happened each time - there was a bang. One of the central premises of Cognitive-Behavioural theory is that it is not what happens to us that matters - it is what sense we make of what is happening to us that matters in terms of determining our emotions.


“...it is not what happens to us that matters - it is what sense we make of what is happening to us that matters in terms of determining our emotions”

This isn't a new idea per se - The Greek Philosopher Epictetus (50 - 135 CE) said, "It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters". The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius had a number of ideas along these lines, such as "The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it"," Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking" and "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth". Fast forward several centuries and Aldous Huxley said, "Experience is not what happens to a man, it is what a man does with what happens to him" (1932).


Translating an old idea into something useful in the modern world


Whilst the idea that our thoughts and beliefs are central in our emotional experience is not a new one, it was only in the latter half of the 20th century that we began to understand how we can use this idea to improve our lives and well-being. This is a central premise of many modern Psychological approaches and we can use it to our advantage: If we can find ways of shifting our perspective on what is happening, we can alter our day-to-day experience.


Modern psychological approaches help us to find and use strategies to do exactly this - and there are ways of applying these ideas and skills to ourselves and our places of work.


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