The Power of Perception (Expectation vs. Reality)


We’ve done the research, we’ve crunched the numbers, we’ve crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s. Only to discover the outcome is nothing like what we predicted. Our ability to predict the future with accuracy is pretty “kak” to be brutally honest. This is all about the power of perception.

Chritof Koch, in his article for Scientific American, Looks Can Deceive: Why Perception and Reality Don’t Always Match Up, mentions the result of a study giving us insight as to why.

“perception is not fixed: it is flexible, reflecting a person’s physiological state”

The study involved asking participants to judge the steepness of a hill, using visual cues alone and visual and physical cues together.

“subjects stand on top of a hill on either a skateboard or a wooden box the same height as the skateboard. Participants were instructed to look down the hill and judge, both visually and manually, its grade. They were also asked how afraid they felt to descend the hill. Fearful participants standing on the skateboard judged the hill to be steeper than did the braver souls standing on the box. Yet the visually guided action measurement was unaffected by fear.”

It was therefore discovered our perceptions can vary based on tiredness, fragility, confidence and even fear.

“If you are tired, frail, scared or carrying a load, your assessment of the hill—the one that guides your actions—will differ from what you see. Not by choice, but by design. It is the way you are wired.”

Our biology is fighting to protect us from a perceived outcome, even when we know better. Even our success, or lack thereof, can determine how we perceive the world. No wonder we so often get it so epically wrong!

Nate Ware, in his TEDx talk, Why we’re unhappy – the Expectation Gap, expands on this further.

The Expectation Gap is when our expectations exceed reality. He presents three ways in which we form them:

  1. Our Imagination. How often is the film never as good as the book? What we perceive in our minds far outweighs the efforts of even the best directors, screen writers and actors. If this is true of film how can it not be true of our goals?
  2. From those around us. We have all fallen into the comparison trap. We forget, time, circumstance, upbringing, even blind luck, and somehow believe we should be exactly where our friends or colleagues are. Give me a break, and give yourself one while you’re at it. Nothing will make you unhappier quicker!
  3. Our Past. This one is the worst, it’s almost inescapable, because it’s part of us, it makes up who we are. We conveniently forget all the amazing shit we’ve done to get to where we are and all the lessons we have learned from all the mistakes we have made.

It’s for those reasons we are so often unhappy and hold ourselves back from our true potential. We tell ourselves lies, and worst of all believe them!

But why can’t you be that father, that husband, that entrepreneur or even that leader?

In this Harvard Business Review Ideacast, Why Everyone Should See Themselves as a LeaderSue Ashford, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, believes leadership can, and should, come from many places.

“there’s a lot of writing today about how the world needs more leadership from more places: multiple leaders, more people to step up and lead. And so, we need to be watchful about our beliefs about leadership.”

We are so often shown leaders and asked to choose, politicians for example, but few step up to the take the cause and feel the public wrath themselves. Mainly because they don’t believe they can. We don’t identify as leaders. Like leadership is a talent we are born with.

“We come to see ourselves a certain way based on our own thoughts but also based on the messages the world gives us… We’ve also found that the more you have a leader identity, the less risk you see in leading; and the less risk you see in leading, the more you develop a leader identity.”

This goes back to the Scientific American article. Our perception dictates our fear of something and therefore our confidence. The great news being, that because our perceptions are so often wrong or over emphasised for protection, we can short circuit them and plough ahead regardless. It’s up to us to shift our perceptions.

I’ll leave you with some final words from Sue, when asked “Are there other kinds of psychological benefits to convincing yourself, like, Hey, it’s good if everyone sees themselves as a leader?”

“It puts you into a proactive stance with respect to the world around you. And then by extension in your own life. And I think a proactive stance, a stance where you feel you have some agency, some ability to, to craft the world around you, to make change, to change your life, is really good. I think that is the way that people go through life much more happily than if they see themselves as passively waiting around for others to lead and others to shape and others to drive.”


About Author

Andrew Mack

3 Comments

  1. Thanks again Erik and Andrew you guys rock my brain every week especially Fridays. The piece is awesome and very formative I would like to share it as well, I know I am a Betterman just by waiting every morning for your mail to start my engine. I have a new drive, believe or should I say perception about the future medium and long term thanks for being my steroids guys.

    And to everyone in the community, the guys making this possible have a sup weekend and stay safe.

  2. I really love your work gentlemen, there is always something that I can take out from every piece I have received.

    As I was going through this piece I came to a conclusion that perception is a state of mind, what your mind percieves exist…of which I stand to be corrected.

    A productive weekend and week ahead to you all.

  3. Wow this is mind shifting and an open depth of eye opener.it couldnt have been better presented but the truth is we need to hear this and impart it to our fellow men whom we can assist by this information to protect our manly breed that exist.Its in this were you realize that our schooling system we have been to follow protocol that we never questioned.

    I honestly love this platform and i am of the belief this is yielding positive results which i have to attest too.the level of influence in people around me its wonderful.

    Thank to the perpetual positive influence to the better man your work its pushing us to be realistic in approaching a variety of goals for the benefit of breeding great men who will live by principles and ethos that will restoe so much in our societies

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