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Perception vs. Reality

Each one of us has our own perception. This perception becomes our reality. But, the real reality is different and it’s above any perception. In this battle between perception vs reality, reality often has an upper hand.

We hardly see the world as it is. Mostly, we see the world through a set of layers. These layers are made up of our emotions, past experiences, and beliefs. But, this biased view of ours is actually detrimental to us in the long run. It doesn’t help us in any way.

Perception is how we see the world.

Reality is how the world is.

Perception is NOT reality. Here is a dictionary definition of perception:

  • “The way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.”

And here is the dictionary definition of reality:

  • “The world or the state of things as they actually exist… existence that is absolute, self-sufficient, or objective, and not subject to human decisions or conventions.”

Clearly, perception and reality have very different meanings. The former occurs entirely in the mind in which mental gymnastics can turn any belief into reality. The other exists completely outside of the mind and can’t be easily manipulated. To conflate perception with reality is to reject the Enlightenment and harken back to the Middle Ages.

What is Perception?

In the simplest terms, perception is how an individual perceives reality. It is how he/she perceives the world.

Perception differs from person to person. It is an individual phenomenon and as such, no two perceptions are the same. Life perception is as unique as an individual and is as unique as the experiences an individual has.

It is the processing of reality by an individual. Perception is not reality. It rarely is.

That’s the case as perception is the final state of reality after it gets influenced by many factors. These factors are:

  • Emotions

  • Past experiences

  • Knowledge

  • And cognitive distortions of an individual

Even if our perception is not the reality it has great importance. So much so that it can determine if a person will lead an unhappy or happy life.

What is Reality?

There are many philosophers around the world who will tell you there is no reality. There is only perception. You see, they describe reality as a collection of everyone’s perceptions. Again, whichever perception is held by most, is popularly deemed as the reality.

We are not going to go by philosophy here. For us, ‘reality’ is what the name suggests. It is REALITY!

Reality is the truth. Reality is the actual state of things.

Reality is the opposite of all things imaginary.

Reality is the opposite of all things non-existent.

Reality is how things actually are before our emotions and preconceived notions have a chance to corrupt them.

The absolute nature of truth gets destroyed in the battle between perception vs reality. These concepts of perception vs reality give birth to three types of truth.

1) The truth which is actually the truth

2) The truth that you think is the truth

3) And the truth that is considered to be the truth by another person

In the above-mentioned points, only the 1st option is the truth and hence is the reality. While the 2nd and 3rd options are two perceptions of the same truth (reality).

Perception vs Reality Examples

Let’s try to understand the difference between perception and reality. Plus, why it is important for us to know the difference between them with the following example.

John is an 8th grader who has 1 month left to prepare for his final exams. He has been studying for 2 hours every day and feels confident that he will pass all his papers.

Being confident in his preparations he starts to study only 1 hour each day in the final month. After the exam was over and the results came out John was shocked. His report card stated that he had failed in two subjects.

John couldn’t understand how this could have happened as he had studied regularly.

You see when John studied for 2 hours every day he perceived he was well prepared. Also, he thought 2 hours/day was enough to prepare each subject.

He took his perception as the truth (the reality). But, it was obviously not the reality as it became clear after his results were out.

This situation could have been easily avoided if he had just taken a mock test on each subject. A mock test would have shown him what reality really was.

Here, John’s perception was that he was well-prepared. But, he was underprepared in reality.

From the above example, we can conclude that it is important for us to know the difference between perception and reality. This is because a wrong perception creates a false picture and can lead us to the wrong path.

Continuing on the wrong path for a long will deter us from achieving our goals. Also, in certain cases, our wrong perceptions may cost us. This may make it impossible for us to return to the desired track.

Perception vs Reality – Deviation of Perception from Reality

Yes, perception differs from reality as it gets a tint of human emotions and experiences. Minor deviations are also expected but extreme deviations will lead to catastrophic results.

It is desirable if our perception remains as close to reality as possible. Perception’s extreme deviation from reality will result in a highly skewed outlook of the world.

This, in no circumstances, leads to favorable outcomes. Deviation of perception from reality can lead to two different scenarios:

1st scenario: A deviated perception yields a positive impact on the person.

One positive effect of a deviated perception is an inflated view of self. In other words, it can give an overestimation of one’s capabilities.

At most, this wrong perception can give a person hope and improved endurance for the time being.

But, this positive effect will soon come to an end in the moment of truth. Since the positive effect of the wrong perception is highly transient.

2nd scenario: Where this deviation can cause a negative impact.

Mostly, a deviated perception inclines more towards the negative side of things. For example, we may always worry that something bad is going to happen in the future.

This may stem from our perception that the present circumstances are bad. This may lead to low self-esteem and give birth to anxiety and depression.

A deviation of our perception from reality is never good. It becomes a greater liability if our illusion converts into delusion. A complete U-turn of our perception from reality is actually termed as mental illness.

Perception vs Reality: How to Differentiate

It is not easy to differentiate between perception and reality. If it were easy people would always be on the right side of things. They would have always taken the right decisions.

But as we can all admit, we have been wrong, multiple times in our lives. It was not until later, that we realized that we were wrong.

Most of the time, we are not even aware that we are wrong. This is the main limitation of perceiving the world through our senses.

Our perception has this inherent quality of misguiding us. Moreover, since perception stems within us it is not easy to tell that we are wrong. This continues until some external source forces us to see the reality.

So what’s the solution? How do we come to know that this is my perception and this is the reality?

Recall the example that we gave of John. John was only able to understand that his perception didn’t match the reality when his results were out. In this case, it was his report card that showed him the truth.

Here report card can be said to be that external source that showed him what the reality was. John’s result was an instrument of measuring reality.

It’s the instrument of reality that can differentiate between our perception and reality. Only this instrument can help us tell what the truth is.

Quiz or revision tests could have served as an instrument of measuring reality as well. This would have been a better way of finding out for John that he was wrong.

In our lives, the opinion of a friend, colleague, family, or others can help us distinguish between perception and reality.

The Importance of Positive Perception

Yes, we all perceive situations and events differently. But broadly speaking, our perceptions can be classified into two main categories.

1) Negative Perception

2) Positive Perception

While perception is not the reality it still has great significance in our lives. The way we see the world and the way we see the situation affect us. For one, it affects our outlook on the world. It affects what we feel about others.

Perception also greatly impacts our level of happiness in life. A negative perception leads to low satisfaction and low enthusiasm towards life; whereas a positive perception can even convert a tragic situation into a cause for inspiration.

Scientists have found that perception is a choice. This means we can choose to have a positive or negative perception.

Let’s see the benefits of having a positive perception

  • Positive perception promotes happiness

  • It reduces stress in life

  • Gives people hope

  • Makes people more patient in difficult situations

  • Instills confidence

  • Improves our relationships

The challenge we face with our own thinking, as well as the thinking of others, is how to ensure that perceptions remain close to reality. This alignment is essential for us to live in the real world, find consensus with others, and maintain the individual, governmental, and societal structures that are necessary for life as we know it to exist. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Don’t assume that your perceptions are reality (just your reality)

  • Be respectful of others’ perceptions (they may be right)

  • Don’t hold your perceptions too tightly; they may be wrong (admitting it takes courage)

  • Recognize the distortions within you that may warp your perceptions (seeing them will better ground your perceptions in reality rather than the other way around)

  • Challenge your perceptions (do they hold up under the microscope of reality?)

  • Seek out validation from experts and credible others (don’t just ask your friends because they likely have the same perceptions as you)

  • Be open to modifying your perceptions if the preponderance of evidence demands it (rigidity of mind is far worse than being wrong)

The next time someone tosses that tired trope—“but perception is reality”—in defense of the indefensible, you stand up and tell them that it might be their perception, but it is not reality.


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