Human perception impacts everything we experience in life. Interestingly, we actually perceive the world around us in very unique ways, and this is the main focus of today’s column. We learn to perceive, and therefore experience the world, based largely on previous actions and results. The ways in which we perceive the world directly impacts our future efforts, and herein is a critical focal point when examining peak human performance.
Sometimes our perceptions are positive and lead to positive thoughts and interactions, while at other times our perceptions are distorted with irrational thinking, leading to negative behaviors and interactions. In fact, it is our human perception that directly impacts our “fight or flight” response, and how we experience the stress in our lives.
Athletes and perception
When it comes to sports, there are countless opportunities for human perception to enter the equation. What does an athlete do when getting booed, being cut from a team, or communicating with a coach who appears to be frustrated? It is in these very moments where subsequent behaviors can go a number of different ways — and this is entirely dependent on the individual’s perception of the situation.
For example, the athlete who gets booed can perceive the boos as a threat to his ego (and subsequently allow the boos to disrupt his rhythm), or he can use the boos as a motivator to excel in the moment and become a clutch player. The player who gets cut from the team can use the cut as evidence that she isn’t any good, or as motivation for the future to get better. And finally, the athlete dealing with an intimidating coach can either steer clear of the coach out of fear, or instead accept the challenge that it may take some time and effort to get on the same page as the coach. As you can see from just these three quick examples human perception is vitally important as it applies to our future success.
Whether you are an athlete or not, human perception plays the same importance to all of us and our respective life experiences. In fact, psychologists have identified a type of therapy called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy by Albert Ellis that emphasizes the importance of how we perceive and interpret situations as being at the crux of our mental health. The Ellis model is quite simple, and looks like this:
(A) The events in our life; these are often experiences we didn’t cause or ask for (i.e. a rowdy crowd booing an athlete).
(B) Our perceptions of (A); do we use the hostile crowd as energizing, or do we become fearful as we hear the booing?
(C) Our behaviors based on our perceptions (B); If we become motivated by a booing crowd our confidence increases, but if we allow the booing to scare us anxiety and fear will take over our thinking and physical body reactions.
As you can see from the model above, while we don’t always control (A) we do have complete control over (B), and that in turn allows us to maximize our responses (C).
The impact of control on stress
Another important feature to consider when re-evaluating your perceptions has to do with the relationship between control and stress. Studies consistently show that the two are inversely related, meaning as one increases, the other decreases. Breaking this down, the more we feel in control, the less stress we typically experience. We can connect theories here and thereby strengthen our chances for success when we realize that we do control our thinking (B), and just making this simple connection we are already decreasing our chances for negative stress to impact our actions.
Perception directly impacts outcomes, and we control the perceptions we experience. We also know that taking a moment to realize how empowered we are by the control of our perceptions allows us to get in the best possible positions in life for future success to occur. Rather than get caught up trying to predict the future and the things that may be thrown your way in life, it makes a lot more sense to work on your perception and how you respond to the various people and situations you experience.