THE BLOG

Can We Choose Our Reality?

06/23/2013 10:39 am ET | Updated Aug 23, 2013

Do you struggle with reality? Let's say you started your day on the wrong foot. You don't know why, but something seems off. And of all things, you have an important meeting with your boss. As you're about to leave for work, you notice your keys are hiding again. You look everywhere, becoming increasingly anxious. Finally you discover them in the bowl by the front door, right where you always put them. Hadn't you checked there before at least twice?

At the office, you mentally prepare yourself for your meeting. You feel good, ready to go, until you spot a coffee stain on your shirt. Your confidence slips, and you start to panic. You're sure you'll make a terrible impression, because all your boss will focus on is that stain -- just as you do.

Still, you deliver an eloquent proposal. But back in your office, when you could be feeling content with how well you did, your mind is consumed by nagging questions: "Why did my boss yawn during my presentation? Twice? Did he not take me seriously because of the stain?" The self-doubt returns, and you wonder when you'll be laid off.

On a challenging day like this one, you may feel like a victim of your reality. But what is reality? Is it a fact-based truth that you can't deny or argue? Or is reality, as Einstein said, simply "an illusion"?

Every second, we're surrounded by an incomprehensible amount of information. To make sense of the world without frying our brains, we need to filter out a large portion of all that's coming at us. But how do we distinguish the tiny fraction that's relevant from the massive input we can ignore? If we tried to make these distinctions consciously we wouldn't be able to do anything else. This is where the subconscious mind does the work for us.

Our subconscious employs filters that consist of our memories, emotions, and beliefs. These filters delete, distort, and generalize information that passes through them, leaving us with a condensed and altered version of all that surrounds us -- an internal interpretation of reality. So it isn't actually reality's fault that things you want to see (your keys) you can't, and things you want to ignore (coffee stains, your boss's yawns) are all you can focus on. Since most people aren't consciously aware of their subconscious filters, they're also unaware that their view of the world is "made up," which means that whatever you think you are, is just a fraction of the truth.

But how can you change or replace these filters? Here's a three-step process that can help you to broaden your perspective of reality.

Step 1: Redirect

Our thoughts reflect our subconscious filters -- and what we say to ourselves has the power to change these filters. To start, notice when you have a thought that paints a limiting or disempowering picture of reality. Then consciously reverse the thought, describing the situation or yourself from a place of positivity and possibility. For example, replace "I never find my keys" with "I always find my keys." Substitute "My boss doesn't respect me" with "I respect myself." Since you can't necessarily control the circumstances or people you deal with, keep your positive thoughts focused on how you choose to relate and respond to a situation. Redirecting your thoughts trains your mind to search for and find uplifting and empowering perspectives for any given situation.

Step 2: Rehearse

Until now, your new thoughts from Step 1 are mainly positive intentions. To use them as replacements for your limiting subconscious filters, you need to translate the words into the language of your subconscious mind -- images, feelings, and sensations. So create an internal movie with bright, vivid colors and at least life-sized images. Visualize how you choose to experience the reality with which you've previously struggled. It doesn't matter whether you're reshaping experiences of the past or preparing yourself for an event in the future.

By visualizing, you establish and strengthen the neurological pathways and patterns that will lead you to think and conduct yourself from a place of greater empowerment. In the meantime, you're giving your mind two scenarios to choose from -- one old and limiting, one new and empowering. Just knowing you have different options about how you can view and respond to a situation, to others, and to yourself can give you a greater sense of choice, power, and peace.

Step 3: Reinforce

Our mind, and in particular our subconscious, thrives on positive feedback. Every animal trainer understands that consistent positive reinforcement, in the form of a treat or praise, is the best way to teach an animal a new skill. It works with us, too. Since choosing how you want to perceive your reality is a new skill, it's important to give yourself a pat on the back every day. Create a success log using a notebook, your smartphone, or your computer, and every night list how you chose to shift your reality into a more positive and empowering experience. Be generous with yourself and acknowledge even the smallest successes, redirecting your thoughts and reshaping your internal representation of reality.

Don't worry -- this process isn't about denying "reality" or wishful thinking. It's just a reminder that we define each moment in our lives by the meaning we give to it.

Aimee Copeland, a 24-year-student from Snellville, Ga. provides one of the most impressive examples of how, no matter what the circumstances, we can choose our perception of reality. While zip lining with friends, Aimee became infected by a rare, flesh-eating bacteria and lost both hands, one foot, and one leg. Truly a devastating tragedy for such a young woman. However, according to Aimee, her life became more meaningful and precious. "I don't take for granted anymore how beautiful [life] is ... Everything smells better, colors are more vibrant than ever before. Instead of saying I'm disabled, I say I have different abilities." This young woman understands that there are no limitations -- and that we can make a choice to be either the victims or the creators of our reality.

For more by Friedemann Schaub, click here.

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