Paradigm Shifter #52: There is no such thing as reality – there is only perception

Paradigm Shift

Many years ago, I was standing in line in a bank when the teller told everyone, “Don’t anybody move.  We are in lockdown.”  I had “witnessed” a bank robbery.

Interestingly, none of the customers were even aware that the bank had been robbed.  So, when we were individually asked for a description of the robber, there was no agreement on age, height, weight, or race.

I’ve since learned that this inconsistency in “eye witness” accounts is common.  Does that mean that our realities are different?

What exactly is reality?  Is my reality the same as yours?  Should our realities be the same?

While we all think that we know what “reality” is, I was intrigued by these two definitions of reality found in a simple Google search:

  • Reality is “the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them” AND…
  • Reality is also “the state or quality of having existence or substance.”

Just because something exists makes it “real” – but our views of that person, object, action, emotion, or behavior can be significantly altered based on our notions or ideas surrounding them.

Although an existential debate about the existence of reality is far beyond the scope of this blog, it is important to recognize that the “reality” of the same situation can be strikingly different for each of the parties.  Our perceptions determine on what we will focus.

For example, a downsizing can be a debilitating experience for the employee who loses his or her job – yet that same downsizing can create a financial gain for the stockholders when it increases profits for the company.

In addition to recognizing that the same situation can have far different realities for its stakeholders, it is equally important to realize that our own perceptions substantially affect the types of situations that occur in our lives.

As we move forward in our professional and personal lives, the way that we interpret any event or person will be colored by our expectations, ethics, and attitudes.  A simple shift in these perceptions can drastically change our “reality” of the situation and either move us forward or freeze us in our tracks.

For example, even though your boss is widely characterized as being an inconsiderate micromanager, your own perception of the situation will determine how you respond to his or her demands.  Many factors color your perception:  your financial need for the job, the overall culture of the organization, your tenure with the company, your comfort level with your boss, and your unique background or experience.

Your perceptions, therefore, will influence your attitudes – which, in turn, will motivate your behaviors and responses to your boss’s style of management:

  • If you believe that your boss lacks the political power to actually do anything to reprimand you if you challenge his or her management style, then you might consider the blustering micromanagement to be amusing and innocuous.  The stress has been avoided and you will probably continue to stay with the company.
  • If you are highly offended by your interpretation of the micromanagement as evidence of his or her distrust of your ability to do the work, then you might actively challenge his or her authority or even file a complaint with HR.  The stress levels have been escalated and you might consider leaving the company.
  • If you believe that your boss is highly knowledgeable in your field and you can ultimately learn from him or her (even if you are micromanaged), then you might choose to invest more time and concentrated effort to meet these demands.  Rather than feeling stressed, you might feel motivated and appreciative of the close scrutiny – it is also more likely that you will stay with the company.

Same boss, same management style, but very different responses based solely on the different perceptions of the individual employee.

By acknowledging the role that our perceptions play in creating our reality, a new sense of confidence and resiliency can be created.

So, the next time that you are in a challenging situation, step back and critically identify the attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions that are creating your unique definition of your current “reality.”  Even small “tweaks” in your perception can have drastic results in your response to the “reality” that you are experiencing.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to

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