Each of us has different life experiences. As we experience different things we explain why they happen to us by determining what experience means.
People react differently to the same situation because they have a different understanding of what that situation means to them. Meanings colour our view of the world.
So what’s real? To answer that question I want to introduce you to two different terms. The first one is actual reality and the second perceived reality.
The first refers to what actually happened without any emotional attachment or placing meanings on the situation. The second is reality according to how we have perceived what happened and what it means to us.
In other words we take the facts and add our interpretation to them.
You may have heard the saying we create our own reality. Well that is true and I’m going to demonstrate that for you with a simple illustration.
If you travel on roads you would have experienced striking too many red lights while trying to get somewhere. This is usually a frustrating experience which seems to occur when you are running late.
The facts (actual reality) here is that a number of traffic lights are changing to red as you approach them. No mention of whether it’s frustrating and no mention of whether it is unfair just the facts.
Perceived reality consists of the facts plus the meaning applied to the facts. For example, we could decide that this always happens to us, that somehow we attract it.
As a result, we become upset and angry. We are particularly likely to respond in this way if we feel that things always work against us. Where did we form the opinion that things always work against us?
This opinion is formed as a result of experiences that we have had in life and the meanings that we have attached to those experiences.
The one thing that is certain about perceived reality is this. We create our own emotional pain due to our response to actual reality. If we have become upset over the traffic lights we created that. And that upset has now become part of our reality. In effect we have created our own reality.
But it doesn’t just stop there as our perceived reality now starts to affect our interactions with others resulting in the day just going downhill. For example several red lights in a row upsets and angers.
This puts us in a poor mood that continues to impact our day. We continue to misinterpret what is going on and continue to react to what we think is going on. We continue to create our own reality and by doing so causes a great deal of emotional pain for ourselves.
Avoiding this is simple but takes effort.
Take an honest look at the situation. Describe what is happening in terms that contains the facts only. In the case of the red lights, the facts are that you had many red lights in a row. This is actual reality.
Now look at how you are reacting to the facts. Are you feeling angry, frustrated, victimised or another emotion? These feelings are signs that you are creating a perceived reality.
Understand that are three things that occur when anything happens to us. Firstly, something happens (fact).
Secondly, we place a meaning on what happens to us that is generated by a thought or thoughts about the situation.
Thirdly, we respond to the situation plus the thoughts that we had about the situation. This response consist of an emotional reaction and maybe taking some physical action as a result.
Situation + Thoughts = Result
Locate the thoughts that you had about the situation. These thoughts are what are called automatic thoughts. They just come automatically and we do not question them.
Now question these thoughts. Are they true? Are the traffic lights going red because you just have bad luck and everything works against you? Put the thoughts on trial. It is these thoughts that are changing the facts (actual reality) into what you think is happening (perceived reality). The perceived reality is where the anguish and pain occurs in your life.
If you want to reduce the pain and stress in your life it is necessary to stick to actual reality as much as possible.
I want to close with a short story. I’m not sure where this comes from so I cannot acknowledge its authorship.
An old man and his son worked a small farm, with only one horse to pull the plow. One day, the horse ran away. “How terrible, “sympathized the neighbors. “What bad luck. ”Who knows whether it is bad luck or good luck, “the farmer replied. A week later, the horse returned from the mountains, leading five wild mares into the barn. “What wonderful luck! “said the neighbors. “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows? “ answered the old man. The next day, the son, trying to tame one of the horses, fell and broke his leg. “How terrible. What bad luck! ”Bad luck? Good luck? “The army came to all the farms to take the young men for war, but the farmer’s son was of no use to them, so he was spared. “Good? Bad?”
Perceived reality occurs when we decide whether something that happens to us is good or bad. Good or bad is a label that we use based on what we think is happening. In the story there was what happened (actual reality) and then there was what the neighbours thought had happened (perceived reality). Interestingly perceived reality was proved to be wrong.