Mandy Kloppers

One planet but many different realities

One thing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has taught me is how we all live on the same planet yet we all experience many different realities.

No two experiences are the same even if two people go through the same circumstances. This is due to many differences in the way we see the world. We all have varying degrees of vigilance depending on our existing focus and mental/perceptual filters.

I noticed that when I was looking to buy a new car, my focus was prediposed to noticing Jeeps as that was the car I was thinking of buying. Had I been looking for another type of car, that may have been further up in my field of awareness. It’s the same with anything else in life. We all live with cognitive biases.

For example, if you have a belief that car sales people are untrustworthy, you will be more likely to notice information around you that confirms this belief. This is a psychological phenomenon that is well documented. If we believe that animal lovers are generally good people, we will be more in tune to noticing things that are in line with this thinking and we will tend to ignore or dismiss or not even notice info to the contrary. As you can see – our realities are heavily influenced by our emotions and belief systems.

Reality is never experienced directly

If reality was experienced directly, we would all have the exact same recollection of an event. Think about a bank robbery. When you speak to witnesses afterwards, they will all have slightly varying versions of what happened and of what they noticed. Again – this is due to our perceptual filters and the way we each individually perceive the world.

This is useful to know when considering why people do the things they do. We can never be fully aware of why others think and do what they do. When we make allowances for the way other people behave, it can ease our anxiety and judgement of others.

No one thinks exactly alike, we are all a product of our upbringings and past experiences. These shape our focus and attention. One person may be a fitness fanatic and be hypervigilant of all things healthy and exercise related. Another person may be money orientated and be far more focused on material things. These different outlooks will influence the way these two different people view the world.

We forget this though and often expect that others notice the world the way we do. This isn’t the case at all. This is down to the fact that humans are egocentric.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) capitalises on these perceptual differences to help us be more flexible in the way we see the world. The more able you are to come up with differing versions of reality you are, the happier you will be. Flexible thinking is where it’s at. The more rigid your thinking, the quicker those rules about the world will be broken because the world isn’t rigid. It isn’t black and white – there will always be exceptions to the rule. CBT exploits these exceptions to widen a person’s frame of reference.

There’s physical reality – what you can see around you and then there is the perception of reality. Perceptions of reality are far more ephemeral and personal.

The good news is that we can, in many ways, ‘colour’ the reality out there in any way we choose to. We get to choose what we want to think and what we want to focus on. That’s hugely liberating.

Make an effort to focus on new things to expand your mind. Take up a completely new hobby, focus on different things to keep your mind agile. Stay open minded and curious and your mind will reflect this diversity.

No matter what happens to us, we still get to choose how we want to ‘position’ that experience in our mental library.

Mandy X


Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash