Our mental maps and perceptions play an important role in shaping our belief systems, and goal-directed behaviours. We also have expectations that determine what goals we think we can pursue and what we say ‘no’ to. Your perception of reality is often governed by the expectations you set. Since the expectations you set can be subjective to biases, when your approach towards some of your goals is not working, rather than being stuck, pausing to question your perceptions can be more effective.
In whatever context, personally, socially or professionally, to be more effective, it’s imperative that we become absolutely grounded in our understanding that our perception is not reality. Because every one sees things differently, and we are all driven by different goals, we have different motivations, different agendas or prioritise different values. So, as a matter of fact, we can’t rely on our immediate perceptions, as even when it comes to solving or taking a decision.
The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure. — John C. MaxwellTweet
How expectations influence your perception
The expectations also known as prior beliefs help us make sense of what we are perceiving in the present. What we believe, we will experience. Interestingly though the studies done by neuroscientists reveal that our brain uses signals that encode theses prior beliefs in making decisions or choices when it comes to changing our habits or goal-directed behaviours.
Our expectations had been found to play a significant role in the level of activity in the brain’s reward centres. For instance, in what is known as The Placebo Effect, they found that some people experienced a benefit after they received a placebo, a sugar pill. When a person does not know the treatment he is receiving actually is a placebo, he believed that he received the real treatment. People who expected the treatment to work experience a placebo effect.
Like in the above instance, the expectations we set don’t become reality, but they shift our perception in small but important ways in many areas of our life. Instead of just expecting, we can examine them and become aware of how they are shaping of our reality, For instance, the expectation you may have that expensive things last longer, might make you go for different choices when it comes to your day-to-day decision-making. Such things happen automatically where you don’t spend a time to consider the alternatives.
Though positive expectations influence performance positively and negative expectations influence performance negatively, it is also true that the lower we set our expectations, the higher we perceive the outcome, and the more satisfied we’ll feel. But constantly keeping your expectations at a lower end would turn one into pessimist when it comes to going after more challenging goals. Similarly, if we set exceedingly high expectations, we end up disappointing ourselves.
Another instance where many people worry that they can’t perform under pressure, actually perform accordingly in such situations. But alternatively, studies have shown that when a person is given a different feedback that he or she is a sort of person who thrives under pressure, they likely do so. This is one of the reason, why some athletes perform better when they are playing in front of the supporting crowds, as they strive to match up to crowds’ expectations.
But it is also true that in certain situations, this also affects their performance negatively. When athletes have to live up to their expectations, they seem to try hard not to disappoint them, and tend to overthink or try hard. This adds to their pressure to perform and most of them lose out in such situations. Win or lose in some situations can even impact their sense of self worth.
In short, we constantly assess our abilities based on mastering these expectations with sensory feedback. Even though our expectation is to see everything as it objectively is, we do not. And our expectations subconsciously change our perception of what we think we are capable of, and tend to shift our attitudes, choices and behaviours in reality.
Some more factors that influence our perception:
- Attitudes. Each one of us has ideas, opinions and attitudes that are unique. They have a powerful influence on what we pay attention to, what we remember, and how we interpret information. Different attitudes lead to different perceptions and so do our expectations. We conjure the value depending upon the value we see in something and it shifts according to our attitude. Similarly, we adjust the value we see in ourselves based on how much we expect others to value it. So, it’s not just our attitudes that weigh into this, but everybody else’s too.
- Motivations. Motivation is the cause of an individual to behave or do something. Our underlying motivations may shape the way we perceive and say things. According to them, our motivations stimulate our expectations and exert strong influence on our perception. We decide how to react to a situation based on how we interpret it. Sometimes we may want to do something, because we perceive it as beneficial. If we expect or don’t expect it as beneficial, we won’t be motivated. Such motivational states, or our wishes, and preferences influence how we process, or perceive certain things.
- Emotions. Emotions affect what we perceive, and they also help us to focus what is most useful in a situation. They keep our attention focused or distract us from information that’s available to us. They also affect how we interpret what we perceive. For instance, we tend to pay attention to things that elicit a strong emotional response, over something neutral. Similarly, we tend to ignore things that are inconsistent with how we are feeling. If we are feeling very negative emotions towards someone, we will not pay attention to positive things about them. In short, our confidence about what we expect will change in proportion to how strong our emotions are about it.
- Others’ expectations. Back in 1960’s researchers at Harvard had come up with a phenomenon called the Pygmalion Effect. According their study, they found that the beliefs and expectations we hold for others may have an impact on the behaviour they have. To put it differently, when others expect certain behaviours from us, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behaviour more likely to occur. For instance, when employees at workplace are valued for their productivity, give them more opportunities to succeed, and offer them more constructive feedback, they perceive themselves as those who are driven to succeed.
- Past experiences. As human beings, we are designed to believe our own perception based on our past experiences. However, our early experiences can skew our reality and affect the focus of attention. When our perspective is clouded by our early experiences, our own internal critic casts doubt and critiques. It results in personal biases, opinions, and limiting beliefs. When you aren’t flexible to reconsider, they distort your perception of your present situations as well.
Why you should question your perceptions
Changing how we perceive something will in turn change how we relate to it. Have you ever experienced how looking at something from one angle changes the whole meaning. Your point of view can be modified as well. And if you change your perception, you change your reality and so your expectations. So, by questioning what you perceive, you learn to see the situation differently, and sometimes through other perspectives.
What we perceive to be true can also effect what we expect from our work situations. How successfully we plan and organise the work, or how interesting or challenging the work is far less important than how others perceive your efforts when it comes to getting work done. It is also important for overall productivity of a workplace.
When there are gaps between individual perception and what actually exists, it leads to many cognitive distortions that might result into employee disengagement, or in low job satisfaction. Similarly, expectations that you hold about outcomes can lead to disappointment when you are going after your goals. This includes anticipating a certain outcome or holding a vision of how things will play out. Here are some ways to check your perceptions.
Question your own perceptions
Recognising that our perceptions aren’t the absolutes of reality can help us see past areas of disappointments. When we know that two people can see the same thing or have the same experience and come away with different take on it, we can take time to understand our own underlying motivations. Striving towards understanding ourselves better allows us to have more accurate perception of ourselves and our abilities. Ask yourself, What can’t I see? What don’t I know? Is there any way that my current perspective or outlook on things might not be accurate?
Change perception of others.
Sometimes when you are managing or leading, others’ perceptions of you becomes your reality despite your best intentions. But regardless of your intent, the impact of your actions and decisions on others is real, and is taken seriously. Others will treat and respond to you in a manner consistent with the perception of you.
For instance, when your subordinates consider you non-collaborative, or untrustworthy, you will not be confided in and you may struggle to build healthy work relationships. So, you find yourself misunderstood, stuck in the disconnect between your expectations and others’ perception of you. You can correct by asking yourself, What impact does my choices and behaviours have on my future goals ? What would others have for me to do differently? Are my expectations skewed by the way I am perceiving things? Or are there any alternative perspectives that can help me make them more realistic?
Be open in your communication.
Sometimes we deem ourselves ineffective through our communications by not being open-minded. The only way to seek understanding and to correct your perception is to strive to maintain an open mind when in conversation with others. Being flexible in your thinking and willingness to consider any perspective that differs from your own helps you set realistic expectations of yourself and others.
Overcome your first impression bias
Sometimes we draw quick conclusions and give them undue importance. Most often they lead to cognitive biases that further blinds you to meaningful changes that you can bring about in your old habitual patterns or unhelpful behaviours. For instance, you may discontinue pursuing a particular goal because it didn’t fetch you the outcome you had expected in the initial stages. Willingness to question your initial perceptions helps you to stick with a change or a goal for long.
Manage your unrealistic expectations.
Sometimes, we set unrealistic expectations due to inaccurate information or due to our preconceived notions. They distort our perception of reality and lead us down the wrong path. This further leads to unnecessary comparisons, discontentment, and wastage of resources. They can create significant stress when so resulting outcomes don’t match up with reality. Becoming aware of what you are expecting out of a situation can be a good start to begin with.
Ask yourself: what are my expectations and are they based on assumptions or facts? Whether it not it is reasonable to hold onto such expectations in the first place. This serves you as ground truth of measuring your current situation against future goals. While expectations must be grounded in reality, aligning them with your vision can make them even more powerful motivators to pursue your goals.
Develop present moment awareness.
Because we have thoughts, feelings and beliefs about things we experienced, we tend to perceive thoughts about our past events and believe them as true.If you perceive certain goals as not achievable, it might be because of your past experiences. We experience emotions today, but in response to what we focus on from the past.
Because of the past events, we end up making presumptions and guesses about what might happen in the future. So, we fear or feel apprehensive or anxious about the goals that are not reached. Develop true objectivity through present moment awareness. Mindfulness and taking time to reflect allows you to stop yourself whenever you focus on something unhelpful, so you can interpret your perceptions more accurately.
Questions for self-reflection
Am I prioritising what I think is right?
Are my expectations based on what I perceive to be true?
How often do I challenge myself to enlarge my own perspective?
How often I base my expectations on my past perceptions?
How rigid or flexible am I when it comes to perspectives that differ from my own?
How could changing my perceptions will in turn change my expectations?
In conclusion, quite often, we see things as we may expect them to be for whatever reason, rather than seeing things as they are. Our expectations are ultimately based on how we perceive and interpret what our reality is. So, a shift in our perception and interpretation enables us to break old habits and awaken new possibilities for balance, and transformation.
Since there are good and bad sides to having expectations, it is always important to remember what factors influence them and question your perceptions to improve in areas within which you have the power to make changes.
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