Friday, 2 August 2013

Don’t change the World; just change your perception

I was recently reminded of the story of the man who went to his doctor for a regular check up. On this occasion the patient declared that there was no longer anything the doctor could do for him because he was already dead. Slightly bemused the doctor humoured the man and asked him all sorts of questions about his condition to get the man to realise the foolishness of his claim. However, rather than changing his patient’s mind, the patient, if anything, became more convinced of his demise as the questions kept coming. Finally, the doctor had a Eureka moment and asked the patient “Do dead people bleed?” Straight away the patient retorted, “Of course not. A dead person couldn’t possibly bleed.” The doctor took a syringe from his desk and asked the patient if he could try and take some blood from him. “You can do your best but I assure you, you will not find any blood there.” The doctor then proceeded to inject the syringe into the patient’s arm and fill it with the patient’s blood and then, with a flourish, presented the syringe triumphantly out in front of him. The patient look perplexed and then finally, after a long pause, exclaimed, “My word, I was wrong. Dead people really do bleed!”

The thing that prompted the memory of this story was a phone call I received a few weeks ago from a researcher from one of our leading radio stations. They were doing a feature on the back of the England U21 football team’s poor performance in the European U21 Championship and wondered whether I would be interested in participating. The theme of the feature was “why do British sports people bottle it at the big event?” They weren’t just referring to football but they seemed to be generalising it to all sports. Once I’d picked my chin off the floor, I pointed out to them that they seemed to have missed the outstanding results in the Olympics, including the magnificent displays by the likes of Jessica Ennis, Laura Trott and Mo Farah, Andy Murray’s performance in the US Open, Rory McIlroy winning 2 major golf championships, Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France, Ronnie O’Sullivan’s amazing return to win the snooker World Championships, the Brownlee brothers dominating the triathlon world. Interestingly, since they contacted me, Andy Murray has won Wimbledon, the British Lions have defeated the Australians, Justin Rose has won the US Open golf championship and Chris Froome has won the Tour de France. Hardly “bottling it”.

The belief the people from the radio station held about the British sports people reminded me of when I watched a TV discussion programme a while back after a long hot summer (it was a few years ago) when after just 2 days of rain a woman on the programme exclaimed what terrible weather we had had that year.

So why did they get it so wrong? Well, in a sense, they didn’t. What we believe is essentially a result of how we perceive the World. It is not how the World actually is. It has been estimated that we are processing about 2 million bits of information every second of the day, through our sight, our hearing, our sense of touch, our sense of smell and our sense of taste. If we could be aware of all of that information at once we would go stark raving mad. In fact, we are only able to hold approximately 110 bits of this information in our conscious awareness at any one time, just a tiny fraction. The rest of the information is deleted, distorted and generalised to form our perception. What that means is that when we have formed a belief, whether it is a positive belief or a limiting belief, unless the evidence is overwhelmingly strong, we are likely to delete anything that contradicts the belief from our awareness. If, for instance, you believe you can’t tell a joke, you will only remember times when a joke has fallen flat and will delete the times when you’ve had people rolling round in stitches. Thus your belief will remain intact. If, however, you actually look for evidence that contradicts your belief (I would suggest you only do this with a limiting belief), you are more likely to diminish or even eradicate the belief.

I couldn’t do the radio programme due to other commitments but something must have challenged their belief as the theme of the programme when it was aired was no longer about British sport in general but was limited solely to football.

The point is, if you want to have a happy, fulfilling and rewarding life, you don't have to change the World. You only need to change your perception.

Andy Barton