Reality vs. Perception


I know that the way you feel and how your life goes has a lot to do with how you choose to see things, but I forget and head in the wrong direction sometimes.

A good example is my reaction to this sign my neighbor had in her yard for several days. (The part obscured by the grass says “watch your pets!”) Here’s how nuts I can get – all by myself running helter-skelter through the apparently empty halls of my mind. What follows is an only slightly exaggerated depiction of this experience…

As soon as I saw the sign, I noted that it was pointed directly at my house. (I live right across the street, but still – I thought the angle might be intentionally menacing.) Last year, when I got my chickens, this neighbor came to talk with me about her concern that the chickens would attract predators. She was very worried her cat might not be safe prowling around at night, as he likes to do. I thought we had settled the matter, but perhaps the sign in her yard was her passive-aggressive way of letting me know that her worst fears about my chickens had come true. And that I was a bad, selfish person for wanting to keep chickens. I suffered over this greatly. I thought about it. I asked friends what they thought. I spent time writing a post laying out all of the reasons that my chickens are not the reason coyotes may have come to our neighborhood. I felt powerless and trapped in my little suburban neighborhood where everyone seems way too interested in what I am doing. It was exhausting.

It was the beau who pulled me out of my funk. He is not one to care much about what other people think (which drives me crazy sometimes – because geeeez, you can’t just do whatever you want! Right? Right? Bueller? Anyone – right?) and he helped me realize that there was nothing to be done about this. Even if I do care what she thinks, I don’t really know what she thinks. And even if she thinks badly of me – why does her perception of reality trump my perception of reality? I was all in a dither over my own, possibly inaccurate, interpretation of the situation. The bottom line is: I am allowed to have chickens. I have a permit. (I really love my permit.)(And the beau.)

So I tried something new.

I tried being that person who is blissfully oblivious. I tried it on in great detail. I conjured up that person who doesn’t overthink what you might be thinking about her. I embodied that girl who goes about her business as if all is well, and would never think that people could hate her for having chickens, and thinks that the sign was just a neighbor sharing an interesting experience with the neighborhood. Nothing changed – except my interpretation of the situation. I made myself try on a different way of thinking about it and my whole body immediately felt different. Amazingly, it felt better. Much better. I could breathe. The world became a different place for me to live. Lucky for me, reality is truly relative to perception.

I wish I could say that I am now cured of my tendency to overreact with crippling insecurity when I think someone thinks badly of me, but I can’t. I can tell you this truth though: the more often we try a new way of perceiving the world and have the “felt experience” in our body of how much better the new way feels, the more likely it is that this new way of thinking will become our default way of seeing and living in the world. So I intend to keep at it – when I can reign myself in enough to remember to try.

Have you ever consciously changed your thinking about something?

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  1. Kris says:

    I think this is something women are afflicted with. My husband and my 9-year-old son really don’t get caught up in all the “stuff” that I do … and I notice that my 6-year-old daughter, even at her tender age, is very concerned with what others think and how she is perceived. I’d like to learn (and teach my daughter!) that there is a balance to having a healthy concern for others but not to base all her feelings of self-worth in what someone else thinks.

    BTW, we keep our cat indoors all the time … your neighbor has this option, as well!

    1. annie kip says:

      Thanks, Kris! I do admire the way men are able to keep healthy perspective when it comes to what other people think. There is so much pressure for women to show how much they “care” by putting other people first that it can go overboard. In fact, it can be downright annoying sometimes. (will someone just go first please!!!) I have a whole other post in my head about how many people unconsciously operate like “crabs in a bucket” – not wanting anyone to venture off and be different. Sadly, women often do this to each other, passing judgement on others for their choices and different priorities. Women, of all people, should understand and support each other as we fumble through our lives finding our own way to what works. I really appreciate your comment – thanks!!!

  2. Jean Owen says:

    What wisdom, Annie ! Thank you !
    Even at my age there is so much to learn and I am working very hard at it in my “new state of being”
    Love, Jean

    1. annie kip says:

      Oh Jean – thanks! I am just trying to incorporate everything I have learned over the years from sages like you and help others benefit from my mistakes as I go along! It is interesting how we have to get used to so many “new states of being” throughout our lives. Thank you for blazing the trail so elegantly.

  3. Annie, I had a similar situation where I was getting all wrapped up in one of my siblings usage of last name after his baby was born. My aunt had called me to get me fired up on the topic and told me I needed to talk with my sibling. I got off the phone and told my husband, who responded with, “Not my baby, not my problem.” Simply stated and simply not getting his undies wadded up! 11 years after the incident, I still say that line out loud when I need to remind myself that other peoples’ issues don’t have to be mine.
    Sorry about those foxes. We’ve had our share of raccoon problems and neighbors have pointed fingers at various reasons on our block. We sprayed the raccoons with a garden hose BIG TIME and haven’t seen them since!

    1. annie kip says:

      Thanks for sharing that great phrase! I will be using “not my baby, not my problem!” It is so easy to get swept up if we don’t pay attention. Good to know that the hose worked on the raccoons!!!!

  4. Ingrid Goldbloom says:

    This is so true! It is amazing how our own “stories” become reality. The other day I had a whole drama going on in my head. When I told the situation to others each one gave me a different interpretation of why someone hadn’t called me back. I instantly go to “I did something that pissed them off and now they aren’t calling back” My friend instantly went to “They must be so embarrassed that they didn’t have the information that they couldn’t call you back” another friend simply said “How Odd” and on and on.

    Yes, it is so important to realize our REALITY isn’t REALITY it is only our Story. The only option is to change the relationship we have with our thoughts. Thanks for the reminder. Yay you by the way!

    1. annie kip says:

      thank you, my friend! you have helped me see this so many times!!!!

  5. I try (to consciously change my thinking about something) but it doesn’t always work. Sometimes I think I need to just accept what my feelings are. I have been trying to frame my feelings around my work life in different ways. It’s helped some–which is progress! yay!–but I’m not yet where I’d like to be.

    1. annie kip says:

      I hear you. It doesn’t work if it feels false. It is really hard “trying” to be okay with something. And there are some situations that just suck. No way around it. Sorry. When I am feeling that way, I try to think of how someone else (perhaps someone more selfish, or entitled, or uncaring) would think about the situation. There is usually some bit of their perspective that I can incorporate into mine – without becoming a selfish, entitled, uncaring person – that can jumpstart a new way of seeing or feeling. I am trying to get okay with the idea that knowing I want to do something different is a huge victory and that I will get better and better at it over time. You will too!

  6. Deb says:

    Graet post, Annie! Yes, I have tried that many times … I think the more we practice, the better we’ll get at it! Better than a visit with Dr. G anytime!! LOL!!

    1. annie kip says:

      OMG – Dr. G!!!! Thanks, Deb – that is a high compliment!

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