Read time: 5 minutes
“Please go pick up these things from the store and drop them off at the office. Be at the theater in an hour. It should not take you longer than that.”
The store is 15 minutes away. You’ll need 5 minutes to park, 10 minutes to pick up the items, 10 minutes to pay (the line is a long one), 20 minutes to drop by the office, 20 minutes to get to the theater, and 5 minutes to park again. And another 5 minutes because you’ll be looking for your friends.
So, an hour and a half later, you’re late. You find yourself being berated by your friends, who asked you to run the errand. All you can say is that there wasn’t enough time. You’re not even making an excuse. So you just say to yourself, “Whatever, maybe time for some new friends in 2016. For now: Star Wars”.
To put it plainly: our minds are not good measuring sticks. We tend to overestimate or underestimate things like time and value when we make decisions. We often overestimate or underestimate whatever we see or hear. Whatever you perceive is not necessarily congruous with reality. Because there are things in between, there’s going to be a difference between your perception and what something really is.
We overlook many subtle miscalculations, but as you get to the big and serious stuff, you will of course have to thoroughly process all of the factors in your decision. This means processing things emotionally as well as logically. That includes the painful stuff. You know, like the truth. And all the burgers you need to sweat out. And the anger you need to express. And the grieving process you need to get through. If you’re emotionally compromised, your ego takes over. You’ll be impatient. You’ll be arrogant. You’ll be in denial. Your unrealistic expectations will trap you in your fantasies, resulting in you making a bunch of shitty decisions and constantly relying on blaming others.
It’s worth the effort to practice this form of mindfulness while reminding yourself not to take life too seriously. The point is that you know what decision you made and why. You still get it. You still have an idea. And in spite of not knowing everything (who does?), you make a good effort to make the best “connection” by at least trying to understand what goes in between.
The “why’s” are important. If you’re angry, you’ll have to understand why you’re angry. When dealing with polarizing issues, you’ll have to be honest with the predisposed biases you have. In any situation really, you’ll have to sort things through.
A great example is how to execute your new year’s resolution of losing weight. Most people who work out at the start of the year tend to stop after 3-4 weeks. You’ll have to be specific on the execution within the 52 weeks of the year in your calendar. One good recommendation is to write a weekly plan of working out at least twice a week rather than suddenly working out every day for the first 4 weeks. Then, you can slowly add another day per week every so often. Don’t forget to implement the diet that works best for you. That way, you won’t be “shocking” your body—gradual progression is more habit forming, and you can already lose a huge amount of weight on diet alone.
Emotions play a critical role. Often, they have been considered to be in opposition to goals and inner strength. Instead of encouraging us to acknowledge them, society has conditioned us to hide our emotions, which is unhealthy. The portrayal of emotions as a sign of weakness is especially predominant in the media. Media glorifies a lack of vulnerability, to the extent that we are overly invested in the perception of others. You don’t need to call your feminist friends to verify this. Simply, your emotional needs matter, as does the ability to process things emotionally. And by the way, when I say emotions, I don’t mean this:
Sensitive Elliot and the beautiful sunset.
Emotions are more powerful than we give them credit for. When not managed carefully, they can get the best of anyone’s logical side. This is why conflicts are not only logical issues, but emotional ones as well. Similarly, perception is not only a logical process, but also an emotional one.
A big part of getting to your goals boils down to your intentions and your motivation (whether it is coming from a healthy place or not). If you do things mostly for quick fixes or ego boosts, you’ll fail to comprehend the bigger picture—the ingredients are lacking. That’s where the danger lies. Without a strong foundation or solid core, there would be nothing to fill the gap between your perception and reality.
“Reality is easy. It’s deception that’s the hardwork.”
― Lauryn Hill
Take, for instance, the supporters of xenophobic and troll politicians. Many of these supporters are victims of income inequality to begin with. A lack of income or opportunities works against diversifying one’s identity, which in turn keeps people passive and obedient. This leads to a very limited range of in-depth thinking, backed only by strong emotions tied to pain and unmet needs. Logic alone cannot to solve this. When we rely only on simple ideas like “American winning” without examining deeper reasons, we fall victim to overly simplistic processing.
The human tendency is to be outcome dependent, such that we become obsessive over the answers or solutions. The problem is not the lack of answers or solutions. There are already many of those. It’s not even about being right or strong or cool. The big problem is the lack of emotional resiliency in understanding what goes in between reality and perception. People are often unwilling to understand the root causes, or gather the facts, embracing the process in order to make an informed decision. As mentioned, emotional needs matter. Thus, dictators often control the masses by limiting life choices through suppression of wage, healthcare measures, education, women’s rights, and other social measures that are mistakenly deemed to be “communist.” And when people get angry, dictators use scapegoating to divert the attention away from them. With limited life choices, identities are limited, therefore limiting emotional resiliency to process things thoroughly. Because if the masses are well informed, they could begin to question authority, which dictators don’t want.
If perceiving reality is like shooting an arrow, you’re not just shooting an arrow through empty space towards a target. It’s more complicated than that. You’ll be shooting through a series of obstacles. You’re like the fucking Green Arrow trying not to fail his city. Or Katniss, wearing eye shadows and shooting down jets in a revolution with just an arrow. Aside from the fact that our minds are not good measuring sticks, we have plenty of mental blind spots that affect our perception, such as our biases, unreliable memories, and beliefs.
When you develop the habit of improving your resiliency to process things, your perception of the world will be much more useful. You won’t develop a sense of entitlement or demand too much. You won’t find yourself impatient every time you want something. You’ll realize that your priorities are different from everyone else’s and your needs are not the only ones that matter. You’ll get a clear, accurate view of what’s going on, and you can use that to make better decisions.