When Believing Means Seeing

Why do people see the world differently?

Imagine this for a brief moment: a road accident took place one clear afternoon. You were standing near a pedestrian crossing when the accident took place. Three other people saw the accident, too. When the police came to investigate what happened, you were asked by an officer if you could give an eyewitness account.

You give your story and the officer verifies a few details by asking you to recount the events again. He tallies your story along with a previous eyewitness account he received a few minutes earlier.

You hear other witnesses giving their own accounts of what happened. Somehow, the details from other stories are slightly different from your personal details of the accident.

Why do people’s stories of the same event always vary?

If two or three people saw the same event transpire at the same time, their stories would always be slightly different.

The differences occur because of our mental filters.

Our mental filters affect both parts of the human mind (conscious and subconscious) and also unconsciously determine what type of information you should focus on in different situations.

Our mental filters are always in a state of evolution.

However, they are chiefly guided by our values system and belief system. So even if you wanted to change your perspective of something, it’s not always easy to do so because you already have established beliefs or values at the subconscious level.

Mental filters can also be projected unto reality.

When we project a certain mental filter unto the world, we tend to see things in a particular fashion. Negative filters, once projected in situations or on people, can cause us to see the world in a highly undesirable light.

For example, if a person thinks that his officemates want him terminated or moved to a different department, he may misinterpret or over-read every statement or gesture that he receives from his colleagues. He may begin to isolate himself or lash out when someone provides any type of feedback on his work.

The person’s teammates on the other hand, may see his behavior as antisocial, aggressive or uncooperative, which can then cause a change in their behavior toward the person. These unintended reactions can very well transform the “fantasy” of the negative filter into an undeniable reality.

What are mental frames?

Mental frames are special filters that we use to focus on certain aspects of reality. When a person is paying attention to something, he is said to be “giving _________ a frame”.

Here are some examples:

Activity: Watching television.

Frame: Enjoyment frame – very relaxed and happy

Activity: Fixing a car’s radiator.

Frame: Problem frame – negative and focuses on other people’s contribution to the problem

These two are basic examples of mental frames that we use on a daily basis. Negative frames like the problem frame can actually hamper your ability to solve problems or gain satisfaction from different activities. Negative mental frames can occur in the worst possible times and it can be difficult to step out of them if you don’t know they exist.

What is the “problem frame”?

The most common negative frame that I see in common, everyday situations is the problem frame. Theoretically, the problem frame should speed up the resolution of a problem because it helps in assessing elements of a situation that caused the setback in the first place.

However, instead of encouraging people to step forward and take positive action to solve a present problem, the problem frame often encourages the “blame game” among individuals. This can slow down or grind the resolution process to a complete stop.

To avoid this situation, you should make a conscious effort to step out of the problem frame and into a positive, action-oriented mental frame. The following questions are the telltale signs that you are stuck in the problem frame:

  1. What’s actually causing the problem?
  2. How long has the problem been here?
  3. Who is the person responsible for this? Who can I blame for this problem?
  4. Why did this happen in the first place?
  5. Why hasn’t anything been done to solve it?
  6. Why is the problem still here after all this time?
  7. Is the person responsible helping solve this problem?

When you find yourself thinking about these questions, you are focusing too much on the negative facets of your current situation. You are heading down the zone of no resolution. By focusing too much on who caused the problem, your mind isn’t actively seeking out ways to solve the problem.