Do you see what you believe, or believe what you see?

I've been running a series of #BeWell Improve wellbeing with NLP sessions recently that have been receiving some great feedback. The online workshops offer some tips for managing your own wellbeing as well as offering a range of techniques based in NLP for managing feelings and goals. We always have a bit of a question and answer session and I was asked this wonderful question by Mohammed. I was sharing the same question with our Practitioners practice group later in the week and left them pondering their own answer.


We were talking about beliefs, and values, and that we notice what is important to us, and what we believe. Confirmation bias is a well known unconscious bias, where we notice the evidence for things we already believe. If you believe someone is clumsy you will notice the times when they fumble or drop something, but may miss the many more occasions when they were a safe pair of hands. If you've seen the young woman in the picture first, how much harder is it to then see the old woman?


Unconscious bias causes all sorts of problems, problems we don't even realise we are getting caught up in. However the same filtering process that leads to unconscious bias is also very useful if we are trying to achieve a goal, or improve our general mental health. Reminding yourself everyday how lucky you are helps you to notice those times in the day when good luck has come your way. Believing a problem can be overcome leads you to notice more options and opportunities. So yes, we all see the things we believe, but what about believing what we see.


We had been talking about the amount of information our conscious mind can deal with, and how important the filters are for reducing down all the information available to us every second into chunks we can actually process. This does tend to mean we miss more than we notice and why we come away from conversations and meetings with different perspectives on what actually took place. And of course what we see often plays a much greater part in communication that the words that are being said.

"I can't believe what you say, because I see what you do"

James Baldwin

I'm sure you've had that experience of listening to someone and just feeling that something doesn't quite ring true. You can't always put your finger on quite what it is, but its just not congruent. Or those who more openly say one thing and do another. We take more notice, again quite unconsciously, of body language and tone of voice, than the words themselves. I know that when I think about believing what I see, this certainly comes up more. And I also know that I'm rarely convinced so constantly look for new evidence, perhaps seeing more than I would if I simply accepted the first things I saw.


Being aware that unconscious biases arise through the same filtering process we all run, can lead to a better understanding of each other. And perhaps even an increased level of curiosity and forgiveness. I was involved in a meeting where one party wanted to follow a course of action that was the opposite of what we wanted. Rather than being defensive or setting out to prove who was right or wrong, I looked at the information from their perspective. That led to the conversation going along the lines of 'I can see the data you are looking at, and why you have reached the conclusion you have, and why you are struggling to see our point of view. Let me show you the information I am looking at that is leading me to my conclusion. I can see why the evidence you see leads to you believing what you do, and when you look at the same evidence from a different angle, how that meaning changes'.


Knowing that what you see is only being viewed from the angle of your beliefs, what is important to you, your memories, and decisions you have made means that you can accept that someone else seeing the same evidence is equally right to reach a different conclusion. Arguing over the evidence takes you nowhere. Moving round to see things from their angle, and taking them with you to your viewpoint, that's when we reach a shared understanding.


Is it time you explored how you see things? If you believe what you see, do you also realise that what you see is only part of the picture?

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