Improve Any Relationship by Challenging Your Perceptions


“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

This morning, I found my wife desperately trying to make her printer work after having set herself one hour to get some good work done. I told her she should use my printer and concentrate on more important things. Surely her printing goal was to get the document in hand, not to spend her one precious hour fighting the machine?

When our argument had died down (yes, it really did get that far!) and after I had finished my morning meditation, I realized that I had once again committed my favorite error: mixing up reality and perception and not calling things by their proper name.

In my mind, she was wasting her time and unlikely to get her any good results. I had told her so and that’s where we started arguing.

To call things by their proper name is all about seeing and expressing the difference between reality and perception. I had been swept away by my own perceptions. And by imposing them on my wife, I was not only disrespecting the reality of the situation, but also the woman I live with and love.

If I had stopped to think, I would have realized that the reality was very different to what I had thought and said: My wife was using the majority of her one work hour trying to solve a printing issue. Full stop. Who said she was desperate and stupid, and should use my printer and focus on more important things?

When we are caught up in our own egos and forget to distinguish between our own perception and the factual reality of things, all sorts of bad consequences can arise.

We blame others for our own reactions, we see neutral things as right or wrong, and we judge others as not befitting our own standards. It is true that I would have spent my one working hour differently, but who am I to impose this on my wife?

Having made my post-meditation promise to call things by their proper name, I realized as the morning went on that I was doing the opposite all the time: The weather was beautiful, the baby horse was cute, the kids were too noisy. I couldn’t say “no” to my client, I had too many emails and lunch was over-cooked.

So I am going to stick at my challenge and see if I can spot the moments when I mix up perception and reality.

If I succeed, I believe I will gain more self-knowledge about the way I am operating and the way I am judging my experiences. I believe that this will in turn give me more chances to really choose how I behave, how I communicate, and how I react to the world.

If this post means anything to you and you are inspired to pick up the challenge, here is my prescription:

Keep your eyes and ears open for moments when other people express their opinions as if they were fact.

(For example: “That’s not good” and “ you can’t…”)  It’s often easier to see in others than yourself, and observing others is a good place to start.

Every time you spot yourself liking or disliking something, take note and ask yourself: “What is the reality here and how do I perceive it?”

With a little time, you will become more aware of your own preferences and their impact on how you operate day-to-day.

Try to express reality and perception as two different things.

For example: “There is a baby horse that I find nice to look at.” This will make you sound less judgmental and maybe keep you out of a few arguments!

Try and avoid using judgmental words like “should,” “better,” and “important.”

These are often nothing more than indicators of your own perception, and things might work out better for you if you don’t impose them on other people.

When Confucius said “the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name” I believe he meant to say that humans have a tendency to associate the truth with their own point-of-view. I did this with my wife without even realizing.

If you take up this challenge yourself, be patient with yourself and others and see if you can call things by their proper name. It may bring you more happiness, more honesty, and maybe even a little self-knowledge.

Photo by Sean McGrath

About Dan Steer

@dan_steer is a freelance learning consultant and trainer living and working in Belgium. It is his goal to help people get better at stuff by creating and facilitating infinite learning opportunities. You can read his own blog here:

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