Have you ever wondered why two people can see the world in completely different ways? One person may view the world through rose colored glasses while the other has a paranoid, pessimistic outlook on life. The truth is that we all see things in the world through our personal mental filters. In fact, it’s impossible to see them any other way!
A cup of coffee is the result of hot water mixing with ground coffee beans. However, to make the drink enjoyable, it must first pass through a filter of some sort. Because a mushy soup is not worth waking up for, this step ensures that we only allow into our bodies that which is desired. In the same way, our mental filters only allow us to perceive things in our preferred method.
It is important to understand that we all have mental filters and they are all quite different. Our mental filters exist because of our experiences, interests, and even personality traits (such as introversion and extroversion). Literally everything that we experience affects our mental filters in one way or another. For example, a car wreck may enhance one person’s fear of travel while a workplace party can cause an employee to view his coworkers in a more favorable light.
I’d like to give you an example of how our mental filters are affected by things that go on in the world. A few weeks ago there was a tragic event in Paris. I think we would all agree that each of us had some sort of reaction to it. A lot of us changed the way we went about our lives in response to it. Many of us were angry, some were scared, and others felt helpless. Whatever we felt, it’s safe to say that our view of our world and how we walk around in it changed — most likely forever. (If the Paris attacks did little to faze you, perhaps remember back to the days and weeks following the 9/11 attacks.)
While large-scale events tend to impact a large number of mental filters, smaller occurrences can have just as much power. Special moments such as receiving flowers from a loved one, snuggling with a blanket on a rainy afternoon, or enjoying dinner with friends can positively influence our filters.
A problem arises when our personal filters become so rigid and focused on negativity that we no longer experience any joy in life. The negativity that we allow in can easily become all-encompassing. Our relationships, work, peace of mind, and even mental and physical health can be put at risk! It’s dangerously easy to assume that all these things are simply results of the world that we view as a terrible place to live, but the trick is to realize that our own filters are the root of the problems.
How can you recognize that your mental filter is in need of repair? Pay attention to your body.
- Physical: Do you suffer from constant headaches? Are your muscles tense? Does you have lingering stomach pain? Do you have trouble sleeping at night?
- Attitude: Do you have a sour attitude? Are frown lines becoming apparent? Have other people mentioned your attitude or temper? Do you whine and gripe a lot?
- Mood: Are you depressed? Have you felt unmotivated to do even the things you love? Is it hard for you to get started on tasks? Is it difficult for you to find anything positive in the world (or even in your relationships)?
- Energy: Is it difficult to get up in the morning? Do you feel like just lying around or taking a nap in the middle of the day? Is it hard to find the energy to do regular chores or grooming?
- Sleep: Do you have trouble falling asleep at night? Are you waking up at odd times during the night and unable to fall back asleep? Are you unusually tired throughout the day?
These signs and symptoms could be telling you that your mental filter needs an adjustment! There are plenty of things in the world that can contribute to a negative outlook, but there are also plenty of things that can contribute to a positive one. The good news is that you get to choose!
While it’s true that we are always viewing the world through our mental filters, it is also true that we can examine our filters and change them should we choose to do so. Since we can’t always control what comes into our environments, how do we go about making sure our filters are set the way we would like for them to be set?
- First, we have to stop and think rather than just reacting. Our world is moving fast. There are too many things in a day to do and we often forgo thinking time in order to try and keep up. If you don’t stop and think about what you are thinking you will automatically default to a reactive mode.
- Ask yourself whether the way you are thinking serves you well. If so, leave it alone. If not, isolate what you are thinking and go through the steps of examining your thoughts.
- Ask yourself a few questions to find the foundation of your mental filter.
- You should always begin by asking yourself, “Is this true?” A good supplemental question is, “Is there anything else that is just as true or more true?” These questions allow you to move beyond your own opinions or beliefs to discover the facts surrounding a person, place, object, or event.
- “How else can I think about this?” Answering this question will require some brainstorming on your behalf. Can you choose to see something in a more positive way? Try to remove fear and condemnation and focus on any good qualities you can find.
- “Would that new way of thinking serve me better?”
Thinking back to the Paris example, we each get to choose whether to respond or react. After witnessing such a tragedy, it would be wise to educate ourselves on the situation by using factual information, decide what changes are in order to keep ourselves and our families safe, and resolve to be alert and cautious when in public. Each of these is a rational response. On the other hand, it would be detrimental to watch or listen to everything about the event over and over again (essentially scaring ourselves because we want to be scared), stay indoors and refuse to live our lives, or become hyper-vigilant and suspicious of everyone else. These are knee-jerk reactions and they are highly unnecessary. The goal is to positively respond to events and ideas rather than react with negativity.
There are a lot of things in the world that we can’t change, but our thoughts aren’t among them. Changing our thoughts can mean the difference between sulking through life stressed, depressed, or defeated and walking about in the world with peace and happiness.
A tool that I use often to examine things is the continuum. Just about everything in life can be put on a continuum. Continuing with the example of the Paris attacks, the way you now view the world could be assessed by the following continuum.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
mad at peace
Where would you be on this continuum? The most healthy place to be is in the middle. We should hover somewhere between 3 and 8 most of the time. To be at a 10 would mean you are in denial. To be at a 1 would mean that you are paralyzed and can’t move about freely. If you are too far out on either end, try going through the steps above. If you do this often enough you will begin to see things more calmly and peacefully.
It is important to be aware of your mental filters and how they affect your life. When in doubt, assess yourself by paying attention to your physical, attitude, mood, energy, and sleep characteristics and issues. Make the decision to use media (including social media) wisely. Make sure you are being informed rather than being persuaded. Respond to your own negativity by changing the direction of your thoughts. Never give up! Life is so much better when you choose to focus on the positive. Change your thoughts and you’ll change your life!