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Virtual Reality Part 2: How Your Brain is Lying to You

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

Last week we talked about how we ALL live in a “virtual reality”, and how that can lead to conflict. We talked about how the deep mind often doesn’t pass information coming into our senses all the way through to our conscious awareness. It’s just not possible - our deep mind is getting 1000 times more information that our conscious, rational mind can process.

Today I’m going to reveal a couple of more specific tricks your personal VR goggles are up to that also lead to conflict and misunderstanding. The psychologists that developed the NLP model of communication noted there are actually 3 “modes” that your brain utilizes to process incoming sensory information - deletion, distortion, and generalization. Last week we talked about “deletion” - when your unconscious simply doesn’t make you aware of stuff it ACTUALLY HAS picked up from your environment. Today I’ll introduce the other modes of perception - distortion and generalization - that can also dramatically affect what we perceive as reality.

Why does all this matter?

This filtering process absolutely and completely determines what you CAN & DO perceive. What you perceive (not what really happened) directly drives how you respond. How you respond - whether you shut down your partner or your kid’s curiosity and enthusiasm, or whether you embrace and amplify it, directly determines how readily they will connect and engage with you. So understanding how we end up being so sure we know what happened, when in fact your brain is almost certainly telling you something quite different from what really happened is a massive first step to unpacking conflict, and eventually eliminating it. And when it comes to our relationship with our kids, these automatic judgements about what really happened or what their intentions were ARE a MAJOR DETERMINING FACTOR, determining factor for whether they develop a growth mindset and achieve autonomy, mastery, deep connection, or suffer from anxiety, depression, and self-limitation throughout their lifetime.

So last time we talked about deletion - how our minds may simply not notice details at all. This is might seem to be the most dramatic form of filtering but not necessarily the most problematic.

Distortion refers to becoming consciously “aware” of something in your environment but whose perception, meaning and/or magnitude has been changed from what really occurred.

A pretty common example - someone raises their voice because maybe they perceive it’s hard to hear them or because they are having trouble getting an idea across and their internal frustration causes their voice to get a bit louder. The listener perhaps has a strong belief formed in their childhood that when voices start to raise that means being judged or worse some form of anger or violence is coming.

As the listener's brain witnesses a slight raise in the speakers voice, taking no chances that this might be a signal of bad things coming, may create the conscious perception that the speaker is now “yelling” and getting angry them.

Reality: slightly raised voice.

Virtual reality: anger and bad stuff coming fast - either get defensive and lash back or run for the hills.

If the listener’s safety was actually at stake (and it casually isn’t), then that might be the best to keep them safe. But when it means you blow at your teen-ager for their yelling at you or you “tone of voice”, we can be almost certain that was loss for all involved. Worse it compounds the effect if the times it has happened in the past that gave rise to your teenagers belief that no matter what they do you are going to get angry at them (which will have some even more pernicious underlying belief like this is something fundamentally wrong with me - because every time I try to communicate, my mom or dad yells at me).

The danger with distortion, and generalization which I’m about to discuss, is that we get conscious awareness of the signal loud and clear. It’s just not the real signal. With deletion we might not even know anything happened. Often it’s easier to explain to someone why you weren’t actually ignoring them than to convince them you really weren’t yelling at them.

Generalization - to become consciously “aware” of something in your environment but whose perception, meaning has been changed to match a broader, less specific meaning or experience. This often looks and sounds like a stereotype - you here, see someone take a deep breath and the instantaneous experience you have is that this person is frustrated or tense - “when someone takes a deep breath that (always) means they are frustrated”. Except maybe they had been tense and noticed they had been holding their breath, so they took a deep breath to release some tension and reconnect with you. Other details in the environment may have held a clue to a more nuanced meaning but your brain may have just made the generalized assumption - and then given you the conscious, very real-feeling experience- that the person in front of you is frustrated.

In all these cases of deletion, distortion, and generalization your “VR goggles” are filtering your real reality coming from your senses, and having you “perceive” something that can be in fact quite far off from real reality. The mechanism that does this filtering is powered by your deep unconscious beliefs, values, and emotional triggers.

Here’s a practice you will get a lot of value from if you do it daily.

  1. Make a commitment with your kids and your partner that whenever you feel that judgment of them, negative reactivity, or any other conflict, you’ll look to uncover how it might be a misunderstanding.

  2. Be curious, ask about the other person's experience and intentions then use the model of “delete, distort generalize” to discover how did you get from their intention to your perception - what were those sneaky VR goggles of yours actually up to?

  3. Then write it down - keep a journal. Since your VR goggles are “programmed” (which is to say your deep mind), clear patterns will emerge when you do this exercise.

And the more you notice them from your journaling, the easier it will become for you to notice them in the moment and avoid or de-escalate conflicts right then and there.

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If you are ready to make changes and START loving your life, check out my upcoming program The JoyAlchemy Time Machine. It was a life changer for me and I can’t wait to share it with you.



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