Picture the last bad day you had. Not a truly awful, a tragedy-occurred day. I’m talking about the kind of day when you woke up feeling tired and grumpy. Nothing you tried on to wear for work looked right, and the repeated wardrobe changes made you late. When you got to work, your co-workers were huddled together, and from the looks they were giving you, you suspect you were the topic of conversation. You had a boring meeting scheduled, and true to form, the presenter had you dozing in your chair less than five minutes in. The drive home added to your frustration with people on the road who clearly had no idea that the speed limit was to be adhered to, not an aspirational goal. By the time you walked in the front door you were ready to call it quits on the day.
What if I told you, there was something you could do that would mean you never had a day like that again? Or at least- very few of them?
You probably would struggle to believe that. After all, it’s not like we can control what others say about us, or who gets to talk at meetings, or how people drive.
Suspend your disbelief for a second, and read on for the third installment in my Happiness Hack series (click here to read the first, on knowing yourself, and the second, on doing something every day that moves you forward).
Our perceptions are our reality.
The first thing I want you to do is to watch the video below. When you watch the video, you need to count the number of passes the people in white make of the ball.
Did you watch the video?
So how many of you saw the gorilla the first time around?
Some people argue that this means that, as human beings, we’re pretty rubbish at noticing things right in front of us. I’d argue the other way- we are super good at filtering out distractions to laser in on one thing (yet more evidence for why we shouldn’t try multi-task). We have to be, as there are so many things going on in every second, if we didn’t have this capacity we’d probably have a break-down from information overload.
So if you agree with this, you’re essentially agreeing that we see things through a filter. And in my lightbulb moment when I was thinking about this, what this means it’s that it’s not how we perceive things- it’s what we perceive that shapes our reality.
Not how- but what. Think about that for a minute.
So how does this work in practice?
Let’s imagine back to those days when you were single. It’s Saturday night and you’re walking in the door to a party. You didn’t want to come, but your best friend is hosting and she’s told you that there will be lots of single guys there. You’ve been single yourself now for what feels like half a lifetime, and according to your mother, your eggs are withering every day, so you’re starting to feel a little desperate.
You cast your eyes around the room. Everyone looks to be deeply engrossed in conversation with everyone else. No-one even seems to pay you any attention. You start to walk through the crowds, and someone bumps into you and sloshes their drink over your dress. Typical! You can’t find your friend anywhere. Finally you see someone you know from work, so you go over and listen to their half-hour rant about the latest policy at work. As soon as possible, you disengage yourself, go home, and condemn yourself to growing old with a passel of cats for company.
You’re super excited to go to the party, as you’ve got this feeling in your gut that tonight is going to be your lucky night. You walk in the door and scan the room. There’s a lot of people there, but you notice a couple of guys looking your way. You give them both a half-smile and then, once you realize you can’t see your friend, make your way to a woman you know from work. She’s complaining about a change at work, and even though you’d rather be thinking about anything but, you note down mentally what’s she’s saying, as beneath the moans, you think there’s some valid things your team could take on board when implementing the change. When you leave to mingle a little more, you see one of the guys from before. You smile again, and he walks over and introduces himself.
The party was the same, the people the same, the actions the same. What was different was you and what you chose to focus on. In the first scenario, you didn’t notice any of the people looking at you, because you were seeing everything through your negative perception. In the second scenario, you were feeling positive, so you were able to act positively on interactions and open yourself up wto. Even when you spoke to the same person, you were able to gain something of worth in the second scenario because you focused more on what you could learn from the interaction than the fact they were moaning as usual.
If you’re struggling to accept this, remember the gorilla. It was right there, but easy to miss if you were focused on something else.
The Triple A.
Caroline Webb, in her book How to Have a Good Day: Think Bigger, Work Smarter and Transform Your Working Life (This is an affiliate link- I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking through it. Read my disclosure policy for more info) discusses this whole situation in a super-easy to understand way. What’s better is that she offers tangible tips to make this work for you. She calls this the three As, but I think The Triple A is a little more catchy. The idea is that before you go to work, or an event, or have an important conversation, you set your intention by going through a mental checklist:
Ask yourself, what really matters most in making this a success, and what does that mean your real priority should be?
Check your attitude. What concerns are dominating your thoughts or your mood? Do they help you with your priorities– and if not, can you set them aside for now?
Given your real priorities, where do you want to focus your attention? What do you want to make particularly sure you notice?
(If you want to read more, that’s a mash-up from page 39 and 46).
To repeat that using the party analogy:
Aim: To make a connection with one person whom I didn’t know before.
Attitude: I’m feeling a bit down and nervous, but instead of making it about finding the love of my life, I’m just going to set that aside and focus on meeting one person, because who knows where that might lead.
Attention: I’m going to look for any openings, such as looks, smiles, or conversational openings, regardless of my first impression of that person.
Or imagine the boring meeting scenario from the beginning:
Aim: To learn one new piece of information.
Attitude: At the end of a long day, I’d rather be anywhere else but attending this, but as I have to be here, I’m going to set that aside and see what good I can get out of it.
Attention: I’m going to listen really carefully and with an open mind to see if there’s one idea here I can use to improve my practice.
You can see from these examples that regardless of whatever objective reality might be presenting itself, it is possible for you to get something good out of every situation- even one you believed to be super-challenging. All it takes is to set your intentions through using the Triple A method of aim, attitude and attention.
If you want to use this hack, then spend time every night, or first thing in the morning, setting your intention- deciding what the aim of the day will be and what you will direct your attention to. In addition, set specific intentions for those more challenging moments in life: those meetings, conversations, or tasks. You’ll be all the happier for it!
Have you tried to set your intentions? I’d love to hear about what you did and the results that you had.