Beware of False Perceptions

Posted on July 30, 2007 by Robert Ringer


Recovered memory syndrome (RMS) is a phenomenon whereby a questioner “helps” someone remember events that may be fictional by asking leading questions.  The reason such questioning works — in bogus molestation cases, for example — is because the mind is very susceptible to suggestion.

But RMS is just one aspect of a much broader problem — the consequences that tend to flow from any kind of false perception of reality, no matter what the cause.  False perceptions brought about by RMS are the result of what we commonly refer to as “brainwashing” or “the power of suggestion.”

Interestingly, good advertising and good salesmanship use this same technique to try to guide the consumer’s perception of reality.  If successful, it can result in sales, to be sure.  But it also can result in dissatisfied customers if buyers later believe they were misled.

Action is the starting point of all progress, but an accurate perception of reality is the foundation upon which a successful person bases his actions.  A false perception of reality leads to false premises, which in turn leads to false assumptions, which in turn leads to false conclusions, which, ultimately, leads to negative results.

If a batter perceives that the pitcher has just released a fastball, but in fact the pitch is a curve, there’s a high probability he’s going to swing and miss.  If a woman perceives that her boyfriend is the perfect mate, but he turns out to be Scott Peterson or O.J. Simpson, her false perception can even be fatal.  The point is that the roots of success are planted in one’s perception of the world.

The late conservative economist Henry Hazlitt once wrote that an entrepreneur’s success is to a great degree dependent upon how accurately he can predict the future.  And, though the entrepreneur may not consciously think about it, his predictions are based on his perception of reality.

For example, I’ve seen one case after another of a person having a warped perception of what he brings to the negotiating table, which usually results in his walking away empty-handed.  Homeowners are often guilty of this kind of self-delusion when they harbor an inflated perception of the value of their houses.

False perceptions also run rampant in the publishing business.  First-time authors usually believe that a publisher will heavily promote their books.  Unfortunately, such a perception is pure fantasy.  Publishers do not promote books; they print and distribute them.

On the other side of this coin, most first-time authors also tend to believe they’ve written War and Peace and that their masterpiece will sell quickly through word of mouth.  Again, such perceptions are pure fantasy.  An author has a better chance of winning the lottery than having his book become a bestseller through word of mouth.

The kinds of inaccurate perceptions one can harbor in business dealings are infinite. But there is one perception that is probably more costly than any other.  The faulty perception I am referring to occurs when you become involved in a business deal with someone who is clearly unethical.

I recall a business acquaintance of mine had an uncanny knack for becoming entangled with dishonest people.  His problem was that he was a romantic.  He simply couldn’t stop himself from becoming enamored with every guy who crossed his path wearing an imitation Rolex watch.  And the more such an all-show-and-no-dough person boasted about his accomplishments, the more mesmerized he became.  As you might have guessed, he spent more time in court than he did working on his business.

I can’t give you a surefire formula for being able to differentiate between honorable and disreputable people, because I myself still manage to get my body parts caught in the wrong place from time to time.  Happily, however, I have noticed two changes in my life with regard to this problem.

First, as the years have passed, I’ve found that I very rarely make this mistake anymore.  And that, in turn, tells me that I’ve improved my perception of people.  Second, when I do find myself involved with someone who bears a moral resemblance to a Bernie Madoff, I make it a point to exit quickly — even if I have to do so at a loss.

While I said that I can’t give you a surefire formula for being able to differentiate between honorable and disreputable people, I can tell you how you can increase your odds of becoming involved with unethical individuals.  All you need to do to accomplish such a masochistic feat is carelessly confuse your wishes with reality.

This emotional mistake happens most often when your desire to do a deal is so great that you ignore the neon sign on the other person’s forehead that reads:  “LSCD” — as in, Lie, Steal, Cheat, Deceive.  The only surefire antidote I know to avoid making this mistake is to be relentlessly vigilant when it comes to not allowing your desires to override what your eyes, ears, and gut tell you.

All this may seem far removed from the phenomenon of recovered memory syndrome, but it’s not.  RMS is often nothing more than a false perception of reality brought about by the power of suggestion.  And that same power of suggestion, whether it comes from someone else or is self-administered, can lead to false perceptions in any area of life.

Which is why it’s incumbent upon you to become adept at distinguishing between reality and illusion.  A false perception of reality — regardless of the cause — almost automatically leads to failure.  An accurate perception of reality, of course, doesn’t guarantee success, but it’s an excellent first step in the right direction.

You can’t put too much conscious effort into sharpening your perception of reality.  It’s mentally hard work, but everything worthwhile is hard.  The more you’re willing to pay the price of vigilance in this area, the more often you’ll find yourself enjoying the benefits.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.