Reality versus Perception of Reality

Posted on October 31, 2014 by Robert Ringer


I have often heard it argued that reality is not an absolute, that each individual has his own perception of reality. The implication is that because each of us perceives the world through our own eyes, reality itself changes from person to person.

While it’s true that everyone perceives reality differently, reality could care less about our perceptions. Reality does not change to adapt to our viewpoints; reality is what is. Reality is fact. Reality is truth.

Reality, however, is not always a known, which is where perception of reality comes in. While reality is a fixed factor in the equation of life, perception of reality is a variable.

This is why it is so important to learn to differentiate between a principle and an opinion. The most significant aspect of a principle is that it can neither be created nor altered. Thus, a principle is the essence of reality. It is what it is, and it’s up to us to discover it.

The problem arises when people refuse to accept the reality that principles can only be discovered, and instead choose to believe they can create their own principles. Which means they believe they can create their own reality, a belief that can lead to disastrous consequences.

There are an infinite number of natural laws to be discovered, but, fortunately, you don’t have to have a detailed understanding of every one of these laws to succeed in life. However, there is one law with which you must be totally familiar and which you must unfailingly use as a guide for all your actions.

The law I am referring to is the ultimate, immutable law of the universe, the foundation of reality itself: Actions have consequences. Although I believe most people intellectually understand the inherent truth of this principle, firsthand observation has convinced me that very few of them give it more than a passing thought as they go about their daily lives.

Why would people ignore such an all-powerful, immutable principle? Because truth can often be harsh, and, as human beings, we quite naturally gravitate toward less pain and more pleasure. We simply do not like our little self-delusive worlds to be upset by such a trivial matter as truth. We don’t worry about the consequences we may have to deal with tomorrow; we just want to feel good today.

However, we only succeed in deluding ourselves when we engage in such shallow thinking. The reality is that one must be willing to experience the discomfort often associated with truth if his objective is to achieve positive, long-term results.

Another major obstacle to an accurate perception of reality is what I like to refer to as the Paradigm Restriction. We are all confined not only to the planet on which we live, but, metaphorically speaking, we reside within our own mental worlds. It is difficult to comprehend ideas and circumstances we are not accustomed to hearing and seeing within the invisible parameters that surround our lives.

Thus, one of the causes of our differing perceptions of truth is that we all start from our own set of assumptions. This is precisely the reason why the serious seeker of truth must learn to question everything and be willing to give up cherished notions, even if it means suffering discomfort.

The best antidote for the Paradigm Restriction is an open mind. This requires rejection of custom and tradition as a basis of fact, and, in its place, acceptance of logic and reason. To get on the right track in life requires that you learn to correctly perceive reality and have the courage to accept it.

You probably know at least one Mr. Magoo — someone who simply does not have the mental capacity to correctly perceive reality. He’s the individual who truly believes, in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary, that pie‑in‑the‑sky business deals can be closed, that politicians are better equipped than he is to determine what is best for him, and that other people will act in his best interest and subordinate their own interests to his needs. Which usually means, in simple terms, that he doesn’t have the gray matter to correctly perceive reality.

An Ostrich, on the other hand, does have the mental capacity to correctly perceive reality, but stubbornly refuses to do so. As hard as it is to believe that anyone would make such a conscious choice, millions of people do so on a regular basis.

The Ostrich is more tragic than the Mr. Magoo, because an individual who has the ability to grasp the facts but refuses to acknowledge them is the greatest of all fools. He may have a significant amount of knowledge, but his knowledge is corrupted by his misguided desire to recreate the world in his own image.

Thus, when a person speaks of reality, what he is really referring to is his perception of reality. Everything that has ever been written, taught, or believed is based on someone’s perception of reality.

For example, everything I have said in this article is based on my perception of reality. You are, of course, free to accept or reject any or all of my observations about reality. And where we have differences of opinion, one of us will suffer negative consequences to the degree to which his perceptions are incorrect.

Conversely, to the degree either of us is correct in his perceptions of reality, his results will tend to be positive. But the one thing that will never be affected by our respective views of reality is reality itself.

You should always keep this thought front and center in your mind as you go about your day-to-day affairs. Trying to make it through life without a solid grasp of reality is like stumbling around in a dark room laden with land mines.

In the words of Bishop Butler, “Things and actions are what they are, and the consequences of them will be what they will be; why then should we desire to be deceived?”

Hopefully, you know the answer to that question.

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.

19 responses to “Reality versus Perception of Reality”

  1. Michael T. Irvin says:

    The problem with focusing on "reality" is that people perceive circumstances to be real that are in fact not real. In the 2013 Iron Bowl, Auburn had lost the game. or so it seemed. That was a false reality. Then, in final 3 seconds of the game, Alabama chose to kick a long field goal that came up short. Auburn ran the ball back 100 yards and won the game with no time left on the clock. That was the real reality.

    The same is true of almost all reality. I truly believe that reality plays a very small part in our world compared to our perception of that reality. If you jump off of a 100 story building and hit the ground, you will die no matter if you a billionaire or a pauper. So, these real reality laws are set. Likewise, some people cheat, lie, and steal and that is a real reality.

    However, I truly believe that we should focus more time on perception while acknowledging the real realities and ignoring false realities.

    See through these false realities is what really separates the winners from the losers.

    • Robby Bonfire says:

      Michael –

      Maybe you have noticed, as I have, that many people who are reality-based as their m.o. through life are severely criticized for being "skeptical," as though having a reality-based foundation in life is something undesirable. Believe me, the "rose colored glasses" people who cannot handle stark reality which is right in front of them are out their in droves

    • Kimo Jarrett says:

      I do agree with your belief and perception about real realities and false realities. However, your illustration was not the reality with 3 seconds left in the game but the perception of many if not most that the game was already over, yet, it wasn't, the reality, was it? Because the score was not the final reality, either fact and/or truth, the reality of the score is really irrelevant until the game ends or unless the score is so insurmountable and the time remaining in the game, to score enough points to overcome defeat is the reality.

  2. TheLookOut says:

    Robert, I have never heard reality explained any better than your perception. Thanks.

  3. Richard Lee Van says:

    But, logical-rational people do not usually, from my experience, want to hear about ideas gained from altered or transcendent states of mind or consciousness. Logic and reason also have their limits.

  4. Robby Bonfire says:

    It seems to me that EGO is a major deterrent to some people acknowledging reality. I am thinking of the Frenchman who recently imbibed 57 shots of whiskey in record time, which was great for the Book of Records, but he subsequently died.

    That this man could think himself immune from the consequences of his rash actions is mind-boggling, and a red flag for the rest of us that the human race has not yet fully evolved to that plateau where mind, spirit and body are in harmony.

  5. Scott theczech says:

    I appreciate and tend to trust Robert's perception of reality; as I've applied the principles and precepts in my own life, I have enjoyed improved consequences.

  6. RealitySeeker says:

    "Nothing but the dead of night back in my little town" ~~~ "My Little Town" by Simon & Garfunkel

    Expanding our frame of reference is how we gain a heightened view of "reality". Travel (literally or via books) is one way of expanding our frame of reference. For example, Henry David Thoreau claimed that his greatest journey was travelling within his own mind.

    "Go west young man!"

    Yes, or at least go somewhere other than that little town populated by those little people. Travel! Leave behind your little town and embark on a one-man journey. This is how to climb up onto "the shoulders of giants". Yes! Travel as fast as you possibly can away from the little towns populated with little flea people. Plot a course straight to Erudite Land.

    Erudite Land is the of giants, and it's a very nice place to live….. Even if your not a giant yourself, and you don't care for their extra-large egos, Erudite Land is a very nice place to visit. Because you can learn a lot from an intellectual giant. So pack your bags right now! Don't wait another minute! Hop in your car, crank up some road music and get the hell out of that little town!!!

    "Nothing but the dead of night back in my little town….

    • RealitySeeker says:

      "Even if your not a giant yourself"
      * your is should be spelled you're…..

    • Phil says:

      I think that traveling physically is great as well. Over the past five years I have had the chance to visit far-away lands after being "trapped" in the U.S. for decades. My wife urged me to go "West," and I did, to China, Australia, and other places. Even lived in Sydney for a year. It changed my world, my paradigm of how life can be and where we are as a nation. Sadly with respect to the latter, it was not such a pretty picture. We are raised to think our way is the best way here in America, that we have all the answers, blah, blah, blah. Sure, it is still okay – albeit sinking most definitely – but other people have wonderful ways of doing thing that are just as good as what we have here in may instances. So many surprises, the streets of Beijing, for instance, contain millions of people who are beginning to understand what free enterprise can do. The energy is incredible (even as the govt. tries to clamp down on it). The people of Australia are extremely kind and decent, and the land clean and beautiful. Technologically they are as advanced as us. Our biggest strength here, capitalism, has been turned into something like fascism by our government. Now we are looking forward to relocating for good, overseas, in an attempt to get everything we can out of life while on this planet. There are tons of lovely, humble people out there.

  7. Heather says:

    I really liked this post, but there is still gray areas to reality that are based on opinion, but hard to dispute their validity. For example, when I was in college the reality was that I was broke. I had $10 in my checking account and did not get paid for a week; this reality made me feel anxious and stressed. A few years later I had a boyfriend who had a good job working at Hewlett-Packard, a nice house on a lake, pension plan, etc. and one evening when we met for dinner he was visibly upset. He told me he was broke and did not know what to do – turns out his perception of broke was being down to $2500 in his checking account, getting that "low" was truly an emergency for him because he wanted to be prepared for emergencies. So, his perception of broke was entirely different than mine – but just as real for both of us.

  8. Miriam miriam says:

    This is a quote directly out of "looking out for #1", which is why it is my favorite book.

  9. larajf says:

    I remember years ago there was a Miss Manners column where a woman was complaining about how another woman she knew "thought" she was in love with someone but couldn't possibly be in love. Miss Manners pointed out there is no difference between thinking you're in love and being in love.
    So while I definitely agree with you 100% that there are immutable natural laws, there are those that genuinely believe themselves in love with their own ideas & principles even if they violate natural laws…they're convinced that they will prevail eventually. It's sad, really.
    And we'll never convince them that they might be mistaken. They'll eventually realize it themselves when they get tired & frustrated that life isn't working out how they want, or they'll die smug in the knowledge that they held on to their principles.

  10. Liz says:

    The notion that "perception is reality" has been one of my pet peeves. As a tool for understanding the nature of thinking it is useful but, as Robert illustrates, perception is not the same thing as a fact. The example I use is to consider a bird flying into a plate glass window or door. The bird's perception tells it that it can go forward unimpeded but the reality is that it hits the unperceived surface of the glass and can be critically injured or killed. When we communicate with others it's important to see things from their viewpoint but we still have to represent facts and not be compromised by their delusions.

  11. Jay says:

    A canary was released from it's cage and flew away. Later that afternoon, the canary returned to it's cage. It's perception of reality was correct, it had to spend the rest of it's life in a cage.

  12. Le Thi Nhung says:

    Hi Robert Ringer
    I'm read lesson write of Mr and also understand must one number problem in that Mr want impart to for every person about reality follow I think of me reality have will make lost entrails person speak with itselt but person Vietnam again have sentence is '" lost entrails before must entrails after" have momment we shouls also tell truth much pass so itselt will make influence to work of itselt that Mr. Also similar me have moment can't intimate feelings the end with Mr about body of me .

  13. Jose joadame says:

    One of your best articles in my own opinion. Thanks Robert

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