Research Paper By Kevin P. John
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
In examining this global society, it is easy to assume at first glance that there are more underlying differences in existence to separate people than commonalities. Evidence to support such differences can be observed casually at the local shopping mall, supermarket, or even a variety of social events. Human interaction in many of these settings may vary to a degree cross-culturally with respect to language, clothing, food selection, music preference, etc. However, when it comes to specific instances such as eating a favorite dish, listening to that special song, or enjoying precious time in the company of good friends, the response of global citizens to these experiences appears universal. Yet, too often the manner in which a person, place, object, or event is initially perceived dictates what perspective others will have in the future regarding the same thing. The thoughts people possess, coupled with things that they witness and experience within this life cycle also aid in the development of a perspective. Acknowledging the complexity of this process while enlisting the help of a skilled Life Coach will allow for greater flexibility in adapting ones perception more willingly while striving to develop a more holistic perspective. A Life Coach can serve as an invaluable asset in alleviating the detrimental effect that certain perceptions can have in formulating or altering perspectives.
What is Perception?
According to dictionary.com (2012), perception is the ability to recognize, discern, envision, or understand. The American Psychological Association (2012) defines perception in the social context as the processes by which sensory information is organized and interpreted as originating from the properties of objects or events resulting in the acknowledgement of personal attributes and those of others. Furthermore, Eccles (2009) argues there are two sets of perceptions regarding self that comprise a person’s identity. These sets consist of factors such as (a) abilities, traits, and capabilities, as well as (b) beliefs, standards, and level of ambition. In fact, Simons, Dewitte, & Lens (2000) have indicated a strong positive correlation between the motivation levels of students and their perceptions about learning material for their futures. Lampton (1999) proposed that perception can even be influenced through verbal/non-verbal communication relative to personal needs, gender influences, socioeconomic status, physical characteristics, education, religious affiliation, etc. Lampton also warned against allowing such influences to result in jumping to conclusions in situations. Assuming intent or exactly what transpired in a situation solely based on a perception, is suggested to be a frequent consequence of receiving information in an indirect manner. With all of this in mind, utilizing the aforementioned definitions illustrates it is quite evident that to perceive something not only requires a certain degree of sensory awareness, but also a degree of distinct and conceptual interpretation. Notwithstanding, it is imperative to comprehend the vital role that perspective plays in solidifying the strength of existing perceptions as well.
What is Perspective?
Webster’s New World College Dictionary (1996) defines perspective as “a specific point of view in understanding or judging things or events.” Similarly, Oxford Dictionaries Online (2012) outlines perspective as “a particular attitude towards or way of regarding things, situations, facts, etc.” According to Whitworth, Kimsey-House, Kimsey-House, & Sandahl (2007), “When we take a perspective on an issue, we have an opinion, a belief, assumptions and expectations. We make predictions based on the assumptions that belong to that perspective” (p.144). Hence, it can safely be assumed that in many, if not all, instances that the opinions and feelings that are deeply rooted in a particular perspective can be traced back to either singular or multiple perceptions of something, someone, or some event. To exemplify this position with increased clarity, consider the dynamics in the following scenario.
Exploring the Relationship of Perception and Perspective
Janice decides to try out a small independent grocery store during a hectic Friday on her way home from work. She had a serious craving for some organic apple juice, vegetable lasagna, and fresh garlic bread. There were no problems at all navigating the aisles to get the freshest bread while collecting all of the remaining ingredients for the lasagna. Of course, despite the fact that everything else was going well, when Janice arrived at the juice display she was discouraged to find that they were out of organic apple juice. Nevertheless, she proceeded to pick up some grape juice instead as she was in a rush to make her way home. Approximately two weeks later Janice stopped by another small independent grocery store on her way home to pick up some almond milk and her favorite whole grain cereal. Yet, to her dismay, there were no more boxes of the whole grain cereal left on the shelf. At this point, Janice left the store furious and vowed never to shop at small independent grocery stores again. Later on that evening, Janice began to express her frustrations during a coaching session.
Coach: Janice you have expressed a desire that all independent grocery stores be run out of business, why is that?
Janice: They are just not as good as bigger stores! I can’t ever find what I need!
Coach: Have you always felt this way, or have you developed these feelings recently?
Janice: I guess recently. I don’t know.
Coach: What actually happened during your most recent visits to these stores that gave you such a negative impression of them?
Janice: On more than one occasion, they were out of something that I really wanted.
Coach: Did you voice any of your concerns to a sales associate or store manager?
Coach: Why not?
Janice: I guess I was rushing and just didn’t think about it.
Coach: Okay. Can you tell me about a time when you actually had a positive experience at one of these stores?
Janice: Sure! I’ve always had great experiences at the smaller grocery stores. Growing up I would love it when my parents would always take me there because the bakery would always give me fresh cookie samples. As an adult I would still shop at those stores mainly due to the attentiveness of the employees. Everyone was always so friendly.
Coach: Wow! It sounds to me like you really enjoyed those experiences. So, do you think things might have gone differently had you asked a store employee for help?
Janice: Oh, yes!
Coach: In what ways would things have gone differently?
Janice: Sales associates actually asked me if I needed any help on both occasions but I just said no. If I had just asked for what I needed then maybe they could have gotten it from the back area. I did notice stock carts in a few of the aisles.
Coach: Now that you have reexamined the events surrounding your decision to boycott Independent grocery stores, do you still feel the same what about them?
Coach: Tell me more, please?
Janice: Well, I feel so silly now (laughs). I didn’t realize I was so caught up in the moment that I allowed myself to get mad and take a new perspective on something that I have always loved. Those questions of yours really helped me to see things clearly and realize that my perception had me rushing to judgment. From now on, I will be more careful not to be so reactionary in life.
The irony of this situation is that on both occasions Janice failed to ask a sales associate for assistance in locating her desired items. Had she inquired she would have realized that the store was in the process of restocking those particular items as the remaining shelf supply was now outdated. The simple act of reframing her initial perception then taking a moment to contain herself and ask the right question would have resulted in the desired outcome. Living in the moment and continuously responding irrationally in the moment are two very different things. Having a strong, nonjudgmental, advocate in her corner such as a skilled Life Coach could have helped Janice to realize how her perception of small grocery stores tainted her overall perspective.
Arriving at the next phase in life where you possess a more holistic view of experiences is a journey that requires time and dedication. One can simply not expect to wake up one day and effortlessly display flawless execution of optimism and positive skepticism. Breaking the vicious lifelong cycle of instilled pre-conceived notions is a rigorous task in itself. In fact, you may also find that even close family members and associates who deem themselves as astute intellectuals have succumbed to the instant gratification gained from a rush to judgment. It is quite easy to form a quick opinion about something or someone without taking just a few additional moments to engage in positive inquiry.
Dissecting the Relevance of Self-Discrepancy Theory
Understanding Self-Discrepancy Theory is an excellent method of taking the first step as a coach in facilitating the alignment of client’s perceptions and perspectives. Renowned psychologist E. Tory Higgins (1987) developed this theory to explore how representations (perceptions) of oneself can conflict (cause discrepancy) with both internal (self) and external (others) viewpoints of self. Moreover, Higgins asserted within the theory that there are detrimental emotional affects that can result from the existence of such discrepancies. In particular, the discrepancies consequently lead to the emergence of symptoms similar to those attributed to sufferers of anxiety, depression, frustration, or an inferiority complex.
To illustrate Self-Discrepancy Theory, Higgins outlined self in the context of three domains as well as two standpoints (viewpoints/perspectives). The three domains are referred to as Actual, Ideal, and Ought. The two standpoints are described as Own and Other. Although these labels might be indicative of a simplistic theoretical structure at first glance, the interrelationship of the domains and standpoints reveal a complexity in the processes of human thought and emotion.
In an Actual domain, the self is a collective representation of the attributes perceived to be in your possession by yourself or others around you. For instance, if Ed works out at the gym quite frequently, it is reasonable in this domain for Ed or others to perceive that he would have no problem with a 5k run. However, in an Ideal domain, the self is a collective representation of the attributes that yourself or others aspire for you to possess. Therefore, in this instance, Ed and others perceive that ideally he would be able to conquer a marathon of any length, not just a 5k run. Conversely, within an Ought domain, the self is a collective representation of the attributes that yourself and others perceive you are obligated to possess. The mere fact that both Ed’s father and grandfather were not only athletic, but also decorated police officers for a combined 30 years makes it his perceived duty to follow their example.
The standpoint referred to as Own in the Self-Discrepancy Theory deals with one’s personal viewpoint or perspective in a situation. In general, if you are operating from the Own standpoint, Ed’s perspective on being a police officer might not be that favorable being that both his father and grandfather were killed in action. On the contrary, the standpoint referred to as Other, encompasses the viewpoints of those who are deemed significant others or members of your inner circle. Thus, it is highly possible that some, or all, of these individuals are perceived by Ed to share the perspective that he is destined to be a police officer regardless of prior circumstance.
Discrepancies arise from opposing perceptions held by self and others and the conflicting perspectives that they are coupled with or result from. Hence, Higgins (1989) proposed that the greater the gap between domains of self and standpoints of self, the more heightened levels of emotional distress and motivational fluctuations are likely to occur. The more alignment in existence between the Actual, Ideal, and Ought selves relative to the Own and Other standpoints that are present in any situation, the closer one gets to a state of equilibrium. Ed did at no point ever openly advocate the idea of becoming a police officer, nor did he display any sort of affinity for even becoming a civil servant of any type whatsoever. Regardless, being that he never showed much real interest in anything as a serious career option, the natural inclination of everyone who knew him was that he would just end up being a police officer. Although one might aspire to be a poet, all current actions may indicate a strong comfort level in continuing life as a data entry clerk. Unfortunately, many in this world will age chronologically for an entire lifetime, but may never actually develop the courage to live a single day in the moment, or even on their own terms.
Whether one perceives or not prior to solidifying a perspective is indeed a debatable point. Some social theorists believe that once sensory information is received and interpreted, it is then categorized leading to the development of a perspective. Whereas, others in the realm of academia believe that perspectives are formed based on existing views of how the world already is. Regardless of positioning order, it is evident that both perception and perspective are intertwined in a reciprocal relationship that not only affects how the world is viewed, but also how many will react to it physically, spiritually, as well as emotionally. In essence, all people that are born into this world are of naked consciousness. As they begin to grow and the psyche takes form, people become similar to sponges in that they absorb a degree of the energy around them. For some, life becomes the comfort zone of what was always known or familiar. Albeit for others, life gradually transforms them through a series of fresh experiences amalgamated continuously with the familiar. This gradual transformation is often referred to as having the ability to re-invent oneself. However, before any form of re-invention is to take place, your perceptions and perspectives must be in alignment to the very core of who you are as an individual.
First impressions do undoubtedly hold a significantly high value due to symbolism, racism, sexism, and a variety of other influential factors. The manner in which people perceive what has happened or is happening in the moment is a vital component in shaping past, current, and future perspectives in life. Furthermore, the cumulative result of experiences gained through internal and external influences (self and others) creates a picture of what is and what could be in this life. Similarly, the cumulative result of the experiences one shares with others coupled with their own internal/external influences also forms a picture of what they think our lives may be or could be. Yet, personal perceptions and perspectives may not always be in accord with who you really are. Likewise, the long-standing perceptions and perspectives of others may not actually be what they, or even you, think they are. Having a true non-judgmental advocate, such as a skilled Life Coach, in your corner will enable you to see life through multiple angles. Moreover, you will be able to manage discrepancies more appropriately while bringing more clarity and equilibrium to your sense of purpose. The facilitative nature of the coach-client relationship encompasses continuous positive inquiry, healthy dialogue, and strategic problem solving. Through continuous support from everyone involved, this relationship has the invaluable potential to empower all to collaborate effectively in dissecting any established stereotypes or embedded prejudices.
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Lampton, W. (1999). The complete communicator: Change your communication-change your life!. Franklin, TN: Hillsboro Press
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