We can Shape Perceptions

So much of what we do is shaped by what we perceive. Our perception is our reality. Most theories used rely on  perceptions – perceived threats, perceived risks, perceived benefits and most importantly by perceived consequences. We generally are only willing to take action if we perceived positive consequences are possible. Government, society, media, and leaders of organizations shape our perceptions.

As I tell my students, if people you work with are not interested in taking action to improve their lives or to work hard, then these people don’t have  clear perception of positive consequences is possible. As Abraham Maslow made clear, man is motivated to make progress and met needs are unmotivating. It is our job as health professionals to clarify the positive progress that is possible and to show them how to make and document progress.


The idea of progress and perception confusion was driven home to while reading Steven Pinker’s 2011 book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violences Has Declined“. Though I have not finished the book, it is long, the premise is to document how we are significantly less violent now than we have been. That premise is hard to accept with news that highlights violence.He works to rectify this misleading perception in the first chapter. To me what made his point best was when he provided an imaginary 1976 Commencement speech. I encourage you read this speech and reflect. If you are like me, it will help shape your perception:

1976 Commencement Speech

“Mr. Principal , members of the faculty, family, friends, and Class of 1976. Now is a time of great challenges. But is also a time of great opportunities. As you embark on you lives as educated men and women, I call on you to give something back to your community, to work for a brighter future, and to try to make the world a better place.

Now that we have that out of the way, I have something more interesting to say to you. I want to share my vision of what the world will be like at the time of your 35th reunion. The calendar will have rolled over into new millennium, bringing you a world that is beyond your imagination. I am not referring to the advance of technology, though it will have effects you can barely conceive. I am referring to the advance of peace and human security, which you will find even harder to conceive.

To be sure, the world of 2011 will still be a dangerous place. During the next 35 years there will be wards, as there are today, and there will be genocides, as there are today, some of them in places no one would have predicted. Nuclear weapons will still be a threat. Some of the violent regions of the world will continue to be violent. But superimposed on these constants will be unfathomable changes.

First and foremost, the nightmare that has darkened your lives since your early memories of cowering in fallout shelters, a nuclear doomsday in a 3rd world war, will come to an end. In a decade the Soviet Union will declare peace with the West, and the Cold War will be over without a shot being fired. China will also fall of the radar as a military threat, indeed it will become our major trading partner. During the next 35 years no nuclear weapon will be used against an enemy. In fact, there will be no war between major nations at all. The peace in Western Europe will continue indefinitely, and within five years the incessant warring in East Asia will give way to a long peace there as well

There is more good news, East Germany  will open its border, and joyful students will sledgehammer the Berlin Wall to smithereens. The Iron Curtain will vanish, the nations of Central and Eastern Europe will become liberal democracies free of Soviet domination. The Soviet Union will not only abandon totalitarian communism but will voluntarily go out of existence. The republics that Russia has occupied for decades and centuries will become independent states, many of them democratic. In most of the countries this will happen with not a drop of blood being spilled.

Fascism too will vanish from Europe, then from much of the rest of the world.. Portugal, Spain, and Greece will become liberal democracies. So will Taiwan, South Korea, and most of the South and Central America. The generalissimos, the colonels, the juntas, the banana republics and the annual military coups will depart  the stage in most of the developed world.

The Middle East also has surprises in store. You have just lived through the 5th war between Israel and Arab states in 25 years. These wars have killed 50,000 peopled recently threatened to drag the superpowers into a nuclear confrontation. But with in 3 years the president of Egypt will hug the prime minister of Israel in the Knesset, and they will sign a peace treaty that will last into the indefinite future. Jordan too will make a lasting peace with Israel. Syria will engage in sporadic peace talks with Israel, and the two countries will not go to war.

In South Africa, the apartheid regime  will be diminished, and the white minority will cede power to the black majority. This will happen with no civil war, not bloodbath, no violent recriminations against former oppressors.

Many of these developments will be the results of long and courageous struggles. But some of them will just happen, catching everyone by surprise. Perhaps some of you  will try to figure out how it all happened. I congratulate you  on your accomplishments and wish you success and satisfaction in the years ahead.”

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

What did I used to do with all My time?

An amazing colleague of mine who now has 2 children says to me, “What did I used to do with all my time?” She was comparing her situation now to before she had kids. She comments, “How did I not have everything done and do more?” After many of us have kids, we wonder, what did I used to do with all my time? How did I not have extra time to do things?

While kids are exceptionally rewarding, they are very time consuming. I think this also relates to a switch of priorities. I know my kids situations supersede most other concerns which means all else I do gets pushed down. This discussion also got me thinking about how we think about everything and confirmed to me that how we understand is really just a measure of what things are based on a comparison of what we know.

Born Loser - Measures are comparisons

Kids provided me with another example of how comparisons give us meaning. My girls used to always ask me to time them to do things. They would ask, “Daddy, Daddy…time me putting my pajamas.” I would say go and watch them race to their room. Then they would return out of breath asking their time. I would tell them something like 66 seconds. They would say, “Wow, that was fast wasn’t it Daddy?” Of course I would say great but I was left wondering. Then they would say, “Daddy, Daddy…time me brushing my teeth.” I would say go and watch them race to brush their teeth. They would return out of breath asking their time and I would tell them something like 44 seconds. They would say, “Wow, that was fast wasn’t it Daddy?” Of course, now I know that it was too fast because they should take more time to brush their teeth. The difference is teeth brushing has a criterion measure of 2 minutes or more to do it well while putting on pajamas has no time criterion.

This conversation also reminded me of a “fun” presentation I did during my PhD program at Arizona State University. The presentation was titled, “The Value of Research”. The presentation pointed out that for any measure to have meaning, it must be comparable to things we know. For instance if I say I my height is 175, this means little to American’s but is clear to Europeans who would know that I was referring to centimeters tall. For Americans to understand I would need to say I am 5 feet 9 inches tall.

At work, what we do is measured by making a comparison to standards to determine if we are working at, above or below what is expected. In the presentation I went on to document that time actually does go faster as we age. Analysis, as shown below, indicates as each year passes, a smaller percentage of time elapses based on our perception of what we know time to be.

Brief Proof

Here is a link to a PDF of the whole presentation if you are interested.:

The idea that everything we look at is a measure in comparison to what we know is one reason for instituting the concept of Continuous and never ending improvement. We should improve because when we look at what has been done, we realize it can be better next time. The most important caution however is to think of the system implications. We must determine how changes may impact everyone and everything. Short term solutions such as burning fossil fuels which is just ancient sunlight, may destroy everything we care about. We must find better ways (see here, here, here,here, here, here).

We want to make things better because we adapt. What was great, from cell phones, to camera’s on cell phones, to automatic lights on cars, these improvements become the standard. Thus as is explained by the Kano Model, we must continually prime the pump with better ideas so we can continually improve.

chart Kano Model

To learn more about the Kano Model, there are several video’s such as this or this.

Another thought to ponder: Can anything be new AND improved? If it is new, it is something different maybe a better product, but not necessarily improved. If it is improved, it is the same product just different and can be compared to previous version. Can anything be new AND improved?

More thoughts about the idea that all we see is a comparison:

  • When kids first see something, may not have ability to make a comparison
    • When they say it hurts, it may be the most pain they ever had and that is why they are so upset
    • As kids age they now know the pain is something that they can bare because it has happened  before so they become less upset
  • It has been suggested we cannot withhold judgment because we judge automatically
    • Are all judgements a comparison to what we know?
    • How can we use this innate process to improve our lives?

Be sure when develop new ways, we think systematically and how this impacts and has effects on the whole system. Remember, the best solutions are pervasive so they generate reciprocal benefits for personal and planetary health.

Take Away: Use our innate ability to compare and contrast what is to what was to institute ways to Practice Paneugenesis with Selfish, Selfless, Synergy by generating comprehensive improvements by creating pervasive, reciprocal interactions so everyone and everything benefits.

Make it a Great Day, Week, Life….

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker, PhD