The Challenge of Perception Habits

Recently, I wrote two blogs about habits. The first, here, was about decision fatigue and how activity habits simplify our lives by reducing the number of decisions we have to make. The second, here, was about the dark side of habits, how our response habits can cause us to treat situations that feel similar as the same, even when they aren’t. These response habits can result in unintended damage to our relationships.

In response to the second blog, one of my readers reminded me of another habit that can impact our relationships, both with ourselves and with important people in our lives. I am calling this one, perception habits.

There are two sides to these perceptions, our own and others.

First on the self-perception. Here’s what my reader shared: A while ago, I was at a party and people were talking about whether they liked vanilla or chocolate. I volunteered that I really preferred vanilla. A friend looked at me and asked, what are you talking about? You order chocolate dessert every time we go out. She was right. I had turned into a chocolate person, but I hadn’t ‘noticed’. I defined myself out of habit even though my behavior had changed.

Of course, these self perceptions can be funny like the chocolate/vanilla story or they can stand in the way of our moving forward toward what we want in life.

Similarly, perceptions others have of us can stand in the way when we are trying to change our behavior, and in fact, are changing our behavior. What happens often, especially in long term business and personal relationships is… the recipient anticipates that we will behave as we have historically. This is the other side of response habits. I want to change, you perceive me as unchanged, you respond based on my prior behavior, which may cause me to slip into prior behaviors and on and on it goes.

How do we stop this?

  • When was the last time you really listened to a family member when they are ‘behaving as they always do’?
  • What if instead of responding, you asked questions? Hard to do, I know.
  • What do you do when you aren’t feeling heard? Or feeling judged?
  • What if instead of responding as you usually do, you simply share how you are feeling in the moment?

Could these small changes in response, lead to small changes in perceptions, that then lead to more changes in perception habits, and behavior, and thereby, a more positive circle?

Elisa K Spain

You can read more of my blogs and leadership quotes here.