You and I have inbuilt into our nervous system three incredible filters – deletion, distortion, and generalisation. They are innate in our nervous system to ensure that you and I are a success-driven machine, and if we do not discover how they work and function then they could work against us. Not understanding this point is like having a brand-new computer without any manual on how to use it! And this is how most of us are running our minds. By the time I finish elaborating these three filters you might ask yourself – “How come they don’t teach this in school, colleges, and university?” That is exactly the same question I asked myself when I first discovered this information.
The first filter is deletion, let’s call it “delete” for short. According to the book Flow: ‘The Classic Work on How to Achieve Happiness’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, you and I have over 2 million bits of information bombarding our nervous system every single second. And according to Dr. Joe Dispenza, this figure is over 4 billion bits of information bombarding our nervous system every single second as seen in the controversial movie, “What the Bleep Do We Know!” Well, as far as you and I are concerned that’s a lot of information bombarding our nervous system every single second. But I’m sure as you are sitting there reading this ebook; you are not aware of 2 million bits or let alone 4 billion bits of information bombarding your nervous system… Or are you? If you are, then you are from another planet and we would have to inform the men in white coats of your existence! Jokes aside, what would happen to you if you were aware of all this information bombarding your nervous system at any one time? Yes, you will go crazy about information overload. You see our conscious mind can only pay attention to 7+/-2 chunks, that is about 135 bits of information before our mind reaches its threshold.
There is a part of our brain called the Reticular Activating System, or RAS for short which is responsible for deleting 99.1% of all the information that is coming into our nervous system and leaving us with 9%, which is what we call our reality. So, the million-dollar question is: What is it that we are deleting and what are we left with?
Well, before I answer that question, let me give you an experience of how we are deleting things all the time. How much attention are you paying to how your shoe feels on your left foot? If you are honest, none whatsoever! Now become acutely aware of how your shoe feels on your left foot – feel any heat, pressure etc. Now, let me ask you a question: Was the experience of your shoe being on your left foot there before I mentioned it…. Yes or No? Yes, it was! You did not just put your shoe on, did you? Assuming of course that you are wearing some sort of footwear whilst reading this e-book.
Just in case you weren’t wearing any footwear for the example above, then permit me to give you another experience that would really cement your understanding.
Do you drive a car? I want you to cast your minds back to the very first time you bought your car – brand new or second hand, it doesn’t matter. There you were in your car for the very first time, feeling proud of yourself for acquiring your first car and enjoying that new car smell. There you are driving happily away and out of nowhere a car like yours pops into your focus, and another one, and another one, and another one! And in that moment, you question yourself – “Where are all these cars coming from that are similar to the one I just bought?” Did you experience this before? Almost everyone who drives a car will have experienced this scenario. It’s a universal experience!
Therefore, it is important for us to know our desired outcome, not just for the big things in life but for the small things as well. It is advised that in any given situation, we must know exactly what we want out of it. In other words, tell your mind what you want it to focus on and just like the cars, it will bring it to your awareness. I’m sure you can see how important this first filter is to us but unfortunately, there is a downside to this magnificent gift we have. Let me ask you, the reader, a question… What do most people in our society focus on? Do they focus on what they want or what they don’t want? You got it exactly, what they don’t want!
And this is what they keep experiencing in their world because as the saying goes, you get what you keep focusing on. Where Focus Goes Energy Flows!
Allow yourself the gift of observing your own thoughts on a daily basis, and just pay attention to the things you are focusing on and experiencing. It will give you a clear indication of what you are deleting and what you are getting.
The second filter is distortion, let’s call this distort for short. When information is received through our senses, we simply change that information in some way. This is what is known as distortion and there are only two ways in which we can distort information.
We can either make it worse than it is, or we can make it better than it is. Most of us struggle and have challenges with events that happen to us because we change or distort these events and make them worse than they are in our minds.
All successful people simply see the challenge or the problem for what it is, then they see it better than it is in their minds. Therefore, our ability to distort is nothing more than our ability to use our imagination.
When we read a good book or novel and really get totally engrossed in it, do we create sounds, visuals, and feelings for the characters in the novel or book we are reading? Then that is distortion.
Just like deletion, we are always distorting the information we hear or read by invoking our imagination. The key here is not to judge these as being good or bad. It really depends on what and how we distort. Distortion could be favorable or unfavorable. By that I mean it could make you unhappy and paranoid depending on how you distort. Here’s a classic example, I was at a seminar where the speaker was giving away 150 places on his weekend event, which cost about £295 per person. There were about 400 delegates at this 3hour seminar. The speaker mentioned this right in the middle of his presentation, he is offering 150 free places for the members of this club if they registered after his talk. About 10 minutes after he had made this generous offer, pockets of the crowd were getting up and leaving the room one after the other.
At one point, we had empty seats all over the place and there must have been less than 100 people left. At this stage you could see the strange look on the speaker’s face, gazing with amazement and wonder as to why all these people were suddenly leaving the room while he was still talking and well into his presentation.
He quickly jumped to a conclusion, assuming a motive with little evidence and he surprised the rest of the delegates with his interpretation of what he felt was the reason for everyone leaving the room. He felt that he may have said something offensive or that they were leaving because he was boring them. Just then a seated member of the audience said, “They are leaving the room to register for your weekend event.” It was at that point that he breathed a sigh of relief and said out loud to himself, “An important lesson for you to learn Jim, next time only make your special free offers at the end of your presentations. Otherwise, you will lose more than half of your audience!” Everyone laughed!!!
The third filter is a generalization let’s call it “generalize” for short. We always generalize; we all do it all the time. Did you pick up any generalizations in those statements? A generalization is when we take a single example to represent a whole group.
This is where our entire ism’s come from as in sexism, racism etc. The statement that Black people are a certain way or Asian people are a certain way or Caucasians are a certain way are all gross generalizations. For example, let’s say I grew up as a child in Nigeria and my dad treated my mum in a particular way. Now, I take that to represent how a man should treat his woman. So, going from one example to a general conclusion, one would use generalization. It is very useful for learning as it takes what we already know and links it to the unknown. Contemplate this for a minute. Have you ever tried to teach someone something new or tried to learn something new yourself and found you just didn’t get it; until the teacher linked it to something you knew or were familiar with and then suddenly you got it in that instant? Or you said to the person you were teaching who didn’t get it the first time round, “Ah Bob, this is a bit like playing football”, then they say, “Yeah, I get it now, it all makes sense.” Our beliefs are generalizations. They give us the opportunity of predicting outcomes in our world based on what we have experienced in the past.
Generalisation could be hazardous when:
- We generalise from an experience in a strange way and expect all future instances to fit the same pattern.
- We generalise accurately at the time and create a rule but neglect to pay attention to the exceptions. The exceptions do not prove the rule – They discount the rule.
People who generalise a lot will be great at seeing patterns and general principles behind specific instances, but they may tend to “Pigeon-Hole” their world and put everything into boxes, fixed categories, and be inflexible in their thinking.
The key here is to be flexible in our thinking approach. A bit like a scientist who creates scientific laws by taking the best guess or an approximation based on his or her present knowledge. We, on the other hand, do not treat our beliefs in the same manner, as a scientist would do a scientific law. The reason for this is we take our beliefs to be true without questioning why we believe them to be true. And we pay attention to situations and circumstances that confirm them to be true, but we often ignore or dismiss any experience that challenges what we believe. Funny, that isn’t it?
To recap, as the event occurs outside of us, we instantly begin to filter that event by deleting, distorting and generalizing the event based on our past experiences, which is based on the psychology – values, beliefs, habits, and decisions, we have adopted. The instant we filter the event, we create something in our minds. We create an internal representation or better said an internal re-presentation of the actual event. This is what we term as our reality of what we think the event means to us.
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