1st Principle Group


Gospel-centered counseling, coaching, and training

Is Your Perception Accurate?


"We tend to perceive what we expect to perceive." -David G. Martin
In my reading this week I came across a short paragraph about pushing people toward experience. The quote above reflected one of the many ways we resist leaning into our experiences by relying more on our expectations and faulty perceptions. To prove this point they discussed a study where individuals were shown a series of playing cards quickly and were asked to say what they saw. Because participants were expecting normal playing cards they found that when shown a red spade with a four, many of the participants identified it as a four of hearts instead. They perceived what they expected to perceive.

How does this play out in our relationships? I typically have a construct of how people should act and react toward me – but what is this based off of? Me.  If I’m honest, what I expect to perceive is something that benefits me, that builds me up, that fits into how I see the world (it is my perception after all). There is a concept in psychology called the ‘false-consensus effect’ which describes how we usually live as if more people share our way of thinking than actually do. We usually don’t question this because we can chalk up a lot of small differences to people being ‘disagreeable’ or ‘waking up on the wrong side of the bed’…

Left unchecked as I suspect it is for most of us, this is dangerous for a number of reasons. What happens if I live in patterns I don’t recognize but others start to expect of me? Am I always late? Am I always talking bad about people behind their backs? Am I someone people don’t trust?

What about when I intend something a certain way and it is misunderstood? Perhaps someone else perceived what they expected me to say or do. That’s kind scary isn’t it? That we could live our lives with so much false expectation that we literally stop hearing what people are saying to us and instead hear what we were expecting them to say?

I’d like to think that if everyone just acted the way I expected them to we would all be pretty happy…but this completely ignores two things: the diversity present in the Kingdom and my own need for being ripped out of my sinful assumptions. If it is another member of the Kingdom this diversity isn’t just an add-on – it’s actually part of the fabric of God calling all peoples to himself. If they are not a part of God’s Kingdom, they are still image bearers – they have an imprint of the nature of God on their hearts and reflect that whether they recognize it or not.

I have a few close friends that upon our first meeting would have guaranteed you that we would never become friends – not in a million years! What would have happened if we had not become friends? I would have missed out on different voices in my life that have sharpened me, called out sin I have been blind to, and helped me see the world with a more unique perspective. Their embrace of reality has helped me shed some of the false perceptions of myself I hold onto so tightly.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying we should have some camp fire/everybody hug/friend fest with every person we meet…but how often do I live in my expected perceptions so much so that I miss a rich reality standing in front of me? How many people have I pushed out of my life because they didn’t fit a mold I cast for them yet I blamed it on 'their problems'...?

I don’t want to admit to this because it means I have to check my heart as I am meeting someone for the first time – it’s easier to hide behind cynicism.

I have to stop expecting them to match up perfectly with how I think they should act – it’s easier to want someone to be what I want them to be.

I have to push aside my arrogance that often thinks I’m more put together, more adjusted, more fun to be friends with – it’s easier to find their flaws and shortcomings.

Ultimately, I have to set down my fear that I’m not going to meet their expectation of me. I have to live authentically in a way that pushes us closer to the reality of who God has uniquely made both of us to be.

What does it look like for you to break free of living in your perceived expectations of others and embrace them more fully as God created them?