Perception - Choose Your Song

Depending on how long you’ve known me, you may or may not know that I used to weigh 80 lbs more than I do now. I was at my heaviest in 2004 and it took me about 6 years and some major life changes to get down to the healthy weight that I’ve been at for about 8 years now. And even though it’s been that long since I’ve been bigger, my perception of my body is still a little skewed. Even when I got a little too thin due to stress, my image of myself in my head was that of a bigger person.

Well the scale has started to creeeeeep back up, like it does, and so I decided to start tracking some things (weight, body inches, fat %, etc). This morning I woke up feeling kinda icky. I fell off the wagon hard last night and relished two - TWO - plates of nachos! It was divine and I regret nothing, but I felt like I had probably shot myself in the foot in terms of my goals. I looked in the mirror and was sure I’d gained weight,sure of it! I reluctantly did all my measurements anyway with a tiny knot of dread in my stomach.

It turns out I had LOST total body inches, I had LOST fat %, I had GAINED muscle. What????????

Perception does not always line up with reality.

Back in 2001, I was attending the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, studying viola with Jorge Richter. Jorge was a gifted teacher and musician whom I respected a great deal. After a year or so of study with him, I came to one lesson almost in tears. I told him I had been practicing more than ever before, learning so much, but I was sounding worse and worse!! What was going on???

He told me to chill. That I was actually improving a great deal, but the my ear was also improving and therefore becoming more discerning. Huh? That took me a moment to absorb. So objectively from his standpoint, I was improving. But because I was hearing more more nuance I perceived I was getting worse? Yep.

Perception does not always line up with reality.

Last example: I was recently speaking with a friend about being a giver vs. being selfish. He asserted that I tend to be a giver, whereas he tends toward the more selfish end of the spectrum. I know for a fact this is not true. I have never met a more devoted son, someone more willing to help his friends in times of need, or someone more concerned with the happiness of those around him. Selfish?!? What a crock! So I said, “Is it possible that maybe you’re not actually selfish, that maybe you just undervalue what you give to others and possibly don’t feel worthy of all that they give you?” Silence. Chin scratching. Score one for Kat.

Say it with me: Perception does not always line up with reality.

What I’m getting at is this. In my years of teaching (and just being a human), I have found that folks are generally very ready to believe they are not good enough, not smart enough, not deserving enough, not worthy enough, not enough. We are also very ready to believe that we are at fault instead of in need of assistance. These are just some general perceptions I notice in myself, and sometimes my friends and students.

Our perceptions of ourselves and how we relate to the world are handed to us from our society, TV, parents, siblings, teachers, and friends. We even have perceptions that we formulated based on what we not told.

And here’s the insidious thing - perceptions are like background music that plays quietly every minute of every day from moment you entered this world. You hear so often that it doesn’t even register that it’s playing, but the song gets stuck in your head nonetheless. And long after the music stops playing, you sing it to yourself without stopping to wonder, is this really the right song for me?

Here’s the secret, though - we can choose different perceptions.

We can choose ones that serve our needs and our greater good. I can choose to wake up tomorrow, flex in the mirror, and say, “Good morning, gorgeous!” I can practice violin with my discerning ear and say, “I hear how my tone has developed over the years. I also hear things I want to improve on. What a gift my musical journey is!” My friend can place more stock in all the wonderful things he does for others and choose gratitude over guilt when others do for him.

And choosing new background ‘music’ for our lives, while it can feel a little awkward at first, will change the course of our days, our lives.

“there is you and you.

this is a relationship.

this is the most important relationship.

- home

By Nayyirah Waheed