NLP Perceptual Filters and the Filtering Mindset

The primary presupposition underlying all of Neuro-Linguistic Programming is that The Map is not the Territory.

You experience life through a set of personal perceptual filters that are unique to you. Your experience is filtered first by the limits of your sensory organs and what you perceive as a small slice of the world.

In this sense, you are out of touch with reality, because your every perception is ‘filtered’ not only by your biology (for instance, 20-20 vision is about as good as it gets for humans) but also by your culture, family, education, community and other influences from your unique personal history – teachers, mentors, friends, enemies, etc.

I’m sure you have experienced that when you change your point of view, your perception of the situation and your behavior will often change as well. In fact, except for addictions, it’s hard not to change what you do when what you know changes.

Blinding flash of the obvious: Simply put the perceptual filter is the way that you distinguish, recognize, see, make out, pick out, identify, observe, notice, take in, understand, comprehend, become aware of, or realize or make sense of something.

What Are Perceptual Filters?

Here’s a brief example of a BFO – Blinding Flash of the Obvious.

Depending on who I’m talking to, it goes something like this:

  • The way that you perceive something is the way that you will react to it,
  • The way you react to something will determine your behavior,
  • And how you behave is what gives you your results in life and at work

The bottom line, what you allow yourself to perceive determines what you get in life. If you can’t see it, you can’t use it, but you sure can be frustrated by what you don’t perceive.

This is what in NLP we call your “perceptual filter(s)”.  So until you recognize your filtering, you are to a large extent at the mercy of your unconscious “perceptual filtering.”

Change your filters, and you change what you experience.

The way you are seeing things has a profound effect on how you feel and react. They come from all the beliefs and underlying assumptions that you hold in your mind from your education, spiritual or religious training, the community you were raised in, your social status in that community, your education and teachers, your economic prosperity or poverty, your family and friends, fashions and others opinions, TV and advertising, and even from world events of your time in histories like the depression or the Vietnam War.

All of the events, beliefs, reactions, learnings, are like a tapestry woven together making you who you are today. And then you unconsciously and from your habits, perceive your world through this unique and rich lens of installed beliefs and assumptions.

Changing Your Perception Filter – The Filtering Mindset

You intuitively know that there is leverage in someone changing their behavior by changing their perception. When is the last time you said to someone: “Look at it this way”, or “How would you feel if . . .?” By using such questions, you were attempting to get that person to change the way they were feeling or behaving by getting them to change their perceptual filters.

In the classic movie “South Pacific” there is a very pungent and accurate example in the song “You’ve got to be taught to hate” which is about how prejudice is learned.

Until you can figure out how to change your filtering, to a large extent, you are at the mercy of your unconscious “perceptual filtering”.

Perceptions determine your reactions and your reactions determine our behavior, and your behavior gives you the results you get in life – if you want to change the results you are getting in your life and your business; the best place to start is in your perceptions.

So, the first step is to carefully examine your perceptual filtering process for what you do perceive and how you react to it.

You can call this the filtering mindset.

You will want a mindset that allows in the information that benefits and enhances, allowing you to feel more resourceful. You also want a filtering system that filters out erroneous, inaccurate, or demeaning information that makes you feel powerless, or undeserving.

But here is the problem. How can you begin to see anything different than how you have always seen it?

Albert Einstein said, “The world that we have made as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level at which we created them.”

First, you don’t know what you don’t know. Few people can easily see their world with new lenses by their means. This is most easily done by borrowing someone else’s filters to get a new perspective.

How to Change Your Perceptual Filters

In our NLP programs one of the easy, and painless, ways we teach our participants to get a sense of the import of changing perceptual filters is an exercise called “Walking in Someone Else’s Moccasins.” Just like it sounds, it’s an experience of stepping into another person’s experience and seeing, living and feeling it through their perceptual filters. As a rather large bonus, this is also a very easy and effective way to achieve rapport with almost anyone, no matter how different they are.

Here’s how to do it:

The first few times you do this start with a friend or colleague (the ‘Model’) who wants to play. Preferably someone as different from you…the more different, the better. Different sex, height, age, profession, education, background, and more.

Later you’ll be able to do this with anyone, almost anywhere.

The ‘Model’ spends ten minutes in activities which s/he enjoys. The Modeler (that’s you) “shadows” the Model, matching his/her movement and voice, in every way attempting to “become” the Model and enter into his/her experience.

For instance, if modeling someone walking, the best position is behind and to one side – just enough behind them that you’re not visible. Start by matching their walking pace, then adjust your posture – tilt of your head, their posture: shoulders, body tilt (forward, to one side or the other, straight, etc.), the swing of your arms, degree of outward or inward pointing of feet and knees, as they walk.

By then you’ll notice how you are also pacing the rhythm of their breath to some extent; notice matching it more intentionally for a few breaths. Notice where they are looking, listening.

After ten minutes, the Modeler stops the exercise, and reports his/her experience and perceptions as the Model: “I noticed small details more than I usually do, like the petals of flowers and the shapes and colors of leaves.

The sound of the birds seemed louder and closer. Everything seemed clear and very close. I was more aware of my hands. They even felt larger.”

After a little practice, you’ll find you can easily do this even with strangers across a crowded room. Then the next time you’re stuck in an otherwise dreary airport transit lounge, or a waiting room, or walking down the street, you can do this and have more examples.

The Benefits of the Filtering Mindset

What are the benefits? You’ll see and hear things that normally escape your attention – and which may explain things that have had you wondering about so-and-so. You also experience a real sense of rapport with the person you modeled. This can be useful when dealing with children, in meetings, in a negotiation. You’re also starting to learn the fundamental NLP skills of matching and pacing and “second position.”

Whether it’s mentors, autobiographies, or experts in your field you can borrow their perspective and see what new options are available to you with these lenses.

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Anais Nin

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