Perception: How We Use It to Keep Ourselves Feeling Poor

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Perception and Feeling Poor

I heard a phrase yesterday that followed me around all day:

“Perception is what we use to convince ourselves that we’re right.”

We may use our perception to capture those thoughts or actions that reinforce what we already believe. And that becomes, “See, I knew that was true.”

And we may use perception to filter out what inconveniently conflicts with one of our beliefs. That takes the form of “I hear that but I know it to be false.” (Thus protecting what we believe. Or want to believe.)

Perception is the greatest ally of limiting beliefs.

How so? And how does this affect our money?

Let’s look at three scenarios.

Perception Scenario #1

You need to build your business by bringing in three new clients, but you have a few doubts about the value of what you are offering. You make a pitch to a potential client.

The client says, “I’m not so sure this is for me, I mean, my case is different.”

You could say, “Well, everyone’s case is different, but my success rate says my system is flexible enough to solve your particular challenge, as it has for so many others.”

Instead you think, “I knew what I offer isn’t what anyone needs, or she would have jumped at it.”

And, instead of listening to the objections and addressing each one to be sure it is valid (which most aren’t), you say, “Okay, I’m sure you’re right.” And walk away from the sale.

Perception Scenario #2

You know you need to start building up savings to supplement your Social Security for your later years, but you always find something more important to do with your spare money.

You read, “Nearly 60 percent of Americans say they plan to retire by age 65, but nearly the same percentage fear they’ll never save enough to do it” (from a survey by Capital One ShareBuilder).

You could say, “Well, anything I save is better than nothing.”

Instead you think, “See, Capital One should know: no one can save enough, so why bother saving at all.”

And, instead of finding ways of cutting back on non-essentials and letting your savings grow over the years, benefiting from compound growth, you pick up the tab the next time you and your girlfriends get together over the weekend.

Perception Scenario #3

You’re bringing in more money than you did last year, and you still have trouble paying all your monthly bills. Yet your lifestyle “feels” like it’s the same lifestyle as back then.

You read, “Hidden inflation is making your money worth less than last year, and not just by the 1-2% the government is admitting to officially.”

You could say, “Well, my income has grown by 35% and I’m sure inflation hasn’t been that high, so where’s my money going?”

Instead you think, “Oh, so it has nothing to do with anything I’m doing; it’s that darn inflation that’s eating up all the extra money I’m earning. Surely I haven’t changed my spending habits that much …”

And, instead of having someone help you understand exactly where your money is going, finding the money “leakers” and establishing a spending plan where you’re in control of your money, can close each month and even save, you continue in the anxiety that comes from ignorance.

The Antidote to Misusing Perception

Someone once said, “Truth is universal. Perception of truth is not.”

And novelist Roberto Bolaño in his apocalyptic “2666” said, “People see what they want to see and what people want to see never has anything to do with the truth.”

More precisely, in “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” author Tom Robbins wrote “One has not only an ability to perceive the world but an ability to alter one’s perception of it; more simply, one can change things by the manner in which one looks at them.”

So I ask:

Where are we using outside opinions and myths to keep us from doing something we know we need to do in order to be on the path to financial security?

It’s human nature. But that misuse of perception is keeping us in a place of anxiety that is totally unnecessary.

What’s the solution? When we hear that little voice in our head saying, “See, I told you you were right …” about anything, stop and question it honestly. That’s perception, functioning conveniently to make us do (or not do) something we know down deep is good for us.

Let us know in the Comments section below if you thought of any instances where you typically let perception serve as a “convenient truth.”


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Bio: Sharon O’Day fixes financial lives. She is a tell-it-like-it-is money expert with a successful career in global finance, plus an MBA from the Wharton School. Today she specializes in getting entrepreneurial women over 50 back on their game so they can have more money, less stress and more joy. With her “Over Fifty and Financially Free” strategies, they take actions that lead to their ultimate goal: financial  peace of mind.

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  • Tina Ashburn

    These are wonderful examples of the positive (and negative) results of perception. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then changing your thinking from negative to positive can make beauty happen.

    • The key is how invisible this “perception” thing is, Tina. And, you’re right, once aware we DO have the ability to change any limiting or disruptive beliefs!

  • Caroline

    That’s a great post for me this morning! I’m the kind of person who walks away from the sales. So I have to work on it!

    • Glad you see how it works, Caroline, and hope it helps you push through where before you might have quietly walked away!

  • Regina Bright

    Love this article – this is so true! “Perception is what we use to convince ourselves that we’re right.”

    • And, Regina, some of us have a highly developed need to be right! So … you can imagine that our perception is skewed to be sure we are, at least in our own minds. (And I include myself in that group; I’ve done a lot of work around that need … not perfect yet, but much more aware.)

  • Perception is everything so true, Thanks so much for everything you write, always a great mind opening reading

    • Thaks, Carly, for the kind words. As you know, my goal is to open minds and increase awareness of our plentiful options!

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  • Diana Foree

    Perception is a tricking mechanism. It can takes us down the wrong road for sure. Another thought provoking article! Love them!

    • Hope these articles take you down “bunny trails” in your mind that you
      might not have thought of before, Diana! That’s my goal … 😉

  • Hope these articles take you down “bunny trails” in your mind that you might not have thought of before, Diana! That’s my goal … 😉

  • Interesting how we human beings take the truth, the basic facts about something, and create our own convenient stories around them in order to justify our choices (or lack of) in life, Sharon! This is a topic that has been on my mind as well lately, as we often make decisions based on nothing more than our preconceived idea or perception about something we have no previous experience with. And yes, your articles do offer us all an opportunity to stand back and take an objective look at how we are in the world. 🙂

    • Your comment makes me think back to your article about dog lovers and cat non-lovers, Beverley. Even if that was “preconceived notions,” it’s not far from unquestioned perceptions, is it? 😉

      • I had the same thoughts when reading this piece of yours Sharon. 🙂 Agree that preconceived notions and unquestioned or unexplored perceptions are very similar indeed.

  • I know that we are living on way less money than we did just a year ago. The cost of living is rising and wages are staying stagnant. Its difficult to live like this is you are living pay check to paycheck, which most Americans do.

    • I know so many people are living that “crunch,” Christy. Where it gets particularly dangerous is when someone is in denial of the “tightening” effect of stagnant salaries and rising basic costs … and not responding with the wisest choices they can.

  • Meryl Beck

    Your perception truly does play a major role in how things will turn out. The tiniest negative can actually turn away so many opportunities. It’s important to be willing to see both sides of a situation. Evaluate what we are doing and what things we need to change within ourselves so that we become better people.

    • “…so that we become better people” is one benefit, Meryl. The other is that if our perceptions are honest and closer to the truth, we can deal with things more effectively and, hence, live a fuller life.

  • kungphoo

    This is very interesting! I have never thought about it this way before, but you’re definitely right!

    • Thanks for being willing to go down that mental path with me, Rob. It is certainly one area where we can make a difference in our lives by just being more honest with ourselves!

  • Alexandra McAllister

    Sharon, this is so true: “Perception is what we use to convince ourselves that we’re right.” I love this article, along with everything else you write. It makes me stand back and take a look at what’s really going on. Thanks for sharing these priceless articles!

    • Alexandra, you are such a good gauge for me: I know that if what I write resonates with you, it’s because it hit the target I was aiming at. And that just means that I know you are open to honest self-examination and introspection as a way of improving your life! May I quote your comment?

  • Rochefel Rivera

    Wow! you made it so very clear in your blog, perception indeed makes a big role in our thinking. I’m trying to be positive always. Thank you for this great post!

    • Rochefel, pay close attention to “being positive” and examining your beliefs when you feel that smug “I knew I was right” feeling. Be sure to occasionally question if that feeling is based on honesty and reality … or on a convenient lie you tell yourself. We all do it!

  • Veronica Solomon

    Thank you for breaking this down for us. false perception unfortunately becomes what people choose to belief and the result is holding themselves back from bigger and better things.

    • This is so subtle, Veronica. Yet it can really get in the way of thriving. That’s why I thought it was worth writing about! So glad you “get it” … 😉

  • Gina Stroud Binder

    I agree that “the misuse of perception is keeping us in a place of anxiety”. When I took an honest look at our financial reality, my anxiety diminshed and a sense of control emerged. Suddenly I saw the power of consistently making small changes.

    • Isn’t that feeling wonderful, Gina? (Regardless of what we discover!) It turns out we almost always think things are worse than they are … and, even if they aren’t, at least we know what we’re dealing with and can correct them!

  • Accountability is the key to changing the habits we’ve acquired through the stories we tell ourselves. You’re article is fantastic and hits home to the problem… one solution may be to accept people in our lives who tell us when our perceptions don’t line up with reality. If we’re humble enough to evaluate it… then we have the power to change it. Until then we are enabling ourselves to justify our wrong thinking and bad choices.

    • One of the wisest assessments I’ve seen of what is a very subtle truth! And having someone to run interference for us — with our best interest at heart — is the ultimate gift!

  • Norma Doiron

    I’ve never heard of it described this way before but it makes a lot of sense: “Perception is what we use to convince ourselves that we’re right.” Thanks, Sharon! New insight.

    • It’s not something people think of or talk about, because it means having to doubt what we believe about just about everything: it’s a form of filtering. But when we invest the time to do so, Norma, we see how often we’ve skewed the truth in the name of convenience!

  • Gillian ~ Gilly

    I love the way you’ve dug up, presented and found a solution for some static situations in our life. Time and time again I hear in my ahead, “I don’t have enough time!” Not a great perception when I want to do…I will ignore this voice and move on 🙂 thank you Sharon!

    • Glad the article led you to look at something that’s been there for some time … comfortably … and hope you can hold to your “ignore this voice and move on.” (It’s not that easy, Gilly! We’re pretty good at tricking ourselves!)

  • Ashley

    I had never thought about our false perceptions in such a way. Great information!

  • Pat Moon

    I can identify with all your examples of perceptions at one time or another. False perceptions are deadly and need to be dealt with in an honest manner with the real facts. Real facts are believable and can encourage one to move forward toward their goals.

    • It’s really a “filtering system of convenience,” isn’t it, Pat? And, as we “out” ourselves, we move on from each instance …

  • Heather Cameron

    Great example, so right. I love the way you presented it. It is so important that we don’t let negative ideas take over.

    Thanks Sharon, great post.

    • Thanks, Heather, for the kind words! Remember that sometimes our perceptions can keep us believing those same negative ideas you want to protect yourself from …

  • Roslyn Tanner Evans

    Mostly people don’t think about perception. It is opinion, point of view and that becomes the facts that we relate to. Even when made aware by your great examples, it takes effort to see that how we move thru life is based on our own perspectives. I’ve learned to think about things as . ‘this is how it occurs to me’, which keeps me on the straight and narrow that it IS NOT FACT. Great post as always.

    • It’s so subtle, Roz. That’s why few give them much thought. Yet I realize just how powerful that “filtering” system can be. It’s what we have to break through at times as I’m doing mentoring work with women … and they’re amazed to see how they’ve been holding themselves down or back …

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