Perception: Your first step towards building Resilience and Overcoming Adversity


It never ceases to amaze me how deep the rabbit hole goes when it comes to perception. To how, what and why we see what we see…

You don’t need me to remind you of examples like the gorilla passing across the basketball court; that you didn’t see because you were focused on the ball. Or the famous violinist busking in the Metro station in DC; ignored because his talent was completely out of context with the surroundings and his image of; well, just another busker…

Now I raise these examples because once you know the back-story, or are alerted to something you first missed, your perception widens a little to the point where next time you might look for more. You might step back to take in a bigger picture.

But what if your perception were flipped upside down?
What if I told you that the way we’ve been encouraged to see the world was wrong? That the way towards creating positive outcome was to see not through the rose-coloured glasses of the optimist, but through the doom and gloom eyes of the pessimist?

Enter Jaron Lanier:

“The people who think that things are as good as they could possibly be, those are the pessimists, because they think that things can’t possibly get any better. They believe that to be an optimist means that everything is perfect and you’re crazy if you want to make it better. To believe that things could be better is to seek to make them so. To me, this is optimism.”

What Jaron did there was to totally reframe the idea of what the pessimist and the optimist “see”. And where that perception might take them…

The self help movement of the last two decades did us a disservice I believe in teaching us to only see the positive (“The Secret” anyone?). What we really need is to see the full picture, a bigger picture than that presented when we choose to ignore the negative.

So, how does this play out in real life?

Let’s go with an example that’s both current and results in great consequence if things had have gone wrong.


This photo was taken by two Russian climbers atop the world’s second tallest building. At 2073ft (632m), the exposure as they scaled not just the actual building but the crane atop the building as well is simply terrifying. (Watch the video here for the full scope).

Now, here’s the thing.
When we first experience heights as children, we’re taught to never look down. That to look down would mean we’d freeze up in fear.
This photo is taken looking down. If you watch the video you’ll notice these guys look down a lot.

They’ve built up a resistance to looking down, a resilience to our common fear of falling.

They acknowledge the negative outcome, i.e. the ground being an awfully long way away, but they don’t get stuck. In fact, the oppositehappens. It brings the heightened sense of focus required to be in a place like that; in a situation like that. Obviously, this took some practice…

So, the question for you is; if we can build resilience to something as primal as our common fear of heights; what will it take for you to build the resilience required in todays world of constant change and uncertainty?

Your answer: Practice.

How will you know what to practice?
Start with the things that scare you; things that are in the way of you getting to where you want to be.

Where does perception fit in?

If you don’t see the opportunities that arise each and every day to practice building your resilience, you can’t act on them.

You won’t see them if your only frame of reference is through the rose-coloured glasses of the optimist. They will pass you by, just like the guy in the gorilla suit did…

But if you train yourself into the habit of constantly being on the lookout for those opportunities to grow, to build up a resistance; that’s a different story.

That’s where “how you see” not only changes what you see, but changes where you go and what you become…

On a side note, I was excited this week to be featured in a Q & A session with one of my favourite speakers bureaus; Speakers’ Spotlight. You can read all about my run in with the Blue Man Group (or my run in with their marshmallows at least), as well as the uncomfortable response to the weirdest question I’ve been asked as a professional keynote speaker. Here it is:

Archived Comments

Warren Macdonald says:

February 20, 2014 at 7:57 am

No sooner had I written the above, and this piece appears in the New Yorker:
It seems like as a culture, we’re beginning to accept the idea of negative thought being useful, or at least entertain it. I’ve always said, I like the concept of The Secret in that positive thinking helps to formulate a goal, but that alone is not enough. That’s where hard work steps in, or not; and we begin making progress towards that goal, or not…