April 24, 2021

Expectation vs Reality

Perception is reality—until reality bites . . .

Sitting down to watch a movie with my wife the other night, I grabbed a tub of ice cream from the freezer. It was raspberry ripple by a local dairy producer whose stuff I’d never had before.

As I started eating it, I was a little disappointed. The raspberry flavour was there, but the vanilla was too subtle. I could taste it, but I was hoping for something bolder.

A couple of days later, I got the tub out of the freezer again, this time in daylight. When I took the lid off, I saw that the ice cream was not the typical cream colour of vanilla but a mild pink, and there was certainly no ripple. I tasted a spoonful and realised that it wasn’t vanilla . . . the entire thing was creamy raspberry. There was no hint of vanilla at all—I had imagined it on my first tasting purely because I expected it to be vanilla.

There’s a lesson in this. We don’t perceive reality objectively—we create a subjective narrative based on our expectations. Anais Nin summed this up perfectly when she said: “We do not see the world as it is, we see it as we are.”

We like to think we view life accurately, but we are quick to dismiss information that doesn’t fit our beliefs and embrace information that reinforces them. And when presented with ambiguous information, we tend to interpret it in whatever way best fits our desired worldview.

As a result, we walk around with a head full of assumptions and likely make bad decisions as a consequence.

To avoid acting on our false assumptions, we should habitually take a step back and spend time figuring out what’s really going on. Otherwise, we might end up with a taste of the unexpected, and it won’t always taste as pleasant as ice cream.