Your Mental Filter is the mother of all fuckups!

When the police investigate eye witnesses after a car accident, then every eye witness will tell his or her own story. No two people in the world experience the same event in exactly the same way. Everyone has its virtual pair of glasses through which he looks to the world around him. This virtual pair of glasses is called a mental filter. Every information which is coming through our senses must pass this mental filter before it even gets a chance to reach our conscious awareness.


This is a good thing because our mental filter prevents us from information overload. An average human being receives 2 million bits of information each second through his five senses. Imagine that you would have to process continuously all of this! You would go crazy! Furthermore, you would not have the time anymore to take decisions and to think.

But luckily for you, your subconscious mind has built a mental filter for you. The big question is though is, is your mental filter working for you, or are you working for your mental filter?

Do you like to know what I mean with that and how you can use your mental filter to your advantage?

Then please, read on:

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What is a Mental Filter?

What is a Mental Filter?

A mental filter is a system of your subconscious mind which filters out most information which you receive every second of the day. There are three ways in which your mental filter works: Deletion, Distortion, and Generalization. While your conscious mind can process so little information at the same time, your subconscious mind filters out 99.9% of the input it gets. At any given second during the day, you receive millions of bits of information. It is the job of your subconscious mind to filter out almost everything and only present you the information you need. If you walk into your living room, you probably can easily identify a hundred different objects if you would have to. But why pay attention to every little object every time you enter your living room? That’s a waste of your mental energy. So, that’s why your subconscious mind is helping you by filtering out all those unnecessary information. This is done by three primary processes:

DELETION: every bit of information which your subconscious mind think is not necessary for you to pay attention to, is not presented to your conscious mind. So, when you selectively pay attention to something, then all other sensory information which is reaching you is deleted.

DISTORTION: the information which will be presented to your conscious mind is distorted in a way that it will be easy for you to understand. Distortion allows us to make shifts in our experience of the sensory data by making misrepresentations of reality. Distortion can be very helpful for us for planning and motivation. When we do Future-Self Visualization to plan our future, we are distorting the current sensory information.

GENERALIZATION: the information which will be presented to your conscious mind is generalized in bigger chunks so that it will be easier for you to pay attention to it. So, if you are looking for a chair while entering a room, then instead of presenting you “wood, brown, leg, leg, cushion, white, big, leather” your subconscious mind will generalize this to “chair”. Generalization let us draw global conclusions based on one of the ways that we learn. When you generalize, you take the information you have and draw broad conclusions about the world based on one or more expectations.

Mental Filter Generalization

So, your mental filter is doing you a favor, so that your conscious mind has the time to pay attention to only the important things. But how does your mental filter do that for you? How does your mental filter decide what is important and what not? And is your mental filter working for you? Or are you working for your mental filter to prove it right time and time again?

How does your Mental Filter work?

How does your mental filter work?

Your mental filter is built by your subconscious mind over a long period of time. This means that if you want to change your mental filter because it doesn't serve you anymore, that it will also take a long period of time to change it. When you are making the wrong generalizations over and over again, and this is hindering you from achieving your goals, then you know it is time to change your mental filter.

By repeating the same distortions, deletions, and generalizations over a longer period of time over and over again, you build your mental filter, and there are six types of them:

1) Meta-programs

Meta-programs is a mental filter on a very subconscious level. This mental filter is content-free. This means that meta-programs do not contain any content or information. They just describe the way we think about things. Meta-programs are a mental filter that either subtract from your generalizations or add to your generalizations. Meta-programs are one of the ways you maintain your identity by preserving or breaking down the generalizations you make over time. Knowing your meta-programs can predict your behavior.

​2) Values

The next most subconscious mental filter after meta programs is the values you have. Values are the first level where the mental filters have content in and of themselves. Values are an evaluation filter.

Your values determine how you decide every second of the day and how you will evaluate your actions after they have taken place. For example, an important value of mine is to be productive every day.

So, when I am going home and feel that I have been very productive that day, I have a good feeling about myself. Your values can be arranged in hierarchical order. Some values are more important than others. Your values determine how your thinking paradigms are constructed. Values are context dependent. So, in the context of your career, other things are important than in the context of your family life.

​3) Beliefs

Beliefs are the next level of mental filters. Beliefs are convictions or acceptances that certain things are true or real. They are generalizations about how the world operates. Beliefs are the presuppositions you have about certain things that either create or deny personal power for you.

​4) Attitudes

Attitudes are collections of values and beliefs about a particular subject. Most people are quite conscious about their attitudes. You might have experienced this yourself when you said something like “Well, that’s just the way I feel about it.”

​5) Memories

Memories are the fifth mental filter. Memories profoundly affect your perceptions and personality. They are who we are. The older you grow, the more you will react to collections of memories around a certain topic from the past. This makes you less receptive and alert to what is going on around you.

​6) Decisions

The sixth mental filter is about decisions that were made in the past. Decisions about who you are might affect your entire life. The problem with most of your decisions is that they were made subconsciously. Or they were made so long ago that you have forgotten that you have made them. Most of the decisions are made without re-evaluating them afterward. This often results in decisions which are limiting us instead of helping us.

Your mental filter works 24/7

Your mental filter works 24/7

While your subconscious mind is also responsible for taking care of your body, it has to be always active. Even when you are asleep, you need to breathe and digest and so on. But also when your conscious mind is “offline watching TV”, your subconscious mind is still alert to any external stimuli you should respond to.

So, most of the noises around you are filtered out, when you are watching TV, but when the doorbell rings, you suddenly get this sound filtered through to your conscious mind.

If you like it or not, your mental filter is always on. You can’t put it off. This is both an advantage as well as a handicap as we will see in this article.

Your mental filter is responsible for maintaining and controlling your perceptions

Mental filter maintains and controls perceptions

The millions of bits of information your senses receive every second of the day are filtered by your subconscious mind so that your conscious mind only have to pay attention to relevant matters. This is because your conscious mind can just process 7 plus or minus 2 chunks of information at the same time. The 0.1% of reality which is led through to our conscious awareness is called perception. It is a deleted, distorted and generalized look on reality. But it is also our best chance of surviving in life without going crazy.

It is the job of your subconscious mind to control and maintain those perceptions. So, every time you perceive a little bit of reality, your subconscious mind is creating a mental filter. For example, when a young child learns that something with four wheels is a car, it calls every thing on four wheels a car, even if it is something else, like a truck, or a boat on a trailer, until the little child gets told otherwise. Only then it can adjust his filters. And from now on, the little child can distinguish a truck from a car.

This is the key to every change you want to establish in your behavior. If you want to be more successful, and achieve more goals, then you have to re-program your mental filters because otherwise, your subconscious mind will continue to use the mental filters as they were.

Everything we do is driven by our emotions. We need to tap into that. Each belief, whether you are conscious about your belief or not, has an emotion connected to it. The most powerful filter you have, besides from your beliefs, is your current emotional state. This will determine if you come into action or not, if you will stay focused on your goal or not.

Your mental filter determines the quality of your life

Mental filter determines the quality of your life

If you can’t find your keys, then this is due to your mental filter. Even when your keys lie in front of you on the table, it might be that you don’t see them, because your mental filter is filtering out the visual image of your keys. This is an example where your mental filter is not helping you. Another example where your mental filter does help you, might be when you are in a bookstore looking for the perfect book to give to a dear friend of you. Suddenly you are attracted to the far left side of the store where you find the perfect book. Your mental filter was guiding you through the store towards that book. So, your mental filter can help you or hinder you in your day to day life as well as in achieving your goals. This is why you need to watch and manage your mental filter carefully, because:

Your mental filter determines the quality of your life.

Your mental filter determines the quality of your life.
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For example, when you are suffering from back pain, what do you do? Take some medication? Wait for it to go away? Go to the doctor? Do some specific exercises? Take a walk? What do you do? The decision you will take, is totally dependent on the way your mental filter will guide you. First of all, when was the first time you experienced back pain? Maybe your back is hurting already for a few days, but you did not notice it before, because you were occupied with other things? This is because your mental filter skipped the back pain in favor of other more urgent things for you to notice. But, okay, now you finally are aware of your back pain. So, what do you do? Ignore it? Take action? But what action should you take? The outcome will be different from person to person, and this is dependent on the mental filter you have. The same stimulus, back pain, can lead to different responses for different people depending on the mental filter they have. The person who chooses an adequate response has the best mental filter.

Let’s assume that you just have given a fabulous presentation. You get all kinds of positive and very positive feedback. Except from one person who has less positive feedback. How do you deal with this feedback? Many people keep on thinking of this one little tiny negative feedback and forget the amount of positive feedback they got. They might even keep awake at night worrying about it. This is an example of your mental filter at work. Unfortunately, your mental filter doesn’t do you a good job this time because it filters out all the positive feedback, and it leaves you worrying about the one negative feedback you got. It is like taking a gallon of water and dropping one bit of black ink into it, and then complaining because the water is black. So, do you see how your mental filter determines the quality of your life? Other people with other mental filters don’t think any more about the one negative feedback, and focus only on all the positive feedback and are sleeping very well and very happy at night. Luckily for them, their mental filters work to their advantage because they have learned to focus on the positive side of things.

Mental Filter At Work

Your mental filter is the mother of all fuckups in your life

Mental Filter

How do you become more successful and happy in your life? By taking better decisions today. Most of the decisions we take every day, we take on autopilot. This means that we are not even consciously aware of them. These “autopilot” decisions are guarded by our mental filter.

Please read this sentence first:

"The dog that was pink limped with one leg”.

What happens is that your conscious mind pays attention to the words, while your subconscious mind pays attention to the structure. And the moment your subconscious mind hears something like the word dog, your mental filter starts accessing every file in your system connected with the word dog. And after that, it spits up a picture based on that association. The ironic thing about this sentence is that there is a so-called descriptor in this sentence which disturbs your whole picture: “pink”. I mean, how often do you see a pink dog? So, the chances are that the picture you first had in your mind of a dog, was not a pink dog, isn’t it? This descriptor was placed on purpose at the end of the sentence. So, it has been put after the subject it is referring to. Your subconscious mind takes a little piece of information, “the dog”, and it starts to run with it. Your mental filter immediately generalizes the word to a picture filed somewhere in your memory. This creates an assumption, which may or may not is false. So, always test your assumptions! This process happens millions of times below the threshold of your conscious awareness.

The big question is: is your mental filter controlling you, or are you controlling your mental filter? Because as you have seen in this simple example, your perception of reality is formed by your mental filter without you even knowing it. The first step in taking back control over your mental filter is to observe your own language carefully. Every word you use, represent literally the part of the brain that is being activated.

When you feel stressed, is it the event or situation which causes you stress, or do you have stress because of the thoughts you have about that event or situation? Most of the time it is due to your mental filter why you are stressed. So, next time when you have stress maybe it is time to check your mental filter.

You know the saying: Assumption is the mother of all fuckups. The reason that this happens is that as soon as you make an assumption, it is as if you are driving your car by only looking in the back mirror. You are taking decisions based on old news. Not on what is actually happening right in front of you. I must confess that I take inappropriate assumptions too, which hinder me a lot. But still, I keep on doing it Why? Because our mental filters dictate it, and it also serves a useful purpose because most of the time our mental filters help us in making efficient decisions. The only thing is that we need to be aware that sometimes our outside world has changed, and old assumptions are not valid anymore. And then assumptions are causing frustration and anger.

Assumption is the mother of all fuckups and your mental filter is responsible for that!

Assumption is the mother of all fuckups and your mental filter is responsible for that!

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So, as soon as you are off balance, feeling frustrated, having anger, or having stress, let this be a sign for your conscious mind to question your assumptions and clean up your mental filter:

​It’s time to clean your mental filter

Clean your mental filter

Cleaning up your mental filter is very difficult to do. The reason is that the way you view your world looks so normal to you that you think it is the truth. You are so accustomed to looking through smeared glasses that you think this is how it should be. You think that your view of the world is how the world looks like. It is tough to let this image go. Your ego is standing in the way. It is your blind spot, and this is why you need feedback from other people to help you uncover your blindspot. But what do you think when the feedback you get from someone is disturbing your view of the world? Probably you think something like “He is wrong, and I am right.” That’s your ego talking, hindered by your mental filter. And this is probably hindering you from being more successful and happy. So, how do you break through your mental filter?

The first step to clean your mental filters is becoming aware how these things work. Next time someone is giving you feedback, accept the fact that he or she might be right, and that if you think otherwise, that it is probably your mental filter talking. So, if you want to update your view of the world to the most actual version of the truth, then start questioning your mental filter. Start asking yourself what-if questions. What if the person who is giving you feedback, is right? What would that mean to you? Become used to the fact that you might be wrong. And furthermore, start to appreciate that you are wrong because now you are learning much quicker and adapting much quicker to the real world. And according to the first law of cybernetics, the unit within the system with the most behavioral responses available to it, controls the system. The most successful companies are the ones who can adapt to market changes very quickly.

’A’ohe pau ko ‘ike i ko halau ho’okahi
- Ancient Hawaiian saying; translates to: “Not all knowledge is learned in one house."

One of the best ways to continuously question your mental filter is to apply negative visualization which is not the same as negative thinking. If you start using negative visualization on a daily basis, then you get accustomed to the fact that there are more scenarios possible then only your line of thinking. This will open you up to new possibilities and make you more responsive to the world around you. Furthermore, with every decision you make it is a good practice to ask yourself which assumptions you are making and if these assumptions still are correct.

Another way to clean your mental filter is to re-program it on purpose towards something more desirable. Let’s say that you just bought the latest model of a Ford Focus car. Suddenly you see this car driving all day long on the highway, or you see that car parked everywhere. This is your mental filter at work. You suddenly become aware of something you wasn’t aware before. Why? You are so pleased with your new car that you have a very positive emotion attached to it. And this emotion acts as a filter and filters through every other picture attached to that emotion. You can use the same principle for when you want to get new business opportunities. First, start to believe in them and become enthusiastic about them, and your mental filter will make you aware of them. As
Louis Pasteur has put it (1854): "In the fields of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind.” Or as Johan Cruyff, the famous football player, has said: "You only see it, when you got it.” So, prepare your mind to see what you want to achieve. One of the ways to do this is by using positive affirmations and visualization techniques.

When you need to give a presentation, and you are experiencing stage fright, then you will perform better when you label this emotion as "excitement" instead of "anxiety" or "stress". This is a result of the research of social scientist Alison Wood Brooks, assistant professor at Harvard Business School. When students were asked to sing the song “Don’t Stop Believing”, their accuracy was measured by software. It turned out that the group of students who said to their selves “I’m excited”, just before they started to sing the song, were 80% accurate, where the group of students which told themselves “I’m nervous”, before they started to sing, was 53% accurate. This is a beautiful example of how you can program your mental filter and create better results.

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Conclusion about your mental filter

Your mental filter determines the quality of your life. So, if you learn to manage your mental filter better, then the quality of your life will improve. Or, otherwise, if you neglect your mental filter and let it run on autopilot, you increase the chance of using false assumptions and therefore of taking the wrong decisions.

So, if you would like to improve the quality of your life, to be more successful and to be happier, then start managing your mental filter today.

The best way to do that, is by using negative visualization on a daily basis, to question your assumptions, and to welcome every form of feedback. All these will help you become aware of your mental filters and to update them on the most current situation at hand.

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Over to you

Please leave a comment below by telling us how you are dealing with your mental filter in your life.

Thank you already in advance for sharing your thoughts and insights!

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Harry Heijligers
 

Harry Heijligers has more than 25 years of experience as a Project Manager and more than 17 years of experience as an NLP Trainer. He has a Dutch blog about NLP here: HarryHeijligers.com. If you'd like to know about the Smart Leadership Hut, please check this: Smart Leadership Hut.

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