You See What You Look For

August 15, 2014

Two guys visit Paris. One says: “Paris is a terrible place. Prostitutes everywhere. Cheap bars. Dirty streets.”The other guy says: “Strange. I was in Paris too. I saw no prostitutes and no cheap bars. Only museums and incredible architecture.”You see what you look for.I have a friend whose wife speaks to him in a somewhat aggressive voice. It bothers me, so I asked him if it bothered him.“What aggressive voice?” he said, surprised. He did not even notice it. I do because I hate people talking in such a tone of voice. So, I look for it whether it is present or not.You hear, see, notice, and experience what you are looking for. If you do not look or expect, it will not be there.The reasons behind our (compulsive) search are multiple.Often we gravitate in one direction because of some early life experience. (Maybe an experience from an earlier life, if you believe in those things.) It might be an experience we ignored at the time, or even forgot. But it was recorded, consciously or sub-consciously, and now it drives us in a way that is almost beyond our control.Then there is a past traumatic experience. It is lodged deeply in our memory and today we are sensitive to anything that resembles or harks back to that experience. We are petrified that it will repeat itself.And so we scan the horizon and its surroundings, sometimes unconsciously, on the lookout that it will reappear in one shape, or another. And since we look for it, we will find it or anything that even remotely resembles it.I know a person who constantly complains that people offend him. “This person insulted me; that person ignored me, and that third person disrespected me.”Did it happen? Probably. But another person would not notice it. This man, I believe, is scared that people do not respect him, so he tests people to see whether or not it is true. He might even cause situations where he will be disrespected, to validate his belief system.We create the reality we live in.Do you know anyone who gets into trouble all the time? The usual explanation is that he has bad luck. A more likely assumption is that he is searching for opportunities to fail….and get into trouble. He needs to fail to prove his belief system.What we look for and thus what we see, experience or ultimately know is not a random occurrence. We are pulled either by a specific link to some earlier experience or a “pre-recorded” check-list.I like the concept of a check-list because, to me, it is attached to a personality style. By that I mean what we look for, and thus what we notice, and eventually know, depends on our style.Take a person with the (A) style (from the PAEI model). He or she will recognize small details and deviations from the norm that an (E) would not even notice. And an (E) will see opportunities that an (A) cannot fathom.Predetermined check-lists crop up not only in personality styles.A professional eye also plays a part. An architect will notice details of a building that an ordinary person cannot see. My son, the movie director, criticizes the quality of my video tapes citing details I did not believe existed.Each of us moves through life with his own check-list. We look for different things. And in turn we experience life differently. It depends on which check-list we use.This insight has multiple repercussions. Particularly in corporate settings.First, when managing companies, especially in a rapidly changing environment, how do we diagnose a situation? How do we make a strategic plan to deal with the changes?Each executive has their own check-list, of course. But it is a limited one. Inconclusive. And thus biased, largely because it is a reflection of his managerial style and a reflection of his past experiences and present interests.If we want a comprehensive analysis of a situation so as to arrive at the best plan, we need to have a complementary team of managers. What one man or woman fails to notice, others will identify.This insight has repercussions, I believe, for therapy as well.When a patient complains about what is happening to him or her, the therapist during treatment should seek to find out WHY is this person looking for this to happen to him or her?Take a woman who tells her therapist that she attracts only the wrong men. The point is she attracts the wrong men precisely because she is looking for them.The therapeutic questions follow: Why is this woman looking for the wrong man in her life? What in her previous experience has caused this “addiction” to seek and attract the wrong men? And how can we free her from a past experience that is affecting her life now?“I cannot find my soul mate,” says a man in search of a spouse.I would say: “Because you are not looking for her. If you did, you would find her. What are you frightened of if you did find her?”First we create, in our head, the world that we seek to experience. And then we proceed to live a life defined by that self-fulfilling prophecy.What we look for we find. Or said differently and better: what we find is what we have been looking for.Just thinking.Sincerely,Ichak Kalderon Adizes

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes