What Fills Your Filters?

In my book, “Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior,” I talk about filters – those films we have in front of all of our experiences. Filters tell us what’s “right” and what’s “wrong,” and they color our viewpoint as we look out at the world. We don’t recognize the filters; we just respond to them.

Filters can become increasingly clogged when we don’t realize the impact that our self-talk has on them. We talk to ourselves all day long about everything. It’s like a running commentary in our head telling us what we see, whether we should like it or not, and interpreting it for us. It’s an unseen and unrealized process that goes on – we just react and respond to things, not realizing that we are doing so.

If we begin to pay attention to the filters, and what fills them, we will see that we have an opinion on most things we observe. This is why road rage, or flying off the handle at someone who mistreats us, can happen. For example – we are driving along using self-talk that says the world is becoming more and more rude and that people on the road just don’t care. The next thing we know, someone cuts us off entering from the on ramp. The person neglects to notice that the “Yield” sign applies to them, and almost sideswipe our car. We are indignant! They are so rude! We now have proof positive of what we were just thinking – rude people are everywhere!

Of course, truth be told, they had the Yield and they may be “rude,” but they also may be tired or distracted or even distraught. Maybe they should not even be behind the wheel that day, but they have to drive somewhere. Maybe they are on their way to the hospital or to a funeral for a beloved family member.

We don’t know their circumstances – we just know that they did something to US! We have to protect ourselves. We have to believe the worst of them, because they disturbed us when we were just simply driving along, minding our own business.

This is how filters work. I see something that happens and I interpret it through the film called “ME!” I interpret someone else’s behavior as either good for me or bad for me. Today you were “nice” to me, so I like you. Tomorrow you may cut me off in traffic, so I’ll think you are a jerk. My impression of you is totally dependent on how you treat me, and the filter I have – and it’s different for different people. One person may use self-talk to tell themselves they don’t deserve to be treated well so they just let others pile it on, while another person may be completely intolerant of bad behavior and the slightest infraction sets them off.

The filters we have – the view of the world we acquire – are a culmination of many of our life experiences that teach us what we should like, and what we should reject. Our self-talk – the ongoing commentary on everything we see – cements our filters in place. The self-talk confirms that we know what we are talking about, and proves our points to us over and over again.

The problem is that we are mostly unaware of this happening. We just think we “know” or we just react. We don’t notice the process as it unfolds.

This week, make a list of those things that just bug you. Identify behaviors that set you off. Become more aware of those things that trigger you. Keep the list with you as you go throughout your day. Notice, when something happens that you don’t like, what the self-talk is that accompanies the event. What do you say to yourself? How do you react? Bring your unconscious responses to the surface and make them more conscious. Work to unclog the filters.