The Discipline of Perception

Author: Walter Basnight, Secondary Learning Coach for the American International School Chennai, India
and member of the Thinking Collaborative Futures Team

As a new instructional coach, I regularly turn to The Obstacle Is The Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage by Ryan Holiday to support my development and efficacy. As Holiday shares, the Philosophy of Stoicism encourages us to view the obstacles before us as opportunities. In my work I face “obstacles” with the teachers I serve in many forms: lack of interest, lack of understanding, and lack of time, to name a few. Holiday, like other Stoics of the past, instructs that overcoming obstacles is a discipline of three critical steps: Perception, Action, and the Will. These steps are interdependent, interconnected, and fluidly contingent disciplines.

Holiday invites the reader to first develop the Discipline of Perception as it allows us to better “see” the inevitable obstacles we face and, in turn, grow from. Perception is how we see and understand what occurs around us and how we assign meaning to our experiences. Our perceptions can be a source of strength or of great weakness. “Nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” as Shakespeare put it.

Earlier this year a teacher asked me to film students in her Public Speaking course. This was not exactly the type of coaching work I had anticipated and I initially viewed it as a waste of my skills. And, yet, filming those students quickly became an open door for more meaningful coaching conversations. Without being open to serving teachers in a different way than anticipated, I might have missed the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue about student learning. It was a great reminder of the power of perception. Outward appearances are deceptive.

A further obstacle has been to attract teachers to commit to a coaching cycle. At the beginning of the year, my calendar was too empty for my liking. As the year continued, my interactions with teachers were episodic and/or quick hits of support. While this was of service, it was not building the culture of coaching I desired. I began to worry. This was a choice on my part. The Stoics teach us that reactions are a function of our perspectives. Holiday would argue that this simply serves to turn bad things into really bad things.

Though the emotion of worry was my choice, it was not serving anyone. Unhelpful perceptions can invade our minds “that sacred place of reason, action and will–and throw off our compass. Discipline in perception lets you clearly see the advantage and the proper course of action in every situation without the pestilence of panic or fear” (Holiday, 17-18). He further suggests that perception precedes action and the “right” action follows the “right” perspective.

It was up to me to think differently and find opportunities in everything. Then, in turn, it was up to me to act.

This week, how will you see the obstacles in front of you?
How might your perception impact your efficacy?