As a man is, so he sees.

–William Blake, 1799*

I think you can switch this quotation to read, “As a man sees, so he is.” Of course, if I were writing this, I would replace man with person. I often use the phrase, How we see changes what we see.” It’s a cornerstone of my coaching philosophy.

The metaphor of seeing clearly to describes the transformation we go through when we see ourselves, others, and our circumstances in new ways. When we look through a window at something, we focus on the something and not the glass of the window. We assume we’re seeing the something just as it is. But what if the window is dirty, distorted, or streaked with rain. We don’t notice the window because we’re focusing on the something. But if we take the time to step away and focus on the window, everything may change. We may Windex the window, find a pane that’s not distorted, or wait till a sunny day. Suddenly, the something looks different. We live our lives not realizing that we’re looking at ourselves and the world through a window (or a lens) that may or may not be accurate. When we develop the ability to change “how” we see, “what” we see changes also. And therein lies infinite possibilities.

 Another way I explain this shift in perception: Suppose I was born with purple contact lenses and I could never take them out. I would believe that the world is purple. Obviously. There’s no questioning it. Now what if, instead of having purple contact lenses, I had glasses with purple lenses. I would still see the world as purple, but around the edge of my vision where the glasses end, I would start seeing parts of the world that weren’t purple. And finally, suppose I could remove the glasses whenever I wanted. Now I could see that in actuality, the world is not purple. 

Perhaps you have a belief that you’re not as smart or capable as your co-workers. You know it’s true. You have lots of examples to prove it. And you’re not about to stick your neck out and go for that promotion because you’ll look stupid, be a failure and lose respect. You’re seeing yourself through purple contact lenses. Perhaps through working with a coach, who helps you explore these beliefs, you realize that they might not be true. Perhaps you’re not stupid; perhaps you are capable of getting that promotion. When this realization that perhaps your self-perceptions are an illusion, your contact lenses begin to change to glasses, and all manner of things become possible.

The complete quotation from Blake:

“I see everything I paint in this world, but everybody does not see alike. To the eyes of a miser a guinea is far more beautiful than the Sun, and a bag worn with the use of money has more beautiful proportions than a vine filled with grapes. The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity, and by these I shall not regulate my proportions; and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. As a man is, so he sees.”

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*William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker.