A Night at the Movies

May 17, 2012   //   by Steve Wooding   //   A Slice of Lemon, Articles  //  No Comments

IN SHORT: Our projections alter our reality. So let’s make them movies we enjoy!

“Many of the faults we see in the outside world reflect hidden aspects of ourselves we won’t admit to. And many of the admirable qualities we see in the world reflect what we desire most for ourselves.” [Anon.]

(~1280 words – approx 7-10 mins to read.)

I do like to go to the cinema, especially when I know the movie has been designed to be a rich audio-visual spectacular as well as a great story.

Last week I ran a open workshop on the secrets of powerful communication and one of the elements that underpins all communication and indeed much of life in general is the concept of PROJECTION.

It’s a tricky concept to get your head around sometimes, but the movie analogy works nicely.

When you arrive at the cinema and sit down, the screen is blank. Once they start the film you see the movie on the screen in front of you. We’re all probably aware that it actually comes from a projector in a little booth at the back of the cinema, and is projected from behind everyone onto the screen. We don’t see the projection happening – it’s not as if we can see the picture flying over our heads before it arrives – instead we only see it once it hits the screen and we willingly buy into the illusion that is where it’s coming from.

But it’s not. Not really.

Now imagine this situation: you’re going to give a presentation.

This presentation is a biggie. It’s to an audience of several hundred people, and there’s a percentage of them that are very influential indeed. They’ll be sitting on the front few rows where they can get a clear view of you and where you can see them clearly too. Also in the audience are some renowned experts in the subject you’re presenting. You know that this presentation could have a significant effect on your career.

What are you imagining about that situation?

What are you feeling inside as you think about that presentation?

What are your thoughts and feelings about the audience’s perception of you?

Are you wondering about the influential people in the audience, or the experts, or others?

Now imagine the day arrives and you walk out there in front of the audience to deliver your presentation – what’s waiting for you in that place?

Whether you realise it or not, admit it or not, understand it or not yet, what’s waiting for you is exactly what you put there – what you PROJECT onto the situation.

If you’re not convinced yet, re-read my description and questions and you’ll notice that I gave you only a basic scaffold on which to build your imagination of the situation. Look carefully at the wording and you’ll see that there is no bias anywhere one way or the other about potential positive or negative emotions, thoughts, events or consequences.

For example, I told you that some people were influential and that some of the audience were experts, but I said nothing about their attitude towards you – whatever attitude you imagined them having is your projection. I also asked you what you were feeling, not if you were feeling worried, anxious, excited, intimidated etc. – whatever feelings you felt are your projection too.

I have actually asked these questions of many people over the years – see if some of their responses tally with yours:

  • some imagined that the influential types were just waiting for them to make a mistake
  • some imagined that the experts would be asking really awkward questions to get them to trip up or look stupid
  • some imagined the audience would be disinterested and find their presentation boring
  • some imagined a disastrous presentation and losing their job as result
  • some imagined themselves as feeling intimidated, flustered, nervous, making mistakes, losing their place etc.
  • some imagined the influential types as open to being persuaded and the possibility of gaining their support
  • some imagined the experts as supportive and welcoming of a colleague in the same field
  • some imagined the audience being drawn in more and more as their presentation unfolded
  • some imagined the presentation going well and their career moving forward as a result
  • some imagined themselves as collected, confident, and engaging without being cocky or arrogant

What’s really interesting is that research shows that in situations like this what we do is we pick up on and perceive in that situation more of those things that confirm back to us what we’ve already imagined, assumed or presupposed- what we’ve projected – and less of those things that contradict our projections.


What we’re doing is just like what happens at the cinema. Our expectations, assumptions, fear, worries, hopes, and dreams, whatever mix of thoughts and feelings we concoct, comes from the back of our minds and is thrown out onto the blank screen of the situation and the people in it. And then we commit to the self-deception that all of it is actually coming from the situation itself, and not from us.

And we do this to such an extent that it takes somewhere between four and ten times as much information that says the situation (or person) isn’t like that for us to change our minds.

I’ve known managers project their need for certainty, or their own insecurities onto others they’re responsible for and the result is the phenomenon we’ve probably all experienced at one time or another – ‘micro-management’*. You may know someone who has a few failed relationships behind them and the project the past onto the present and obsess about small things which mean “this one is failing too…”*. One extreme example is the fact that many serial killers project their dysfunctional relationship with someone significant in their past onto people similar to them, and that projection is so overwhelming it drives them to murder.

Now I don’t know about you but I’d rather not waste my time watching a movie I’m not enjoying. I’d rather leave early and find one I really like.

And I’d rather not create projections I’m not going to enjoy either. I’d rather create one I will like.

Because, let’s face it, if I’m standing on stage to deliver a presentation and I’m worried someone in the audience isn’t liking what I’m saying, or is going to catch me out, I’m not going to perform at my best. If instead I stand there believing that there are people willing to be engaged, supportive, open to persuasion, and wanting me to succeed, I’m going to feel and therefore perform a whole lot better.

And if you really think about it, it doesn’t actually matter what the truth is.

Because I chose the positive projection, my performance will come across as collected and confident and may well engage the unengaged, persuade those who weren’t open to start with, create support and increase the probability of my success hugely.

Either way, my positive projection contributed to that projection becoming reality.

Deep huh?!

So, challenge time:

  • Every time over the next few weeks that you’re about to enter a situation where the results are meaningful to you, on whatever scale, give yourself a moment beforehand to STOP.
  • Ask yourself what you’ve already assumed about that situation and the people in it – what you’ve already decided is waiting for you.
  • If any of those assumptions make you feel uneasy, anxious, afraid, or negative in any way, regardless of whether you believe those assumptions to be true or not, ask yourself instead what it would be better to have waiting for you there.
  • Now imagine being able to actually project what you’d love to be waiting for you into that situation, and notice how you begin to feel different as you replace that old projection with something far better.
  • Once you’re ready, go do it!

Until next time,



* NOTE: I’m not suggesting that projection is the only cause of micro-management, or failed relationships, or serial killing for that matter, but it’s one possibility.


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