White and gold or blue and black? By now, you’ve probably seen a photo of a now infamous dress circulating online. If not, simply Google “white and gold dress” and thousands of responses pop up. Within hours of being posted, this dress sparked a controversy about what colors the dress actually is. For me personally, I initially thought it was a joke or some sort of marketing ploy because it was so obviously white and gold. Imagine my shock to find out the dress is actually black and blue! If you’re familiar with the dress, you may have had a similar experience and been floored that you see it one way while others see it another. Some websites claim that what you see depends on your mood or on what type of screen you’re viewing the dress.

In actuality, it’s all about perception. Like many of us, I was absolutely convinced that I was seeing the dress “correctly” and quickly polled friends and coworkers about what they saw, only to find that they were just as adamant in their perceptions. We as human beings have a tendency to assume we are seeing things accurately and can be shocked to find that others don’t agree with us. We can become very attached to our perceptions and interpretations of events, people, and, in this case, clothing. However, what we see and experience in our day-to-day lives is filtered through many layers, including past experiences, mood, and stress, leading us to interpret reality differently from others.

Often with these interpretations of situations, or judgments, comes error. We go about our day assuming we’re correct until we bump into someone who does not agree with us or we feel is overreacting to a situation. The human brain is adept at creating short cuts and making decisions quickly. This is a good thing! It allows us to move through our day more effectively on the whole. However, it can also lead to problems when we assume we are right. For example, the boss doesn’t say hello to you one morning and all of a sudden you have anxiety about what this may mean. A teen may be silent in the car on the drive home and the parent may interpret that as hostility or a sign of trouble. We all make judgments and interpretations of reality based on our own learning history and experiences. Being flexible with our thinking and being able to step back and consider alternatives is a skill that takes time and intentional practice to develop. Not responding to our perception as absolute truth can allow us time to consider where another person is coming from or how a situation may turn out differently. There is more than one way to see a situation, a person, a dress.