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Isaac Lidsky: What reality are you creating for yourself?

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Reality isn't something you perceive; it's something you create in your mind. Isaac Lidsky learned this profound lesson firsthand, when unexpected life circumstances yielded valuable insights. In this introspective, personal talk, he challenges us to let go of excuses, assumptions and fears, and accept the awesome responsibility of being the creators of our own reality.

- Author, entrepreneur
Isaac Lidsky has a very eclectic resume. Full bio

When Dorothy was a little girl,
00:12
she was fascinated by her goldfish.
00:14
Her father explained to her that fish swim
by quickly wagging their tails
00:17
to propel themselves through the water.
00:20
Without hesitation,
little Dorothy responded,
00:23
"Yes, Daddy, and fish swim backwards
by wagging their heads."
00:25
(Laughter)
00:28
In her mind, it was a fact
as true as any other.
00:30
Fish swim backwards
by wagging their heads.
00:32
She believed it.
00:35
Our lives are full
of fish swimming backwards.
00:37
We make assumptions
and faulty leaps of logic.
00:40
We harbor bias.
00:42
We know that we are right,
and they are wrong.
00:44
We fear the worst.
00:46
We strive for unattainable perfection.
00:48
We tell ourselves
what we can and cannot do.
00:50
In our minds, fish swim by in reverse
frantically wagging their heads
00:53
and we don't even notice them.
00:58
I'm going to tell you
five facts about myself.
01:01
One fact is not true.
01:03
One: I graduated from Harvard at 19
with an honors degree in mathematics.
01:05
Two: I currently run
a construction company in Orlando.
01:11
Three: I starred on a television sitcom.
01:16
Four: I lost my sight
to a rare genetic eye disease.
01:21
Five: I served as a law clerk
to two US Supreme Court justices.
01:26
Which fact is not true?
01:32
Actually, they're all true.
01:35
Yeah. They're all true.
01:38
(Applause)
01:40
At this point, most people really
only care about the television show.
01:44
(Laughter)
01:48
I know this from experience.
01:51
OK, so the show was NBC's
"Saved by the Bell: The New Class."
01:54
And I played Weasel Wyzell,
01:57
who was the sort of dorky,
nerdy character on the show,
02:02
which made it a very
major acting challenge
02:06
for me as a 13-year-old boy.
02:11
(Laughter)
02:12
Now, did you struggle
with number four, my blindness?
02:15
Why is that?
02:19
We make assumptions
about so-called disabilities.
02:21
As a blind man, I confront
others' incorrect assumptions
02:24
about my abilities every day.
02:27
My point today is not
about my blindness, however.
02:30
It's about my vision.
02:33
Going blind taught me
to live my life eyes wide open.
02:35
It taught me to spot
those backwards-swimming fish
02:40
that our minds create.
02:42
Going blind cast them into focus.
02:44
What does it feel like to see?
02:47
It's immediate and passive.
02:50
You open your eyes and there's the world.
02:52
Seeing is believing. Sight is truth.
02:54
Right?
02:57
Well, that's what I thought.
02:59
Then, from age 12 to 25,
my retinas progressively deteriorated.
03:01
My sight became an increasingly bizarre
03:07
carnival funhouse hall
of mirrors and illusions.
03:10
The salesperson I was relieved
to spot in a store
03:13
was really a mannequin.
03:16
Reaching down to wash my hands,
03:17
I suddenly saw it was
a urinal I was touching, not a sink,
03:19
when my fingers felt its true shape.
03:22
A friend described
the photograph in my hand,
03:25
and only then I could see
the image depicted.
03:27
Objects appeared, morphed
and disappeared in my reality.
03:30
It was difficult and exhausting to see.
03:36
I pieced together fragmented,
transitory images,
03:39
consciously analyzed the clues,
03:42
searched for some logic
in my crumbling kaleidoscope,
03:44
until I saw nothing at all.
03:48
I learned that what we see
03:51
is not universal truth.
03:53
It is not objective reality.
03:56
What we see is a unique,
personal, virtual reality
04:00
that is masterfully
constructed by our brain.
04:04
Let me explain with a bit
of amateur neuroscience.
04:07
Your visual cortex takes up
about 30 percent of your brain.
04:09
That's compared to approximately
eight percent for touch
04:13
and two to three percent for hearing.
04:17
Every second, your eyes
can send your visual cortex
04:19
as many as two billion
pieces of information.
04:23
The rest of your body can send your brain
only an additional billion.
04:26
So sight is one third
of your brain by volume
04:30
and can claim about two thirds
of your brain's processing resources.
04:34
It's no surprise then
04:39
that the illusion
of sight is so compelling.
04:40
But make no mistake about it:
sight is an illusion.
04:42
Here's where it gets interesting.
04:45
To create the experience of sight,
04:47
your brain references your conceptual
understanding of the world,
04:49
other knowledge, your memories,
opinions, emotions, mental attention.
04:53
All of these things and far more
are linked in your brain to your sight.
04:57
These linkages work both ways,
and usually occur subconsciously.
05:03
So for example,
05:06
what you see impacts how you feel,
05:08
and the way you feel
can literally change what you see.
05:10
Numerous studies demonstrate this.
05:14
If you are asked to estimate
05:16
the walking speed of a man
in a video, for example,
05:18
your answer will be different if you're
told to think about cheetahs or turtles.
05:21
A hill appears steeper
if you've just exercised,
05:27
and a landmark appears farther away
05:30
if you're wearing a heavy backpack.
05:32
We have arrived
at a fundamental contradiction.
05:35
What you see is a complex
mental construction of your own making,
05:40
but you experience it passively
05:44
as a direct representation
of the world around you.
05:46
You create your own reality,
and you believe it.
05:49
I believed mine until it broke apart.
05:53
The deterioration of my eyes
shattered the illusion.
05:56
You see, sight is just one way
06:00
we shape our reality.
06:03
We create our own realities
in many other ways.
06:05
Let's take fear as just one example.
06:09
Your fears distort your reality.
06:13
Under the warped logic of fear,
anything is better than the uncertain.
06:17
Fear fills the void at all costs,
06:22
passing off what you dread
for what you know,
06:24
offering up the worst
in place of the ambiguous,
06:26
substituting assumption for reason.
06:29
Psychologists have
a great term for it: awfulizing.
06:32
(Laughter)
06:34
Right?
06:36
Fear replaces the unknown with the awful.
06:37
Now, fear is self-realizing.
06:42
When you face the greatest need
06:44
to look outside yourself
and think critically,
06:45
fear beats a retreat
deep inside your mind,
06:48
shrinking and distorting your view,
06:51
drowning your capacity
for critical thought
06:53
with a flood of disruptive emotions.
06:55
When you face a compelling
opportunity to take action,
06:57
fear lulls you into inaction,
07:00
enticing you to passively watch
its prophecies fulfill themselves.
07:03
When I was diagnosed
with my blinding disease,
07:09
I knew blindness would ruin my life.
07:12
Blindness was a death sentence
for my independence.
07:16
It was the end of achievement for me.
07:19
Blindness meant I would live
an unremarkable life,
07:22
small and sad,
07:26
and likely alone.
07:28
I knew it.
07:30
This was a fiction born of my fears,
but I believed it.
07:33
It was a lie, but it was my reality,
07:36
just like those backwards-swimming fish
in little Dorothy's mind.
07:39
If I had not confronted
the reality of my fear,
07:43
I would have lived it.
07:46
I am certain of that.
07:48
So how do you live your life
eyes wide open?
07:51
It is a learned discipline.
07:55
It can be taught. It can be practiced.
07:57
I will summarize very briefly.
08:00
Hold yourself accountable
08:03
for every moment, every thought,
08:05
every detail.
08:08
See beyond your fears.
08:10
Recognize your assumptions.
08:11
Harness your internal strength.
08:13
Silence your internal critic.
08:15
Correct your misconceptions
about luck and about success.
08:17
Accept your strengths and your weaknesses,
and understand the difference.
08:21
Open your hearts
08:25
to your bountiful blessings.
08:26
Your fears, your critics,
08:29
your heroes, your villains --
08:31
they are your excuses,
08:33
rationalizations, shortcuts,
08:36
justifications, your surrender.
08:39
They are fictions you perceive as reality.
08:42
Choose to see through them.
08:46
Choose to let them go.
08:47
You are the creator of your reality.
08:50
With that empowerment
comes complete responsibility.
08:54
I chose to step out of fear's tunnel
into terrain uncharted and undefined.
08:58
I chose to build there a blessed life.
09:04
Far from alone,
09:08
I share my beautiful life with Dorothy,
09:09
my beautiful wife,
09:12
with our triplets,
whom we call the Tripskys,
09:14
and with the latest addition
to the family,
09:18
sweet baby Clementine.
09:20
What do you fear?
09:22
What lies do you tell yourself?
09:25
How do you embellish your truth
and write your own fictions?
09:28
What reality are you
creating for yourself?
09:32
In your career and personal life,
in your relationships,
09:36
and in your heart and soul,
09:39
your backwards-swimming fish
do you great harm.
09:41
They exact a toll in missed opportunities
and unrealized potential,
09:44
and they engender insecurity and distrust
09:49
where you seek fulfillment and connection.
09:51
I urge you to search them out.
09:55
Helen Keller said that the only thing
worse than being blind
09:59
is having sight but no vision.
10:03
For me, going blind
was a profound blessing,
10:06
because blindness gave me vision.
10:10
I hope you can see what I see.
10:13
Thank you.
10:16
(Applause)
10:17
Bruno Giussani: Isaac, before you
leave the stage, just a question.
10:32
This is an audience of entrepreneurs,
of doers, of innovators.
10:35
You are a CEO of a company
down in Florida,
10:39
and many are probably wondering,
10:43
how is it to be a blind CEO?
10:45
What kind of specific challenges
do you have, and how do you overcome them?
10:47
Isaac Lidsky: Well,
the biggest challenge became a blessing.
10:51
I don't get visual feedback from people.
10:54
(Laughter)
10:57
BG: What's that noise there? IL: Yeah.
11:00
So, for example,
in my leadership team meetings,
11:02
I don't see facial
expressions or gestures.
11:05
I've learned to solicit
a lot more verbal feedback.
11:09
I basically force people
to tell me what they think.
11:13
And in this respect,
11:18
it's become, like I said, a real blessing
for me personally and for my company,
11:19
because we communicate
at a far deeper level,
11:24
we avoid ambiguities,
11:27
and most important, my team knows
that what they think truly matters.
11:30
BG: Isaac, thank you for coming to TED.
IL: Thank you, Bruno.
11:38
(Applause)
11:41

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About the speaker:

Isaac Lidsky - Author, entrepreneur
Isaac Lidsky has a very eclectic resume.

Why you should listen

Lidsky runs a big construction services company based in Florida, has co-founded an Internet startup and a nonprofit and is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO). He graduated in math and computer science from Harvard and then added a law degree magna cum laude from the same university, clerked for US Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and argued a dozen cases in federal court on behalf of the US Justice Department, not losing any. Earlier, he was a child television star in both commercials and series.

Lidsky's rich biography disguises a secret, which can be summarized in the title of his forthcoming book Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities In A World That Can’t See Clearly.

More profile about the speaker
Isaac Lidsky | Speaker | TED.com