West Strategist Katrina Zheleznyak → reflects on the power of perception and intuition in shaping our truths, and therefore our realities.

Truth does not exist in a vacuum.

Every one of us has a unique aperture through which we view the world. With a background in neurobiology, my own is rooted in the sciences. Working at the intersection of business, brand, and behavior, I frequently contemplate the neuroscientific underpinnings of truth. In sharing this perspective, I’m going to stay above the world of transmitters or neurons in hopes of keeping things a little more readable. However, what you make of this is up to you, your own experience, and the constructed realities we have each fashioned for ourselves.

So what is “truth” to an individual? Let’s first start with our senses. Our truth-seeking begins when we absorb any available stimuli from the environment. We gather visual and auditory inputs, augmented by touch, taste, and smell. These sensory systems alert us to the warmth of a cup of fresh coffee in hand or the act of opening our email inboxes early in the morning. The awakening strength of our dark roast or the haptic feedback from our trackpad gives us cues about what we are doing, engaging with, or may need to respond to. Pending any lapses in attention or limited abilities, these activities and experiences are presumed to be true. Simple enough.

Where the derivation of truth gets more subjective—and interesting—is when perception is layered onto sensation. Do we like this brand of coffee? How do we feel about our overflowing inbox before we’ve had that first cup? And what do we do next? Our interpretation of this information is what determines how we interact with the world around us: how we process, organize, and utilize the data points our senses have collected. Our sensory receptors intake objective cues and signal feelings about our environment, and in combination with our past and current experiences, we then form an intuitive understanding of the world around us—and our place in it.

We cannot effectively dissect “truth” without referencing the substratum of intuition that underlies the trust we have in ourselves, our senses, our relationships, and our ability to integrate and make use of these experiential building blocks. Intuition is the capacity to understand or know something immediately and subliminally. This process is predicated on internalizing patterns and trends regardless of whether we are aware of them, and builds up the intuitive muscle that informs our future actions. In neuroscientific terms, it is the implicit memory that is reinforced over our lifetimes—so deeply rooted in the body that we can make a decision and react subconsciously, particularly when our reflexes serve us well and continue to hold true.

So how can we apply this knowledge? This information becomes powerful when we learn to verbalize our truths as we carry them into our relationships and workplaces. Telling the truth—whether to yourself, your team, your partners, or your customers—is what strengthens intuition and gets us incrementally closer to a more complete, better informed view of reality. Communication built on truth enhances our sensory competence, sheds light on our shadows and limitations, influences our sense of self, and enriches the experience of being alive. Finding a coffee shop that feels like home, closing your laptop to preserve your work-life balance—these are the moments we actualize our truths and build ourselves around them. This is how we set our schedules, form our habits and relationships, shape our likes and dislikes, determine our favorite products and brands, and develop trust in ourselves and others.

Like so many other aspects of our lives, finding truth is a social process. Truth does not exist in a vacuum; we cannot develop a well-rounded mastery of truth without the input of others, their candid feedback, or their own accumulated perspectives. Truth-finding and -telling are not just moral pursuits or subjects for philosophical debate. They are our collective representation of reality, the foundation of our shared humanity, the basis upon which every memory and decision is made. In our professional lives and our personal ones, truth-finding and -telling are how we become stronger, wiser, and better than we were yesterday. And that can only be done together.