“We pay attention to what we are told to attend to, or what we’re looking for, or what we already know…what we see is amazingly limited.” – Daniel Simons
It’s often said that we only see what we want to see, but is it true? Well, if you’ve ever seen the Selective Attention Test video created by Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris in 1999, you’ll know that it’s possible to not see a gorilla walk through a group of people because your attention is completely taken by the need to count how many times the people wearing white in the video pass a basketball. Simons says, “We think we see everything in detail. We don’t. We also think we remember more than we do, and we know more than we do, and we think that everybody is seeing the same thing we are. The reality is that two people looking at the same thing are seeing things differently. Only by testing your knowledge can you see the world as it actually is.”
What you think you see is what you see, and what you think you know is what you know. So, let’s put this into some form of context. If you see a world around you in which nothing ever goes your way, you only ever see the things that don’t go your way. If something did go your way, you wouldn’t see it, just as focusing on counting basketball passes kept video viewers from seeing a gorilla walk through the group. If you think you’re not good enough and you’re destined to fail, your daily focus is always on gathering “evidence” that backs up your belief, but because of this, you remain completely blinkered to anything that might challenge your negative view.
Other filters that may keep you seeing the world as it isn’t include:
- Black or white thinking. Focusing on extremes (right or wrong, good or bad, all or nothing) and remaining blinkered to everything in-between.
- Overgeneralisation. “I failed this exam, so I’ll fail all He/she doesn’t like me, so nobody will ever like me.”
- Magnifying. Blowing things out of all proportion by magnifying the negatives and minimising the positives, or vice versa.
- Choosing to adopt the negative views of others as your own, accepting them without question or any concrete evidence to back up the claims.
- Self-doubt. This can lead to positives being turned into negatives with thoughts along the lines of, “I didn’t deserve to win. It was probably only because everyone else was having a bad day.”
Your perception becomes your reality and you see what you expect to see. If you’re only looking for problems, you’re going to find only problems, and anything that contradicts your expectations and beliefs will probably be ignored – or go unnoticed like the gorilla in the selective attention test. Only by testing your knowledge can you see the world as it actually is, so is it time to put your view of the world and what you think you know to the test?
Don MacNaughton is a High-Performance Coach, Mentor and Key Note Speaker.
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