One day last week my son and I were up before dawn, so we went with my husband to take sunrise pictures on the beach. When we got to the beach parking lot, my husband grabbed his equipment and went ahead so he wouldn’t miss the sunrise and my son and I took our time getting out of the car. When we got to the beach, I could see my husband far down the beach, facing east, to our left.
My son and I started walking down the beach toward my husband, and I noticed a dark lump on the beach. I soon realized it was a seal, snoozing on the beach. As we got closer, the seal woke up, looked around at us, and started galumphing toward the ocean. Once he got past the waves, he popped his head up and I swear he looked back at us. My son and I were so excited to see such an spectacular creature up close like that. It was a great way to start the day!
When we caught up to my husband, I asked him if he’d seen the seal. He hadn’t noticed it—he walked right by. He had a hard time believing he just didn’t see the seal.
The whole thing got me thinking about attention and how our brains work. How could my husband have missed that seal? He was on a deserted beach, with nothing but empty sand for miles, and one dark lump right in the middle of it.
The answer is basically that our brains see what we expect to see. Our attention is very selective. My husband was so intent on the sunrise he walked right by a creature he would have loved to see up close, never mind photograph.
If you don’t believe your attention is selective, check out this short ( 1 min, 21 seconds) video from Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris by clicking here.
Given that our attention is selective, we can either consciously choose what we give our attention to or just pay attention to whatever we’ve been conditioned to pay attention to.
I’d rather choose.
This year I’ve been focusing on all the things I can do with my writing, not all the things I can’t. I used to always ask myself the question, “Why can’t I get any writing done?” When I did, my brain would go to work finding all the answers to that question:
- Because I’m too lazy.
- Because I don’t have time.
- Because I have nothing to say. (I could go on and on…but I won’t.)
Now I ask myself questions like:
- What would make it easy for me to get some writing done today?
- How many words can I crank out in this 15-minute period?
- What’s the most important writing project I can work on today?
I also notice my progress and celebrate it, rather than berate myself for any lack of progress. I may get the same amount of work done, but I feel a lot better about it now than when I used to see only the negative.
Where are you focusing your attention on in your writing life?
Diane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother and stepmother. Don’t forgot to consider attending my One-Day Writing Retreat on September 20th, 2014, in Nashua, NH. Please click here for more information and to register. I’d love to see you there!