My partner and I were leaving his apartment complex last week. As we were driving out of the complex, we passed by two men about five feet apart. The first man was walking alone and the second was about five feet behind him walking a chihuahua. I love dogs, especially chihuahuas. So I was immediately focused on the dog and trying to get a better look at it. After we had passed the scene, my partner asks me ‘did you see how that guy had that gun tucked into the front of his pants?’ I had not seen the gun at all. I don’t even know which guy he was referring to. I only saw the dog. It wasn’t a small gun either-my partner said it had an extra large clip on it. I still missed it completely. How could I miss something like that?
The answer is perspective.
“We see the world, not as it is, but as we are──or, as we are conditioned to see it.”-Stephen Covey
There are more stimuli around us at any one time than we can possibly mentally process. One of the jobs our brain has is to filter out the unnecessary. This is largely done unconsciously. So how does it choose what it should focus on? We tell it what to focus on by what we consciously pay attention to and think about. Someone who holds a negative belief about the world around them and focuses on negative things will continue to see negative things around them. It will be very difficult for them to see positive things because their subconscious is likely filtering for only the negative.
I think about dogs a lot. I pay attention to dogs. I read about dogs. I look at pictures of dogs. So when there is a dog that is what my brain is automatically focused on. My partner is very concerned with safety. He wears safety gear when he does projects. He owns multiple pairs of safety glasses. He is always telling me to be safe. He noticed a potential threat to safety in the form of a weapon. We each saw what we were most conditioned to see.
Why does this matter?
This natural bias that we possess can be detrimental to your mental health if you are filtering for a negative belief about yourself. If you believe you are stupid and incapable, you might only notice the mistakes you make and will hardly notice anything you have done well. This natural bias will act as a confirmation feedback loop for your existing beliefs. In psychology, this is called confirmation bias.
So What Can I Do About It?
“What You Focus On Expands.” -Esther Jno-Charles
If you suspect you are filtering for the negative or in a way that is detrimental to you, the way you stop is to consciously focus on something different. You have to retrain your brain to focus on something else-to have different priorities. What the conscious mind thinks about and pays attention to will dictate what the subconscious will take in as “important.” When I believed that I was “never good enough,” I constantly spotted “evidence” for that belief. I saw all my mistakes. I saw every time someone made a face at something that I said. I used it all as confirmation for my existing belief. I didn’t notice the things that I did well. I didn’t notice the people that responded to me positively. I only paid attention to the ones that fit with my existing belief. Breaking this cycle took purposefully thinking positive things about myself. I would make lists of things about myself that were positive. I would journal about what I did right. I had to intentionally make time to force myself to look for the positive. Gradually, as I did this more and more, it became more natural to notice the good. I started noticing things I did well even outside of my journaling sessions.It became easier to find the good things in my journaling sessions; I didn’t have to think so hard anymore. My inward belief had started shifting and my outlook was changing.
Confirmation bias is a natural function of the human brain. Instead of being at its mercy, I believe we should use this phenomenon to our benefit by purposefully training our brains about what bias we should confirm. We can hack our own brains to create the outlook we want to have. I invite you to try it out for 30 days. Focus on something intentionally. See if you start to see it everywhere. Let me know how it goes.
This post was previously published on Change Becomes You.
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