You can only respond to what you notice

Awareness has a variable shape and size—and learning to control it is a powerful skill

Renee Molenkamp / Unsplash

Hey all! Dan here. I have a guest post for you today from Michael Ashcroft of Expanding Awareness. I hope it opens your mind up as much as it did mine :)

Picture the scene. You're driving to work, thinking about a meeting on the day’s agenda, when suddenly you realise that you missed your turn. Awoken from your reverie, you detach from your thoughts, mutter under your breath and replan your route. At work, later, you have a similar experience where you emerge from a high-flow coding session with the uncomfortable realisation that the meeting started ten minutes ago.

These two experiences share something in common; they both involve not noticing something and so not making a choice you might otherwise have made. 

In our everyday life we often get tunnel vision, the experience of being so focused on a goal or way of doing things that we get stuck, falling into a kind of ‘choice unconsciousness’ that constrains our options until the goal is complete, we get interrupted or we become tired.

What you experience in tunnel vision is a collapse of your awareness, which is your capacity to notice things around and within you that could be noticed in any given moment. The problem is that if something isn't in your awareness—if you can't notice it—you can't make choices with respect to it.

Richard Wiseman, psychologist, author of The Luck Factor and member of the Magic Circle, demonstrates this when he points out that having more of the world in your awareness is key to being lucky:

"Unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. [...] Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there rather than just what they are looking for." — Richard Wiseman

Put another way, you can’t pick up a twenty dollar bill from the ground if you haven't already noticed the twenty dollar bill on the ground.

The interesting thing is that your ability to notice—your field of awareness—has certain dynamic properties that can be brought under your control. Awareness has a variable shape and size that can be changed, and you can learn to notice and then play with these. 

Let me show you.

Awareness can expand and collapse

As quickly as you can, I'd like you to count the number of times the letter 't' appears in this sentence.

Okay, thanks for doing that. 

Now just check in: what happened to your experience of the world around you while you were counting? Did it go away a little bit? If yes, notice how little it took to bring that about. Counting the number of times a letter appears in a sentence is probably the least important thing you'll do all week, and yet, for many of you at least, it was enough to hook you. It was ten, by the way.


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