Do you have tunnel vision? Look wider! Do you only see what you think is important? Do you take things for granted and no longer appreciate what you’ve got?
Of course you do! That’s the function of the RAS – to ignore things that are no longer novel and stimulating. Or worrying. So you need to remind yourself to keep looking, and to keep appreciating. You might be missing something important simply because you are not looking for it. Are you overlooking a good quality in your partner, for instance?
Picture this. Its mid 19th century in Montana, USA, and there is a gold rush. Prospectors are mightily frustrated and disappointed because, instead of nuggets of gold, they find useless blue stones. They rushed to Montana to find gold, and gold was all they wanted to see. They had tunnel vision. So they focussed on the one thing that had value to them. Gold. You only see what you think is important.
It turns out that those useless blue stones they discarded were sapphires of the highest value. Higher value even than exotic sapphires from the Kashmir and Ceylon. The Montana sapphires were pure, with excellent colour and few faults.
Those prospectors could have been rich beyond their wildest dreams if they had been able to see more than what they were focussing on.
Some everyday examples of how you filter your awareness happen like this. You’ve never noticed pregnant women before, but now that you are pregnant, you see so many pregnant women down the street! Or you get a new car and lo and behold you can’t believe how many of that model you see on the road. Things which you now value and relate to were invisible before. You train your brain to see what you think is important.
Another example is a partner who focusses on the to-do list and gets a lot of satisfaction from getting things done. However, you might want cuddles and a walk in the park, and value that more highly than the jobs done.
Here is a demonstration of how we just don’t notice something if we are not focussed on it. The invisible gorilla – you only see what you have been looking for. Your ambitions blind you to the nature of your reality.
The ability to focus – and to screen out other information – involves the Reticular Activating System, part of the “unconscious” aspect of the brain. The RAS is useful when you are an orchestral musician, for instance, because you can tune out all the other instruments and only hear the ones you need to know about – to come in at the right time, etc.
This can be a bit of a nuisance though if you are a trained musician and are listening to “background” music because you hear the parts being played by various instruments because you are trained to focus. You might then find it difficult to participate in a conversation when “background” music is playing, because, for you, the music is always foreground. Your RAS has taken care of that.
So, let’s apply this idea to relationships. Have you already gotten ahead of me and come to your own conclusions? Even if you have, I’ll spell it out. You miss what you don’t look for. But you can train your brain to notice more! You can cultivate appreciation and gratitude, for instance.
Mostly, we have tunnel vision and see only the values we hold dear, i.e. the gold. Our focus is very specific. Consequently, we are blind to other values or traits that haven’t been important to us, the sapphires. Yet those other values and traits carry with them deep meaning and importance for our joint human journeys. There is a place for the value of both gold and sapphires. It’s not an either or, it’s both! Tunnel vision is, after all, focussed on one thing.
In this easy-to-watch YouTube clip, you will discover ways to get your RAS to change focus. You can extend this to what you focus on in your partner.
Let me give you some examples. Maybe you are looking for a partner, (or a house!) and you’ve got this long list of characteristics that your partner (or house) absolutely must have. Sense of humour, sporty, tall. You know the theme. Then you meet someone who is short, doesn’t have much of a sense of humour, knows nothing about sport. But, he writes novels, imagine that! And plays boogie-woogie on the piano! That’s even a bit embarrassing.
Due to this departure from your list, do you discard him? Some do. Or do you decide not to buy the house because it doesn’t have an en suite and off-street parking?
Seriously, your tunnel vision can limit what you see and value, and you can, therefore, miss out on a lot. While the RAS is trying to keep you safe by not overwhelming you with too many options, it can also keep you from experiencing a whole lot of useful stuff.
Here’s another example, a very simple example. Maybe your partner is an extrovert and you are an introvert. She embarrasses you with her enthusiastic openness, and she even talks to strangers! By contrast, your introversion might seem dull and unexciting to her. Having a quiet evening at home might seem boring to her, while you have longed for it all week!
In other words, what was outside of your range of focus, outside your tunnel vision, is actually very important. When our life-circumstances change we value things differently. For instance, the extroverted partner I mentioned above breaks her leg and is house-bound for weeks. She now values your ability to enjoy a quiet home-life and has a new appreciation for your skills in this area.
What characteristics does your partner have, that might seem irrelevant or not important, that you might have overlooked because you only see what you look for?
Science is full of examples of researchers who are looking for only one thing but miss the real cause of a disease. Therefore it takes a new perspective, a different focus, to find that elusive cause.
Psychology abounds with theories, and psychologists see their clients through the lens of those theories. But if you only see what you look for, you miss the most surprising stuff. Be careful, then, of applying a pet theory to a situation, because you might miss the real issue. Particularly if you apply this theory to your partner!
And more on what we miss when we are blinkered by on own personality type.
Copyright © Kaye Gersch 2018