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How Good Are You At Paying Attention?

After hitting the pause button last week, I now want to welcome you to our first official Tune Up Tuesday! For this initial post, I wanted to start with something that seems basic but is vitally important to our gold star mission.

In order to award gold stars to ourselves and others, we've got to pay attention! You can't give out gold stars if you don't notice the good things that are happening in your life and the lives of those around you. It's as simple as that!

So how good are you at paying attention to what is going on around you? You may be surprised to learn that we actually pay attention much less often than we think we do.

A fair number of the actions that we take on a daily basis are conducted on autopilot. Have you ever driven home in your car and then realized that you were “zoned out” the entire time, so you didn’t really remember any of the details about how you got to your house? I sure have! That's what happens when you're acting on autopilot.

Walking, eating, and brushing your teeth are just a few other examples of daily activities that often occur on autopilot. Mindless scrolling on your phone can also cause you to miss out on what is occurring in your surrounding environment.

Below is a variation on a famous psychological experiment that was developed a couple of decades back to study the degree to which people pay attention to details in their environment. Approximately 50% of people failed the original experiment. The study demonstrated that not only do people fail to pay attention to what is going on around them, but they also don't have a clue about what they missed.

The original experiment became so well known that many people already knew what to look for in the video. This led to the development of alternate forms of the original experiment, like the one below:

Were you able to answer "yes" to all of the questions at the conclusion of this video? I only spotted 2 out of the 3 details that were pointed out at the end. Not great!

Many scientists believe that we fail to pay attention to certain aspects of life or otherwise go into full autopilot mode in order to preserve brain power. If we had to seriously concentrate on every tiny detail of every single thing that we do every single time that we do it, we would probably burn out rather quickly. Our poor brains would definitely be fried!

So although automatic behaviors may have some benefits, they also have some major drawbacks. For starters, automatic behavior can be dangerous. If we are on autopilot when we are out walking, for example, we might not look both ways before crossing the street. This could put us at risk of being hit by a car.

But even if we put the issue of dangerousness aside, being on autopilot can negatively affect us in other smaller ways. Not paying attention can cause us to miss out on a lot of good things in life!

This point was demonstrated in a study that was conducted back in 2014.** The researchers found that most of the study participants walked right past dollar bills that had been attached to a low-hanging tree branch for the purposes of the experiment. The tree branch was so close to eye level that people had to move out of the way to avoid walking into it. But they still didn't see the money!

If a majority of us would walk past money hanging right in front of us, what other great things might we be filtering out of our awareness?

Definitely some food for thought, right? We won’t give out as many gold stars as we ideally could be if we aren't paying attention to what is happening around us. Focusing our attention on our surroundings can help us pick up on gold star worthy activity! As a friend said to me just yesterday – we need to start looking at life through a "gold star lens!"

But this raises the question: How can we train ourselves to pay better attention so that we don't miss out on these opportunities? One possibility might be to set an alarm on your phone to take one or two minutes sometime during the day to stop and pay attention to everything in your environment – for example, the chirping birds outside your window, the smell of freshly cut grass, the vivid colors of a sunset, your fabulous kids or pet. Try to take in as much as possible and truly connect with your surroundings.

Do you have any ideas on how we can practice being fully aware of what is going on around us so that we can be better aware of gold star activity? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

**Original Article: Hyman I.E. Jr., Sarb B.A. and Wise-Swanson B.M., 2014, Failure to see money on a tree: inattentional blindness for objects that guided behavior, Frontiers in Psychology, 5:356. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00356, source link

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