Most of us can think of someone who just drives us nuts. Wouldn’t it be great if you could actually do something to end the annoyance? Good news! You can! And you can do it without changing anybody but yourself. Here’s how.
Realize that your perspective is limited, that you notice only what you’re inclined to notice, and you are inclined to notice what is wrong. Then practice noticing more–including what is neutral and what is good.
That’s really all there is to it. If you’d like more detail, read on.
Come to terms with your individual perspective.
The first step to reprogramming your filters is to come to the realization that it’s your perspective that causes you to notice all of these problematic behaviors, actions, and attitudes.
1. Realize that there is more to life than what you notice–even right in front of you.
Remember Rain Man?
Raymond read the waitress’s name tag (something most of us ignore) and recited her phone number, which he’d read. He could look at a box of spilled toothpicks and, rather than seeing what the rest of us would see–a box of spilled toothpicks–he saw three groups of 82 toothpicks. Of course, 246 total.
While many of us may find this to be an amazing capability, it usually has a handicapping effect. Raymond was unable to filter out unimportant details. He could not set aside facts that the rest of us regularly ignore.
Humans are wonderfully adept at noticing what is important and filtering out what isn’t. This is a crucial skill, and without it we would be overwhelmed by unimportant data. But, this also means that we have blind spots and miss things. Ever misplaced your keys? Or suddenly saw something that hadn’t been there a second before? This is an experience of selective perception. There’s a lot of observable data in our environment. We only pick up on some of it.
2. Realize that what you notice is what your filters let through. And your filters are programmed.
Our filters are built up over time, and a lot goes into their programming. Memories, experiences, beliefs, and education are part of what create our filters.
Let’s say Alice was raised by a father who made comments around people with tattoos like “What a waste of money,” or “Don’t go near that man,” or “It’s such a shame that people have no respect for themselves.” Alice will probably avoid building relationships with people who have tattoos.
Now, if Alice had a boyfriend in high school who captured her heart–and later revealed that he had a tattoo that was really quite prettily done–that simple experience could completely alter Alice’s filters. She will notice them still, but now her attention might shift from simply distrusting the tattooed person to being intrigued by them.
Suppose Alice realized she had some stereotypes in mind about people with tattoos, and she decided to learn more. She read about how tattoos are done, about the different reasons why people have them done, and about their history. She spends time looking at different kinds of tattoos, learns what different ones mean in different cultures, and goes with friends to get their own. She will develop a much more refined filter, and now when she sees a tattoo, she will very quickly notice a lot more detail than ever did when she was young and spending time with her father.
As Alice became educated about tattoos, she probably also formed some beliefs about different kinds of people who get different kinds of tattoos. She may believe that someone with a large or intricate tattoo is more interesting than someone with a smaller tattoo–a belief that will cause her to be more likely to notice people with large/intricate tattoos than people with small tattoos. By contrast, she may decide that people who get small, subtle tattoos are more discerning, which will cause her to become more aware of people with small, subtle tattoos.
3. Realize that humans are inclined to notice what’s wrong.
Just like today’s vehicles, human beings are packed with safety features that come standard. Among them–we pick up on signals that there’s a problem in our environment.
If you were home on a quiet afternoon, reading your email, and heard an explosion outside near the house, you’d go look for a cause, on alert. And if a rose were quietly blooming in a vase on your table during that time, you would probably still pay more attention to what caused the explosion outside than you would the rose, no matter how beautiful it may be.
If you had two children and one was sitting quietly while the other was running toward an unfamiliar pit bull, you would pay more attention to the child running at the dog.
This same safety programming is in effect all of the time. Given any two stimuli, you will most likely pay attention to the one that strikes you as being the more troublesome. This was true of the explosion vs. the rose and the quiet vs. dog-loving children, and it’s equally true of personal behaviors, actions, and attitudes. We are much more likely to pay attention to anything that we find troublesome and much less likely to attend to those things we might call benign or even beneficial.
Most of us–especially those of us who have achieved some measure of success in our lives–stay stuck in problem-solving mode most of the time.
Next post: How to practice noticing more than your filters let through.