Dealing with the Hidden

Bill Abbate

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Many things escape our notice each day. Did you know you can only focus on one thing at a time? Contrary to those who think they are great multitaskers, it is a scientific fact the human brain can't focus on more than one thing in a given moment. Because of this and other factors, a great deal goes unnoticed in our lives. Some of these unnoticed or unseen things can help or harm us.

Before diving into the topic, I want to point out the subtle but important difference between noticing and paying attention. To notice something suggests "becoming aware of its existence." Once you become aware of something by noticing it, you can either "pay attention" to it or ignore it.

Our ability to focus

We attempt to overcome this inherent limitation of the human brain to focus on only one thing at a time by task-switching. Task-switching is rapidly shifting back and forth between two or more tasks, giving the appearance of multitasking. Yet doing this comes at a high cost.

When we attempt to multitask, our IQ can drop up to 15% for men and slightly less for women. For the average man, this means he can lower his IQ into the range of an 8-year-old child!

But the greater concern about attempting to multitask is how task switching can erode our productivity by as much as 40%.

Considering all of the information thrown at us daily, how could anyone pay attention to everything? We are fortunate short-term memories last for only about 20-30 seconds. Can you imagine how compromised our ability to think would become if short-term memories lasted longer!

Noticing

Now that we are aware our brain has certain limitations that make a great deal in our lives go unnoticed, how can we see those things that matter and make a difference? First, let's look at the word notice and why it is important to us.

To notice is to use our senses to become aware of something. Noticing is the result of intentionally focusing our attention on the present moment. Where we place this focus can be in the physical world, or it can be in the mental or emotional world.

Since we can only focus on one thing at a time, we must take control of our mental functions by purposely pausing and directing our sight or thoughts to the one thing we wish to "see." We can then make what is usually unseen visible or known.

An easy way to refocus our attention on something that usually goes unnoticed is to ask ourselves questions. When you ask yourself a question, it creates tension in your mind. This tension will remain until an answer resolves it. The question can be as simple as:

“What do I notice about ____________?”

Let's look at several ways to use this technique to unearth some unnoticed things in everyday life with the following examples.

Noticing the unnoticed at work:

  • What do I notice about the way he said that?
  • What do I notice about the feelings I'm having about this?
  • What do I notice about the way people work at my company?
  • What do I notice about my boss/subordinates/colleagues?
  • What do I notice about how I act around my boss/subordinates/colleagues?

Noticing the unnoticed in your personal life:

  • What do I notice about my recent life?
  • What do I notice about the pattern of sleep in my life and how it affects my mood?
  • What do I notice about the foods I crave?
  • What do I notice about my habits?
  • What do I notice about my health?
  • What do I notice about how my spouse and I interact?
  • What do I notice about my children?
  • What do I notice about how I act at work versus when I am at home?

This simple yet powerful question can uncover your thoughts and bring hidden reality to light. You can extend this concept into any area or activity in life.

"Everyone chases after happiness, not noticing that happiness is right at their heels." Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)

Let me give you a couple of examples of how I have used this technique in my life.

Example 1

I am the type of person that will quickly get busy doing, doing, doing. I can get so wrapped up in a project or hobby I lose the enjoyment in it.

During the past couple of years, I decided to begin noticing my stress level by paying attention to how I feel throughout the day. In the past, I would have tolerated the stress and kept pushing. Since having some pretty serious heart attacks, stress is something I need to keep under control! Unfortunately, it is difficult to break a lifelong habit of going all out in anything I do.

I decided to notice and monitor my stress level several times each day. I did this at first by setting an alarm at 10:00, noon, 2:30, and 5:00 to remind me to stop, notice how stressed I was, then ranking my stress level on a scale of 1 to 10, with ten being highly stressed. Guess what? I was way overstressed. Not a good thing! I was consistently at a 7 to 8+!

I worked my stress levels down from the 7+ range last year to under five this year. Had I not started to notice this, who knows what may have resulted. I no longer set the alarm, but I still check my stress level several times each day.

Yes, this is a subjective exercise, but it has made a big difference in my health and life, and that makes it worth it!

Example 2

Another example of using noticing to my advantage happened a few years back in a company where I owned a small equity stake. We were in the process of selling to a large multi-national organization. By noticing certain things my colleagues had not thought about, the process came out more favorably for us.

This wasn't my first rodeo. I knew I did not want to fall into the typical pattern of focusing only on how the sale would affect me personally. Instead, I became intentional in noticing its effect on the company and its employees so less would escape my notice.

By noticing how the other company was dealing with us, I observed several things important to the outcome of the sale. While I won't bore you with the specifics, it is amazing how much you can learn by noticing the atmosphere in a few meetings. The feeling and weight of the atmosphere can be very telling about those in charge and the attendees. Give it a try the next time you are in a meeting.

Final thoughts

"You notice. And noticing, you live." John Graves (1920-2013)

What can you begin to notice in your life that may help you? Could there be something you are overlooking that you may want to give some attention? Perhaps noticing something at work, home, or elsewhere could make a difference in your life.

Ask yourself the simple question about what you notice often, and you will be surprised at what will come up! Why not give it a try this very moment?

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA
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