We see what is important for us, what we need to see to survive in the world - but we learn to omit what is uncomfortable or painful...
We think we know how to “see.” Learning to see the natural world, happens so gradually that we aren’t conscious of our developing eyesight. Almost as important, we learn to exclude seeing what is not helpful or threatening. Friends, businesses, churches, schools, and government, all have a vested interest in what we “see.” In advertising, this competition for attention is referred to as “the battle for eyeballs.” This post is about winning that battle for your attention.
Because seeing is natural, we are surprised when we look at a familiar scene and suddenly see something new for the first time—then are told that it has always been there. We just didn’t “register” the item that has now appeared, as if for the first time. So it is possible to “see” a scene and not really take it all in. Our seeing is selective, so the question becomes who or what determines this selectivity.
Seeing selectively is a habit we learn to keep from being overwhelmed with “everything.” We see what is important for us, what we need to see to stay safe, to stay focused on a task, in short to survive in the world.
The problem with this habit of “selective seeing” is that we miss a lot. We learn to omit what is unnecessary or uncomfortable or painful—for now.
As children, this habit of selective seeing allows us to survive in our family of origin. We learn that seeing and reporting on certain topics is a taboo so we learn to omit those things. But this partial seeing is not just something that children do. Of course some of these habits come over into adulthood. But, adults too, learn selective seeing. We learn to focus on what is important to teachers and bosses and we see and do what gets rewarded. In the process, we omit a lot that is important, but that does not serve our short term needs.
But the danger in all of this is that certain patterns that we omit seeing are critical for survival and health—not just personally, but also socially and organizationally. But what is seen or omitted is the subject of intense competition. All the advertising that comes at us constantly is an effort to get us to see only certain things and not others.
The question for all of us is: How do I get and retain control of my own attention—my own eyeballs? And the answer is: it’s not easy. We first have to become aware of our own habits and what drives those habits. We have to learn to shut out much of what clamors for attention in our media saturated world but are really distractions. We have to change our routines and our daily patterns so as to be able to pick and choose what it is we really want to see.
Conversely, we may want to tap into our ourselves, and see what is struggling for attention from within. So this competition for our attention is not just outside. There is a competition within each of us for what wants to emerge from the unconscious and become part of our “day-world.”
Artists learn to pay attention to this “inner-world” and the rest of us try to cultivate these inner-world images, for guidance and direction on our journey through life.
In fact, learning to tap into this inner-world is a rich source of ideas and images that can allow us to see our day-world with “fresh-eyes.” Success in business is a matter of seeing first, what others do not. We often say in the face of some popular success, “I wish I’d seen that.”
Seeing with fresh-eyes starts with becoming aware of what you now pay attention to. It’s a struggle to permanently shift your habits from seeing what others want you to see, to what feeds your inner self. It’s a struggle to win the battle for your own eyeballs and for fresh-eyes to see what’s vital.
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