No one has 360-degree vision. When we are focusing on something, everything else is out of focus, so there will be many important things that are there, right by us, but we don’t see them. That is fine most of the time, but on occasions it can be really problematic if we don’t make ourselves aware of those blind spots. How often have you felt like kicking yourself because, after the event, you have realised that you missed something significant and really wished you hadn’t?
What is boils down to is that perception is an active process. Our senses don’t just simply alert us to what is around us in a direct way, with us passively receiving the sense data. What actually happens is that our senses are constantly filtering out much of what is presented to them. Much will depend on purpose. What is it we are doing? What are we trying to achieve? Answers to those questions and others will shape what is highlighted by our senses and what is filtered out. For example, imagine a painter and decorator entering a room to prepare for carrying out work there. What they notice will be linked to what they need to know in terms of the materials needed, any particular complications or whatever else a painter and decorator needs to know. Now imagine that a health and safety inspector subsequently enters the same room. They are likely to pay no attention at all to how many rolls of wallpaper would be needed or whether the doorframes would need to be sanded down. But what they are likely to notice is that loose electrical socket in the corner that could be highly dangerous or the pile of boxes in the other corner that is so high and so badly stacked that it is only a matter of time before someone brushes against it and gets seriously injured. They went in to the same room, but saw different things and came away with different conclusions, and therefore will no doubt behave differently as a consequence.
What we notice (and don’t notice) therefore depends largely on what we are doing and why we are doing it. But that is not the only factor. Much can also depend on habit and taken-for-granted assumptions. For example, if we are used to trusting someone and have never had cause to question their loyalty to us, we may not notice the way they are exploiting or undermining us. Habit is a powerful force, and generally a very helpful one, but it does have its downside – it can blind us to important issues or potential dangers
So, what is the magic answer? How do we become more tuned in to these blind spots that can stop us moving forward positively at times (because we didn’t spot the opportunities) or put is in danger (because we didn’t spot the hazards)? Of course, there aren’t any magic answers, but there are things we can do. Let’s go back to the two sets of issues we have already looked at. First of all, the purpose of your activity – being clear about what your purpose is can help to keep you focused and that is a good thing, of course. But what you can also do is to think about how a situation might go wrong or how opportunities may be missed. This involves being sensitive to your surroundings – focusing carefully on what is important, but not doing that to the exclusion of all else. For example, a parent focusing on their career to enable their children to have a good standard of living may focus narrowly on work issues and not spend enough time with their children – thereby providing well for them financially, but perhaps not so well emotionally. The challenge, then, is to be holistic: focus narrowly when you need to, but also take a broader look at the situation too.
Second, in terms of habits and assumptions, this is where self-awareness comes in. If you review for yourself what your habits and assumptions are in certain situations, you will find yourself in a stronger position to avoid blind spots – you will be more tuned in to the potential issues to be missed because you allowed yourself to get stuck in tramlines, rather than go where your spirit takes you more creatively.