The gorilla in the room
How much are you seeing and how much are you missing?
Two psychologists, Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris, made a video in 1999 of six basketball players and asked a group of Harvard students to count how many times the people who were wearing white shirts passed the ball. You can watch the video on YouTube, but we’re going to spoil it and tell you the answer – 15. The interesting factor was not that Harvard students could count, but that approximately half of the group actually missed seeing a person in a gorilla costume walk right into the group, bang his chest, and walk out. They didn’t see the gorilla at all because they were too busy watching the basketball players.
Over time, the popularity of this video increased so another one was made in 2010. People were on to them now, and many more viewers saw the gorilla. What they failed to notice was that a curtain in the background changed colour and one player actually left the game!
We seem to notice the obvious things in life, but fail to observe other things that don’t necessarily attract our attention. Many, if not all of us, seem to suffer from “attention blindness,” which is to say that we sometimes only focus on what we choose to put our energy towards.
Sometimes we look at the numbers on our bathroom scale not going down, but we fail to see that our strength is increasing. We might be getting heavier or staying the same weight, but our amount of body fat is actually decreasing.
There is a fairly common saying among martial artists that “a Black Belt student is a White Belt student who didn’t quit.” This means that most people start training and as long as they keep working, they’ll keep learning until eventually, they can look back and see how far they have come from when they first began their journey. If they only pay attention to their immediate amount of knowledge, though, they may lose sight of how much they’ve improved by just consistently coming to class.
Attention blindness doesn’t just have an effect on our fitness or educational goals, though. Sometimes we can lose sight of things we should be grateful for, like a roof over our head, food on our table, or a loving family. We can be so obsessed with how bad some things in life can be that we forget about how truly good we have it. Just a brief moment in a day to be thankful can help us take some serious blinders off in this area.
There will be several occasions when we can (or cannot) address the elephant in the room – that obvious topic or thing that nobody likes to talk about. But if we only focus on the bad stuff, we may miss the good stuff.
Be careful not to focus only on the elephant. You might miss the gorilla.