Focus experiment: the colour blue

Based on the previous post, it may appear to all of you that I struggle with focus. 🙄

Earlier this morning I was listening to a youtube clip about focus and related topics while packing an overnight bag for a quick trip to the city house. It is in this video where I learned about an intriguing focus experiment that made a rather illuminating impression on me.

The woman in the video told her viewers to take a few moments and observe the room we were in and look for things that were the colour blue.

She gave us about a minute to scan the room from left to right and up and down.

So I stood there and looked for all the blue things.

There were many. I noticed obvious ones (blankets, dog toys) as well as out-of-place items (contact lens case on the kitchen counter, blue header in a junk mail ad, dot on a wine label, lettering on a pill bottle) and even items that were sort of blue; hues like aqua (charm on a bracelet, beads on a string) and turquoise (tube of lotion, clothing on a comic strip character in a newspaper).

When the woman in the video began to speak again, she asked us a question:

“How many things did you notice were red?”

Red. She wanted to know what we saw that was red. After she specifically told us to look for blue things.

I immediately scanned the room again and realized I had scanned over all of the very prominent red things in my line of vision without a second thought. I saw them, I think (how could I not?) but I wasn’t consciously aware of them. My brain was prompted to look for blue which is what I focused on.

And there it is again, that term: focus.

This is what I learned:

  • the brain was prompted with a very specific instruction: look for blue
  • at that point, the brain became hypersensitive to every object in the environment that was blue

Even though there were many prominently placed red items in my line of vision, I wasn’t as aware of them because I was prompted to look for blue and therefore focused consciously to seek out, and find, blue items.

I did this sort of thing when I worked in Customer Support, Marketing and other office jobs back in the day; urgent requests were made to look for physical or electronic files for VIPs or sometimes irate clients which meant us girls in the office had to drop everything and look for the specific file immediately. We’d do it, and find it, but in the process overlooked pretty much everything else, including glaring mistakes, misfiles or a variety of other bureaucratic infractions.

What this means is you can consciously program your mind to look for something – or believe something – at your request.

In doing so, you can eliminate, or purposely refuse to give attention to, something that will only detract and delay you from your search.

It also works in the reverse.

Have you ever heard someone say “you’re going to fail at this” or “you’re not competitive enough to succeed at that” or any other version of “you’re not good/pretty/thin/tall/smart enough”, real or implied, and subsequently let those words play on repeat in your head for a long while?

When you give negativity focus like that, you will continue to see all the things you think you did wrong to reinforce those statements. You suddenly see minor mistakes, the odd typo, the unfinished projects, a decrease in sales or reviews, a flaw on your body, a mark on your skin or whatever, all of which only get anchored deeper into your subconscious mind the longer you give them focus and attention. In the end, you learn to believe that you are in fact a failure and you do not meet competition standards, can’t measure up to so and so, worry about what someone else will say all because of some phrases you initially heard or read somewhere to which you assigned enough importance that you began to believe them.

I’ve done this. I’ve taken minor setbacks and wallowed in them by re-doing things, or deleting things, or changing course and starting new things before finishing old things which all sounds about as convoluted as it is in reality. It causes overwhelm and hacks at your confidence because you give weight to self-limiting beliefs or negative thoughts at the first sign of trouble.

This is why it’s so important to train your brain to look for the colour blue
(whatever the colour blue represents for you).

Fascinating, isn’t it.

Later that same day, I proposed this focus experiment to a family member. He’s a pilot and currently teaching at the post-secondary level in the Aviation program. Some of the topics he teaches include Human Factors which includes aspects of Situational Awareness, which relates to the topic of focus and attention on some level.

When I asked him if he wanted to do this experiment, he said yes.

I told him to look for blue things but he was busy making a coffee at the time. Although he scanned the room, he was puttering around with the French Press, then opened the drawer to take out a spoon and essentially multi-tasked while doing the experiment.

“Why don’t you wait until you finish brewing your coffee,” I offered and went to the bathroom. When I returned, he was leaning against the counter and scanning the room, looking at all the things he could find that were blue.

“Ok, I did it,” he said.

“How many things did you see that were red?” I asked him.

He stared at me.

“You said blue, so I looked at blue stuff,” he responded.

I watched the penny drop as we both scanned the room to look at all the blue and red items in our line of vision.

But he made the connection to his subject matter in the courses he teaches and who knows, maybe he will conduct a version of this focus experiment with his students one day.

I think many people struggle with focus at one time or another, particularly when they’re expected to multitask as working parents or have a multitude of roles and expectations to fulfill in family, work and life in general.

It concerns me, my lack of focus. I attribute a lot of weight to an orderly, tidy space in my orbit, especially when I work or write, and yet, none of that exists, or has existed, in my life for at least two decades. I noticed too that my focus is always so much sharper when I’m somewhere else where minimalism exists (hotel rooms, etc). I don’t know why this is, but it perplexes me. I want to learn how to tune out whatever is cluttering up my surroundings and get shit done despite it, yet I find myself constantly aware of everything and everyone around me all the time and allowing it to distract me away from my chosen focus.

Which is why I love my room with a door in the suburbs so much. I mean, why write at a dining table surrounded by noisy footsteps and wet dog noses when I can hide behind a door I can close with assurances that no one will interrupt me?

It’s something I’m very grateful for. Bliss!

Thank you for reading my post today. Please feel free to leave a comment.


18 thoughts on “Focus experiment: the colour blue

  1. I struggle with focus as well, which is why I prefer working outside of an office environment; all the chatter and random sounds of coffee mugs being placed too forcefully on a surface, loud crunching of food, people talking to themselves aloud, and someone clopping around the halls with their chunky heels on distracts the hell out of me!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Visual/auditory focus and for me, the ability to shield myself from negative or just Strong emotions, seem to be related.
    I know that when I’m tired, physically or mentally, I have trouble with focus and shielding.
    It’s interesting and a great reminder that we have choices, and that our awareness of what causes distress and how to remedy it, is something to keep at the top of our lists.

    You always find the coolest stuff. Thanks for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean. Add into that a hearing loss which distorts the incoming sounds and it’s overkill for my senses. Maybe that’s why I’m challenged in the focus department and need silence and emptyness for optimal output.

      Happy birthday eve my wonderful Cali friend! 😘

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s really interesting! Had you been surrounded by people, or Tucker do you think you would have done as well in finding the blue? Clearly partner was distracted with coffee at first!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is so interesting. I tried with blue first, then look for green. Bueno, I discovered that I had overlooked my own clothing! But I have never cared for orderly, tidy spaces. I am a somewhat disorganized Libra. I tuned chaos out without any effort 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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