What you pay attention to today has a tremendous impact on what you accomplish in the future. Everyone knows this instinctively but we try to fight it. In order to achieve what you value most, you have to pay attention to the right things.

We live in a world of sensory overload. To help display this, here are a couple of fun exercises that demonstrate the concept known as Selective Attention. The first exercise is a simple example of the “Stroop Effect” that portrays the somewhat strange phenomenon associated with how we “see” and “say” colors. In the box below, you see a dozen words and colors. Don’t read the words but instead say the colors. So, the word “BLUE” is printed in “RED”, so you say “RED”. Say the colors as fast as you can.

Stroop Effect

There is an interference that occurs between our naming the colors that requires a higher degree of attention than simply reading the words.

The second exercise was designed by two Harvard psychologists in 1999 (Daniel J. Simons and Christopher F. Chabris) to help demonstrate how inattentive of our broad surroundings we are when focusing only on a single object. In this brief video clip, count the number of times players wearing white shirts pass the basketball.

This is interesting because as you concentrate on watching the players in white shirts pass the ball, you can easily miss the unusual visitor that walks through the circle late in the video. Did you get the right answer for the number of passes? 15. What about the gorilla?!

Pay Attention!

Selective and sustained inattentiveness to what you value most can have detrimental consequences for your financial life.

We often start meetings with clients asking “What has your attention right now?” This provides an instant snapshot of focus and alternatively, inattention to broader issues. This is question one. Question two is “What are you trying to accomplish?” In many cases, the answers to these two questions don’t connect in any meaningful way. In many ways, the answers to these two questions frame your future. This is also where reality-based financial planning begins…by re-centering focus on what matters most.

As our experiments above illustrate, it’s incredibly easy to miss important things by focusing too much on what’s happening in the moment. You can get wrapped up in the tide of panic and fear that is so pervasive today and overlook the gorilla walking through the middle of your life. Start there. Ready for a real conversation?

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