Harnessing the focusing illusion

Spend an hour reading up about a topic. Any topic. At the end of it, it will seem more important to you than when you started off.

Spend an hour reading about terrorism and you will temporarily find yourself more fearful of the ‘unknown enemy’. Spend an hour reading up about dolphin conservation and you will find yourself more inclined to make a donation. Nuclear waste, Catalonian independence and or even curling. The list goes on.

The things we focus on automatically assume more importance. Psychologists call this tendency of our brains the ‘focusing illusion’.

The focusing illusion often leads us to fall prey to manipulation. Tech companies send us frequent notifications to raise their importance in our heads. Politicians scare us by focusing our attention on remote threats. Marketers create ads and send us promotional email to have us focus on their brand.

However, you could harness this tendency to your advantage. If whatever you focus on turns important, choose what to focus on. If you want to exercise more often, look at videos or articles on fitness. If you wish to adopt a vegan diet, look at recipes, videos and articles on veganism. If you can’t stick to a practice schedule with the electric guitar, immerse yourself in classic rock and heavy metal for a couple of hours every week.

Our thinking has its vulnerabilities. While being wary of exploitation, you might as well hack them to your advantage.

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