What’s Obvious Is a Function of What You Pay Attention To

By Jeff Copper, MBA, PCC, PCAC, CPCC, ACG – July 1, 2024

What is obvious to you? To me, what is obvious is a function of what you pay attention to. Not sure if you agree with me? Then pay attention to most jokes, parables, quotes, and metaphors. They all illustrate my point. Each one is designed to shift your attention to what is obvious.

Let me explain by using the following content from an email floating around the Internet:

  • With money, you can buy a house, but not a home.
  • With money, you can buy a clock, but not time.
  • With money, you can buy a book, but not knowledge.
  • With money, you can see a doctor, but not good health.
  • With money, you can buy a position, but not respect.
  • With money, you can buy sex, but not love.

Notice how each quote first pays attention to what money can buy and then pays attention to what you actually want. The contrast between outcomes (i.e., a house versus a home) is a perfect example.

Jokes work in a similar manner, but they poke fun at paying attention to things differently. Here are a few:

  • My wife walked into the den and asked, “What’s on the TV?” I replied, “Dust.” And that’s how the fight started.
  • Question: What do you call twelve rabbits that take one step backwards?  Answer: A receding hare line.

Many famous quotes are also intended to shift what we pay attention to. Let’s look at a few:

  • “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
    –Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”
    –Thomas Edison
  • “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”
    –Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”
    –Bill Cosby

Also, parables highlight what is obvious by shifting your attention. Let’s look at an example:

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said:

“My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

After reading the jokes, the quotes, and the parable, do you notice how they are all the same? They all compare two things that are obvious but different (e.g., the content played on TV versus the dust on top of the TV)! Notice that what is obvious depends on how you are paying attention to it.

To most of us, it is obvious we should hire a coach to direct our attention to the right thing. But what most of us don’t get is that we can’t pay attention to the right thing until we quit paying attention to the wrong thing. For example, let’s revisit the thought, “With money, you can buy a house, but not a home.” Think about it. You won’t find a home if you don’t let go of the notion that it just takes money to buy one. First, you need to pay attention to the characteristics of what makes a home. Thus, it is only when you let go of the belief that money buys a house that you can then pay attention to what a home is.

What’s obvious to me is, if you’re stuck, you’re paying attention to the wrong thing. My job as an attention coach is less about pointing out what you should pay attention to and more about helping you to stop paying attention to what isn’t working. As in the comparison between house and home, my goal is to help you let go of your limiting beliefs — like, you only need money to have a home — so you can pay attention to and obtain what you are really trying to get.

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