Paying attention to what matters for our own health, safety, joy and interest is important as we navigate our way through the world. Paying attention to details allows us experience so much:
- Noticing the crack in the sidewalk so we avoid tripping.
- Appreciating the intricacy of a piece of art we love.
- Recognizing a movie’s plot twist, which brings the story together.
- Seeing the smile on a friend’s face.
But, the brain has to suppress its attention to the unimportant details around us in order to ensure it can use its resources to pay attention to those things that really do matter. To avoid tripping you may want to notice the crack in the sidewalk but you certainly don’t want to notice every single crack in the sidewalk and ultimately waste your brain’s resources. Dismissing the details that don’t matter is just as important as noticing the details that do matter.
Our Divided Attention exercise is designed to help your brain dismiss competing information while focusing on the important details. Your brain is required to focus and react to specific details like matching colours, shapes, and/or patterns. The exercise may, for example, require you to press the left arrow key on your keyboard if two shapes on screen meet certain criteria such as being the same colour. If the shapes don’t meet the criteria then you would be asked to press the right arrow key.
Through this exercise your brain is forced to avoid confusion by quickly noticing when the two shapes are the same colour (requiring a left arrow press) or when the shapes aren’t the same colour but may have something else in common like both being triangles.
To challenge your brain’s flexibility as you practice, the exercise will increase in difficulty and change the details you are required to notice. For example:
- The categories will change requiring you to first match colours but then match shapes or patterns.
- Multiple categories may be grouped together requiring you to match colour AND shape or match colours but DIFFERENT shapes.
- The images will flash by more quickly requiring your brain to ignore the wrong information, keeping the brain fit and attend to the right information much faster.
Being able to suppress the information that doesn’t matter while paying attention to what does matter can have a deep impact on your daily life. Everything from quickly finding the right salad dressing buried within a wall of choices at your grocery store to picking out an old friend in a sea of hundreds of faces at a crowded airport all depend, in part, on your ability to eliminate details that don’t matter while very rapidly focusing on important details that do matter.
Improving your ability to focus on or dismiss details could help you feel more capable and confident in your day-to-day life.