Photo by Husna Miskandar on Unsplash
The statement “what we attend to controls our behavior” underscores the influential role of attention in shaping our actions, decisions, and even our identity. In an era replete with stimuli – from buzzing smartphones to ubiquitous advertisements – it’s more crucial than ever to understand how the direction of our attention impacts our behavior. It brings to mind Viktor Frankl’s famous quote, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Let’s dig into the deeper meaning of the statement and Mr. Frankl’s quote.
1. The Neuroscience of Attention
To appreciate the statement, beginning at the neurological level is vital. The brain is a processing powerhouse, constantly inundated with information from our surroundings. However, it cannot process all the stimuli in our environment equally. Attention serves as a spotlight, highlighting certain information for deeper processing while relegating others to the background. The prefrontal cortex, often regarded as the command center, is pivotal in guiding this spotlight. Once a particular stimulus is given prominence through attention, it becomes integrated into our thought processes, emotions, and decision-making mechanisms. By choosing where to focus, we determine which inputs will influence our subsequent behaviors. Choose wisely. Be intentional.
2. Habit Formation and Reinforcement
What we repeatedly attend to can become a habitual pattern. For instance, if individuals consistently pay attention to negative news, they might develop a pessimistic worldview over time. This pattern, once entrenched, drives behaviors aligned with that mindset, such as avoiding new experiences or constantly expecting the worst outcomes. The brain’s reward system reinforces such behavioral outcomes. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked with pleasure and reward, strengthens neural pathways associated with habits. Thus, the more we attend to certain stimuli, the more our brain reinforces the behavior associated with it.
3. The Role of Modern Technology
Understanding the link between attention and behavior is even more pertinent in the digital age. Technology companies often employ attention engineers who utilize principles from psychology to design apps and platforms that captivate users. Think: The Social Dilemma. By understanding what draws our attention, these platforms can guide our behavior, sometimes leading us to spend hours scrolling through feeds or watching videos. This impacts how we allocate our time and shapes our beliefs, values, and perceptions, as the content we attend to can influence our worldview.
4. Emotional Regulation and Focus
Emotions play a profound role in guiding behavior. The stimuli we attend to can dictate our emotional responses. Focusing on the challenges and setbacks they encounter makes them more likely to experience feelings of frustration, sadness, or anxiety. Conversely, directing attention towards positive aspects, such as achievements or moments of joy, fosters positive emotions. Over time, this pattern of attention can influence behavior, promoting resilience and a proactive attitude in the face of adversity.
5. The Power of Mindfulness
Recognizing the nexus between attention and behavior has also led to the popularizing of practices like mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches individuals to control their attention, anchoring it to the present moment. By consciously directing focus, one can break free from detrimental cycles of behavior. For instance, someone struggling with anxiety might learn to shift their attention away from ruminative thoughts, leading to better emotional regulation and healthier behavioral responses.
6. Implications for Personal Development
At a personal level, understanding that “what we attend to controls our behavior” can be empowering. It suggests that curating the content and experiences we focus on can drive positive change in our lives. Whether engaging with uplifting content, seeking environments that promote growth, or practicing techniques to guide our attention, there’s a wealth of opportunity to harness this principle for personal development.
To sum this up, the adage “what we attend to controls our behavior” encapsulates a profound truth about the human experience. Our attention is a filter, shaping our perceptions, emotions, and decisions. In the present day, with its plethora of distractions, it’s essential to recognize the potency of our focus and strive to direct it wisely. Only then can we ensure that our behaviors align with our aspirations and values.
About Mike Brewer
My mission is to tease out the human potential in the multifamily space.