“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it” (1)
One may think that this may be a quote by a self-help guru, a Buddhist monk or a philosopher. Actually, I came across it yesterday reading Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s latest book. What he means by this is that “any aspect of life to which attention is directed will loom large in a global evaluation” (1).
Daniel Gilbert provides examples how terribly inaccurate people are guessing what will bring them happiness and what will bring misery. Apparently, winning in lottery or getting married brings much less happiness than most people are absolutely certain they will. Also, becoming paraplegic by far does not bring as much misery as we think (2).
It seems that our intuitions constantly magnify the importance of specific aspects of our lives that we are paying attention to. Attention is a bit like magnifying glass: whatever we bring our attention to seems bigger than it actually is.
It is my common experience that when I do a mistake or do not meet some sort of criteria I have set for myself, often I get a feeling suggesting that this is really bad. It feels like this will have a big negative impact on my life even in the total context of my life they are pretty minor things. However, as I continue deepening my practice of mindfulness and as I become more observant of the patterns of my mind, I start noticing things I was not noticing before. I start seeing my own blindness. I notice myself developing an intuitive feeling that tells me when I am blowing things out of proportion again. It’s like a little voice inside me going ‘here you are doing the same again’. After becoming aware of this intuitive impulse, usually I discount whatever my initial reactions of fear or frustration suggest. More often than not, this leads to being more level-headed and making better decisions.
Also, it’s a very humbling experience to see how flawed my perceptions are. This makes it into a lifelong quest of learning more and more when my perceptions can and cannot be trusted.
- Kahneman, Daniel (2011). Thinking, Fast & Slow, p. 402
- Gilbert, Daniel (2006). Stumbling on Happiness