Friday, March 12, 2010

Paying Attention Brings Good Things

We don’t slug one another, but the competition in our van can sometimes be intense. “Slug bug yellow,” my five-year-old yells as we drive down the street. “Good eye,” replies her three-year-old brother. Not to be left out, our two-year-old keeps a sharp eye on the familiar side streets and parking lots where he can expect to see what has become his favorite car, the Volkswagen Beetle.

Since we’ve revived this game of our childhood, the iconic car seems to pop up everywhere. Of course, this is only because we pay attention to the passing cars, in hopes of adding to our personal slug bug tally. At least when it comes to slug bugs, none of us suffer from what psychologists call “inattentional blindness,” a term that describes an inability to perceive things in plain sight.

According to Professor Richard Wiseman, inattentional blindness often keeps people from recognizing the positive things in their lives. To demonstrate the effect of inattentional blindness, Wiseman gave people a newspaper and asked them to count the number of photographs in its pages. On page two of the newspaper, Wiseman printed a message in one-inch letters that read, “Stop counting, there are 43 photographs in this newspaper.”

Wiseman concludes that those who saw the announcement right away tend to be lucky people. On the other hand, participants who didn’t notice it are more apt to miss out on unexpected opportunities. In other words, Wiseman’s experiment confirms that people who carefully observe their environment have more good things happen to them.

My friend Heather is an avid radio listener, but she does more than just let the music wash over her. She pays attention, and when she hears about opportunities to win prizes, she calls in—and she wins. A lot. Her winnings include concert and movie tickets, a new Harley Davidson, an iPod, and trip to Hollywood, among other things. She even had an auctioneer give her a diamond ring once. When no one was bidding on it, he held it up and asked, “Does anybody want this?” She was the only one who raised her hand.

I tease her about being lucky, but she is quick to point out that she wins because she says yes to the possibility of winning. She dials the phone (and is brave enough to sing on the radio). She says yes to the auctioneer who is offering her a diamond. Though it’s easy to attribute circumstances to good or bad luck, Heather demonstrates how we often have far more control over our lives than we realize.

Yes good and bad things do just happen sometimes. But Wiseman encourages people to plug into the world around them if they wish to have more good things come their way. Luck isn’t found in a talisman like a rabbit’s foot or a four-leaf clover. Rather, luck is a state of mind, a way of thinking and behaving.

CCCS/ACCE –American Center for Credit Education
Carey Denman

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