Ignoring, The Way to Success? Experts Say Yes

I know I hate it.  "What do you want for dinner?" Nothing.  "Did you do your homework?"  Nothing.  "Did you clean your room?" Grunt.

I'm talking, of course, about my teenager, who ignores just about every word out of my mouth.  But now researchers are saying that mastering the art of ignoring makes people more efficient.

I suppose it makes sense.  If you've ever been in one of those moments where you're working so hard on something, you don't notice the house is on fire, just get that paragraph written, you've been there.  I've left pots boiling on the stove, driven right past my road when thinking about a word, even been able to tune out my husband when he's raving about Bill O'Reilly again.

But don't listen to me.  Get it from the experts.

Johns Hopkins University researchers have found that when people are given time to learn what’s possible to ignore, they’re able to search faster and more efficiently.

Scientists used a color test to trick participants when they were asked to find certain letters on a computer screen. They were to find the letters "B" or "F"among other letters of assorted colors. Sometimes, the participants were told the “B” or “F” would not be a certain color, like red. Other times they were given no color hints.

When participants were given one color to consistently ignore throughout the experiment, their reaction time slowed at first, but after extended practice, about a hundred trials, they were finding the target letters significantly faster than participants who weren’t given a color to eliminate.

In fact, the more information participants were able to ignore, the faster they found the target. The bottom line? Over time, people are more efficient when they know what’s not worth paying attention to.

Haven't you been in a situation where you had to concentrate, and could only do that by blocking out everything else?  Maybe waiting for a test result or driving through a torrential rain storm?  Sometimes we have to do that to survive.

The ability to ignore is a key part of the ability to pay attention, experts say.

Sometimes, though, you want distractions.  I remember the weekend I was waiting for biopsy results with my then three-year-old son.  I read Dr.Seuss' "Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?"  (strange how that helped) and went out and played in the snow, came in and made his favorite dinner, watched "Thomas the Train" (kill me) for two hours.  But whatever I did to distract myself, I still kept coming back to it.  I was obsessed with the results of that test.

When the results did, indeed, turn out to be cancer, that's when I learned to ignore things.  I concentrated on getting through treatment and finding things to be grateful for.  My son, learning to read.  The first crocuses pushing up through the soil.  The smell of barbecue in the air.  And I found them every day. 

I focused on getting well and didn't sweat the small stuff.  I guess that's what they're talking about.  Focusing on just what you need to do to get the project done, the exam taken, your health maintained, ignoring all the rest.  It worked.  I'm  cancer-free for almost 12 years now.  And I remember being glad to learn to ignore certain  things.

Just don't tell my son.



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