William Liao

April 5, 2021

Determining life in the next moment

In 1999 Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris conducted a study that asked participants to watch a video of two teams passing around a basketball. The specific task was to count how many times people on the white team — designed by white shirts — passed a basketball (Fig. 1).

Fig 1.

What’s surprising about this study is that almost half (44%) of the participants failed to notice a person in a gorilla suit walking around the room (Fig. 2). 

Fig. 2

Being able to pay attention and notice everything (even things that seem like they should be obvious), it turns out, is really hard.

In other words, when you commit your attention to something, there’s a good chance that you’re not noticing other things.

The good news is that this is generally a good and desirable thing: most people would call this focus.

The bad news is that when you’re focused on things that don’t matter and aren’t helpful, it means you’re probably missing out on other details worth noticing:

It’s what happens when you become so frustrated with something that you fail to notice how beautiful it is outside.

It’s what happens when you get into an argument with someone close to you and briefly forget how much this person really means to you.

The contents of your consciousness are all you have, and they dictate how you experience life from moment to moment.

It is worth routinely asking yourself if what you’re paying attention to in an any given moment really matters.

And if the answer is no, then understand that you can literally change how you experience life in the next moment by choosing to focus on something that does matter.