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Selective Attention

I wonder how many of us actually see what we’re looking at? There’s always so much going on around us, so much information hitting the sensory channels which take information into our brain and in actual fact, there’s always too much happening in any one moment for us to have complete awareness …

Before you read any further … STOP!! Click the link in the video above and have a watch. You’ll be able to read the instructions which are to focus on the ball and count how many times it’s passed between players.

How many passes did you observe? And did you see the other character entering the field of play? Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t – you’d perhaps be surprised at the number of people so busy observing the ball passing that they totally ignore the black hairy beast! I’ve used this video in many training sessions previously – and when I’ve replayed it, people have been astonished and even asked whether I’m playing different footage.

So how can this be? NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) explains it well. At any one moment, there are approximately 2 million bits of information hitting our brains, via what we see, hear, feel, smell and taste. As well developed as the brain is, our neurology cannot possibly take all this information in and if it did, we’d end up dribbling, rocking wrecks on total sensory overload! And so, we have filters which reduce these 2 millions bits of information down to a more manageable figure of approximately 134 bits.


Filters take many forms and differ from person to person based upon your own lifetime experience up to a nano-second ago. Our inbuilt filters Delete, Distort and Generalise and the way they operate individually depends upon a number of factors, including your values and beliefs, your memories, your decisions and Meta Programs, which are our personality preferences. These factors, of course, operate in the main at an unconscious level. We’ll visit these factors more in depth in subsequent blog posts; for now, I’m going to give you an example of how the filters operate:

  • Delete:

    This is the process whereby you filter out information, just like in the “selective attention” video above. This video was put together by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons and you can read more about them at www.theinvisiblegorilla.com. Essentially, we omit certain parts of our current experience by selectively paying attention to certain other parts of it – so we focus on what seems most important at any one particular moment in time and allow the rest to pass us by.

  • Distort:

    This is where we make a misrepresentation of reality. How many times have you searched for that missing set of keys only to have someone come along, open the drawer you’ve looked in ten times, pick up the keys and say “here they are!”? Between your vision and your neurology, you’ve distorted the reality of what you see in the drawer, seeing only what you expect to normally see.

  • Generalise:

    We make generalisations about things, people and events. You probably know what I’m saying – someone perhaps arrives unpunctually for a meeting and that one event turns into “He’s always late”; your weekend away is wet and therefore “It always rains in Wales”; the pushy salesman cold calling at your door leads you to conclude “All sales people are hardfaced”. So in essence, Generalization is where we take a particular experience and apply it generically to a multitude of other situations.


Whilst these filters are a necessary part of your inbuilt communication system and neurology, sometimes the way they’ve evolved and the outcomes they have within your thinking and behaviour don’t necessarily serve you. NLP has a fantastic way of recognising patterns of speech which involve Deletions, Distortions and Generalisations and positively challenging them, which is called the Meta Model. That’s a whole different ball game, so more about that in a later blog post, too!

So, for now – you’ve had a little insight into how your neurology processes information and why frequently, we don’t actually get the full picture, sounds or feelings of what we’re experiencing in the here and now! Watch this space for more information to follow and if you’re feeling impatient in the meantime and would like to get a feel for how NLP can help you to understand and make changes in your own thinking, emotions, behaviour and outcomes then why not give me a yell on +44 (0) 7932 060360 – I’d love to chat!

Be outstanding …

FAZ COLBHIE