Hey guys, welcome back to the podcast. I am Amanda.
And I'm Kendra.
And today we are going to talk about focus and attention. So the first thing I want you to imagine is, you're at a cocktail party. You hear every single spoken word that every person is saying in the building. You hear every clink of every piece of silverware. You hear every single musical note from the band. Every single sensory signal is pouring into your brain. If that really were truly happening, it would quickly be overwhelming and you would have a considerably hard time focusing, connecting, having any sort of relationship with a person sitting next to you. Like I can imagine if this was happening to me, I'd be in the fetal position.
And honestly, you do have people, you see this all the time of people that have sensory input, over stimulation. That's what it would be like every day if you really did hear all the things, see all the things. So our human brains have figured out a solution for this on purpose called selective attention.
Selective attention is the process of focusing on a particular object in the environment for a certain period of time. We know that attention is a limited resource, so selective attention allows us to tune out unimportant details and focus on what matters. There's a spotlight analogy of how, like the spotlight just shines on what you're trying to pay attention to, but I almost like the analogy of a camera lens even better.
The camera lens brings the subject into focus and it blurs out the rest so it's unrecognizable. There's a famous experiment I'm sure most of you have probably seen it. it is part of our lecture series that we do, but it's called The Invisible Gorilla Experiment by Daniel Simons and Christopher. Where people are supposed to count the times a ball is passed between people wearing white shirts only. Other people in the room have black shirts. Meanwhile, while you're completely consumed with this, a person dressed in a gorilla suit walks through the screen and the first time that I did this, I 100% completely missed it.
And that's the experiment, is that selective attention is amazing. Otherwise we would be rendered incapacitated with sensory input. So it's just amazing what our brains can include in your attention and what they can filter out. Selective attention itself is amazing.
Otherwise we'd be rendered incapacitated with sensory input. But for many of us, this camera lens and the focus of our camera lens is running completely unchecked.
So how we talk about this is through an idea called mental filtering. It's actually one of the cognitive distortions that we talked about way back maybe in our, our first five podcasts.
We talked about several different cognitive distortions or thought distortions, and menstrual filtering is one of them. And this is the idea that our brain tends to ignore positives and focus exclusively on the negatives. So even when there's positives, just like you said, you completely miss 'em 'cause we're just so focused and, and trained on really just the negatives in the situation.
And also to, to add to that, the negative details tend to be magnified. So it just seems like everything is in the negative. This is very useful, especially in emergency medicine because when we go see a patient, the first thing our brains do is what is the worst case scenario here, right?
So we're totally thinking and totally focused on, is this patient sick, not sick, and you know, what's the worst case scenario? What do I need to do right now versus what do I have time to sit back and think and do? So we analyze the situation, we tend to go straight to what is the worst case scenario, even if it is so unlikely, like not the right age group, not the right gender, not the right whatever.
We just tend to go there right away. While it serves us on shift, if we come home and do the same thing, we're gonna miss a lot of the goodness that happens in our lives. There's another thought distortion that goes with this. It's called disqualifying the positive. And while it sounds similar, it's basically where we acknowledge that there's positive.
So we do recognize it in our brain that there's positives, but we just refuse to accept it. So basically we find an excuse to make it into a negative. So no matter how we try, we recognize the positives, but we just find a way to kind of flip it to the negative. when we use our brain to constantly focus on the negative.
You know, like I said, on shift, it serves us because we're constantly thinking. Worst case scenario. If we're coming home and we're assuming worst case scenario at home, say like in your marriage with your partner and you're always thinking they're all to sabotage me. There's nothing good in this relationship.
They're always this, they always do this. They never do this. You know, you use those very definitive terms, like always and never. It can really make Your brain continuously focus on the negative, even if you know you missed them cooking dinner while you weren't there and cleaning up afterwards, but maybe they left meat in the crockpot, right?
And so you're like, oh, the meat was left out all night. That's in the crockpot. They never cleaned it up, you know. However, dinner got made, people got fed, and the night went on. So it's a win. When we talk about that camera, it's focusing on the tiny part of a bigger picture. Like I said, when we train our brain to consider the negative all the time, we actually aren't allowing ourselves to step back and kind of see the whole picture.
In the words of George Lucas, he says, always remember your focus determines your reality. Tony Robbins says it another way, and he says, your life is controlled by what you focus on. Energy flows where attention goes. So given that your feelings are determined by your thoughts, having a hyper focus on the negative leads to feeling pretty crummy a lot of the time.
So then we consider, if our feelings are determined by our thoughts, and we're considering that our thoughts are constantly focused on the negative, then we're gonna have negative feelings, or we're gonna feel pretty bad. Whether we feel like constantly frustrated, disappointed, anger, whatever your manifestation of the negative is constantly, that's the energy that is going to be present most of the time.
However, if we could think about reframing that thought, so using that negative mental filtering, but yet reframing the thought to, well, yes, this happened, but in the bigger picture it's a net positive. We tend to kind of start to do that neuroplasticity we talk about and we start to train our brains actually to take a step back and look at the positive.
So an example of that is we just, at work, we just had to do our annual reviews of like our. Colleagues, and that includes providers. And I've learned over the years when we do those. The best thing to do is lead with something that we value them as a part of the team. So something that they notice that we notice, that they really bring to the team and really start on that positive note.
Even if later some of the feedback is a little bit more constructive, I tend to lead with that. And you know, most of it goes well, but one of the feedback that I got was from one of our providers was all the negative, like, so we even led with a positive thought or a positive situation and told them how much they were valued and then said something on the very end, a very minimal constructive thought.
And that was kind of the feedback I got. Well, I don't understand how I'm like this da da da. Like, just, just heard that last like one sentence. So then I had a one-on-one conversation with this person and I said, you know, one of the things that we said was that this is how valued you are and just reminded of the positives and then just kind of trying to get the situation where big picture you got like five out of five overall on your evaluation.
There was just one constructive thought. So just really trying to help coach through the fact that overall the job performance went well and there, and I'm getting, I'm receiving feedback of how much I'm valued, and then there's just this one area that could possibly. Be seen as an area for opportunity for improvement.
And so just really trying to coach that colleague through that, just to know that overall your entire score was like, you know, 4.75 out of five, right? And so big picture was the review went well and then, but not to just put a lot of emphasis on that 0.25 that, that she got off and just trying to reframe that big picture.
You did well. So another example on disqualifying the positive is just the same thing on that job or that annual review. Just being grateful. Like, I got a 4.75 and that is an amazing mark and I'm grateful for that. And so you're just, you're consistently re reminding yourself that actually I got a 4.75 out of five.
And focusing on that, that overall, that is an amazing score and I earned that instead of like, oh, the 0.25, what was that? What could I do? It must mean that I'm gonna be fired. I can't do my job well, you know, and really just kind of spiraling from there.
Yeah, that kind of points to our maladaptive perfectionism, that we like to engage in.
Yeah, you even, you even included a little special bonus with catastrophization. So I, like all of our thought errors are getting included on that example.
Multiple thought errors that I recognized.
So reframing and changing perspective is something that we help our clients with a lot in coaching sessions. It's something that is not, it's not a natural thing most of us do. Most of us just have thoughts, and no matter how negative they are, we just believe them to be reality.
But as we learn that skill of metacognition, of noticing our thoughts and examining them and deciding whether we want to keep them or not, we are able to engage in some constructive reframing and really change so much for our, in our experience in life. So we don't ever want to engage in what we call toxic positivity.
Like we love the meme of the little dog sitting in the house burning down and saying, this is fine. Like that dog is engaging in toxic positivity. We don't want to gaslight ourselves and tell our, tell ourselves that things are fantastic when, you know, say we're in an abusive situation. However, we can change the input change what, what it is that we mostly take in.
Kind of like changing the channel. So, for me, if I watch Law and Order, I, I used to love this show, but now if I watch any kind of crime show like that, I don't feel good afterwards. So I have learned that focusing on crime and what bad things happen in the world doesn't make me feel good.
And so I changed the channel and I watch Hawaii Life or, or some comedy show or something like that. And we can do the same thing with our thoughts. We can change the channel on purpose. So the negative stuff will still exist and the positive stuff still exists, but we can decide where we want to put our attention. Amanda shared a quote from Tony Robbins, and I love this quote.
He says, your life is controlled by what you focus on. Energy flows where your attention goes. do we want our energy to flow to negativity? Do we want our energy to flow to, you know, all the things that are going wrong or could be going wrong or might go wrong in the future? It's just not, I don't know.
I don't want that. There was a time where I, I think I felt a little bit of dopamine hit by ink indulging and thinking of all the horrible things or blah, blah, blah. But afterwards it just leaves you feeling kind of flat. So when we decide to change our focus, we are paying attention to all the things that are going right.
There's so much going right in the world all the time. So here's some tips. Challenge your point of view. Is it 100% true? We're not saying that you have to give up any negative thought that you have. We are all free to keep whatever thoughts we have if we want to. But is this helping me? Is this thought helping me?
Is it possible that, say there's a situation that we're super stressed and worried about and we think it's gonna be a horrible outcome, but is it helping us to think about that in the future? Is it possible that things could work out in a way that's beneficial to me and to others? Is it helping me to think all these negative thoughts? Am I thinking all or nothing? Am I giving no partial credit? A lot of times we find that our clients are focused on things that other people are doing wrong. Other people need to be different for us to be able to feel better.
Or other people's behavior is making our life so difficult. Is that really true? Are you sure you want to give those people that power? Are you sure that you're not more in control of your own experience than you think? So I had a session with a client recently, and this is a, actually a very common scenario, and all three of us have also experienced this in the past where she was experiencing dread before going to work.
I, I used to experience this all the time, especially when I had to go in for an afternoon shift or an overnight shift. 'cause you're awake, you're doing stuff during the day and all day. This, this shift is waiting for you at the end of the day and thinking about how horrible it was gonna be or how it's so hard that I have to miss sleeping in my bed or I have to miss bedtime with the kids, or is so hard, I'm just, it's so hard. That was not helping me at all. In fact, me missing out, me having fear of missing out with time on time with my kids was making me miss out on time with my kids. So I was not being present. I wasn't looking at everything that was going right.
While I was at home, I was just sitting in dread and being cranky and it just wasn't helpful. So instead, choosing some different thoughts help me learn to like going to work. And some of the thoughts I've chosen are I really like my job. I like the challenge of it. I like being able to help people. I like being able to meet people in their difficult circumstances and giving them assistance.
It benefits my children to see me go to work. They, my kids like that I work. They like that I have an education. They like that I help people. They think it's cool. I think it's cool. So these are some of the thoughts that help me change that perspective. This, so that's, that's kind of what it looks like to reframe your thoughts.
And if we are having emotions about things, it's important for us to allow those emotions. So yes, I am not gonna sleep in my bed when I'm working a night shift. That's right. And so I might have some feelings about that. I'm gonna allow them, and then I'm going to say, do I wanna think a different thought so I can have an additional emotion about this situation?
It's important for us to show compassion for ourselves. the thing that cracks me up the most is when a client is like, dang it, I'm talking to myself negatively again. How can I keep doing this? Like, it is okay.
It's okay. It's natural. Our brains are wired for the negative. We had to be wired for negative so we could survive. Evolutionarily it was not so important that we were stopping to smell the flowers all the time. We had to know where the bears were and the saber tooth tigers and whatnot. We had to be on alert to survive.
And so it's, of course, we're wired that way, but we know that we can rewire ourselves now and that that's great. That's great. But part of that is having compassion for ourselves and really no emotion is anything that we need to try to get rid of. We just need to be curious and allow them, and then decide what we wanna do from there.
So instead of focusing on all the obstacles, all the things that are going wrong, it's helpful to focus on solutions and possibilities. Napoleon Hill says, focus on the possibilities for success, not on the potential for failure. They're both imaginary anyway, but one moves you forward and feels so much better.
One harnesses the power of your brain for action and success, the other holds you back. I love that. So this is why a gratitude practice isn't woo. It really does change your brain through neuroplasticity.
It is so cool now that we can, we can see what happens in the brain with functional M R I studies and spec scans over time when we do different practices. But a gratitude practice isn't just woo, it really does help us change and we're changing that negativity bias in our brains. Even if we're just doing it for a few moments, it feels so good.
And over time it will become more natural for us to have a less negative and more positive bias.
Yeah, that's really good Laura, 'cause I think too, just like we said, sometimes we get another thought disorder is that we get very, very focused, hyper-focused on, on anything that we can't step, step back. And sometimes we need to just take a pause and just like we talked about in this podcast to reframe or just to think of the other options. So think of all the opportunities that it could be. What could it be? What else could it be? I often find myself, now that I'm more aware of these thought disorders, asking myself. What else is possible? I often find myself recognizing that I'm getting ready to go down the rabbit hole and then just pausing and saying, okay, what are other options? What else is possible? What else could be possible here? And just asking like we talked about before, asking better questions. So thank you for joining us today. If you are listening and you are a resident, or you even know any residents, we have a free minicourse just for residents to fireproof a career in the er, we lovingly call the dumpster fire.
Click the link below to get this free course and get info about our new membership just for residents. To find out more, go to our website and follow us on the socials for more great content. Until next time, you are whole. You are gift to medicine, and the work you do matters.