clear vision of a sunset“How could you not see that? It was right in front of you?” This commonly posed question occurs when someone is in almost disbelief that another person did not see “it.” Feel free to replace “it” with an empty net, open receiver, or oncoming traffic. The one asking the question is often scratching one’s head and left wondering, How can someone miss something so obvious? Hello, inattentional blindness.

To fully understand inattentional blindness, we need to understand attention. There are two dimension of attention that we need to be aware. This includes broad versus narrow focus of attention and external versus internal focus of attention. Broad focus of attention is defined as “allow[ing] a person to perceive several occurrences simultaneously” (Weinberg & Gould). Narrow focus of attention is when a person “respond[s] to only one or two cues” (Weinberg & Gould). Depending upon what we are doing and when we are doing it, we need to have the flexibility to shift between broad and narrow focus as well as from internal to external focus.

How do I know what type of focus I need to be using? Asking yourself a couple of questions can help answer this question.

  • Do you need or want to see the “big picture”? Think broad, external focus. This will help you collect large amounts of information and then act appropriately.
  • Do you want to be thinking, feeling, and doing your best? Here trying using a broad, internal focus. When you are in “the zone”, how are do feel? What are your thoughts? How are your emotions providing you with the right kind of energy and motivation you need. I love using a “Game Day Prep” form with my clients because it helps us create a sure-fire plan to help them reach their mental, physical, and emotional best.
  • Do you need to remove chatter and distractions and focus on one thing? Utilize an external, narrow focus. Strong concentration and attention skills help us remove detrimental stimuli so we can focus on what we need to and where we need to in order to be successful.
  • Do you feel unprepared for an upcoming event, competition, or presentation? Internal, narrow focus is helpful for these types of situations. Mental activities, such as imagery and mental rehearsal, can help us mentally and emotionally improve our performance.

Stress + Narrow Focus = Inattentional Blindness

When we are under stress, our vision narrows and constricts. Rooted in our survival mechanism, stress propels us find a way to survive and move all over energy and resources on survival. Therefore, in sports or other situations in which we may be experiencing stress, it can be helpful for us to be cognizant of the four types of attention and decide what focus would be most helpful in the different situations we will be experiencing. A narrow focus may be our default focus mode, but this may not be the most helpful or appropriate. Alternatively, if we are feeling lethargic or lacking motivation, using a narrow focus may help us become more productive by decreasing our risk of being distracted and wasting time and energy.

“You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to this miracle.” Paulo Coelho

(Weinberg & Gould, 2011. Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 5th Ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.)