Tunnel Vision: How It Can Blind You To Reality

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“Humans see what they want to see.” — Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief

Why do some people ignore that signs that are all around them?

Did they not see the writing on the wall?  Do they consciously ignore reality and bury their head in the sand?

Tunnel vision can blind you and limit your ability to see the bigger picture.

As a result, tunnel vision limits your ability to make effective decisions and to see important clues to the future.

In the book, Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead, Rob-Jan De Jong explains how we limit our perception and ignore reality when we’re subject to tunnel vision.

Tunnel Vision Limits Your Perception

We see what’s right in front of us, or what we want to see, but often miss what we need to see.

Via Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead:

“In biological terms, this term refers to the loss of peripheral vision, literally resulting in very limited perception.  In our context we use it metaphorically, but with the same implication: We tend to perceive only what is right in front of us–what we like to see, or are encouraged or incentivized to see–and miss anything on the periphery.  Tunnel vision creates an illusionary view that screens out any early-warning signals unfavorable to the desired future.”

We Ignore Reality Because of the Consistency Principle

Why do people fixate on a particular view that supports their needs? Because they like to be consistent.  It’s the Consistency Principle in action.

Via Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead:

“How can this phenomenon be explained? How can rationally sane, well-educated, and extraordinary experienced people ignore reality and fixate only on one particular worldview that suites their needs? We’ll dig deeper into it as we progress, but fundamentally it derives from a concept known as the Consistency Principle.  Psychologist have long understood the power of this principle to direct human action; the earliest research and theory dates back to the 1940s and 1950s of the twentieth-century.  A high degree of consistency in human interaction is generally a good thing.  It signals intelligence, stability, rationality, integrity, and honesty–all things we value and appreciate.”

Once We Make Up Our Minds, Stubborn Consistency Kicks In

Once we make up our minds about something, Stubborn Consistency kicks in.  It’s convenient.  It’s easy.  And it limits us.

Via Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead:

“In fact, without a significant degree of consistency, our lives would be chaotic and messy, and our credibility would be low.  Therefore, the intent to be consistent is deeply rooted in our behavior.  As a result, it triggers many automatic behaviors.  More specifically, our consistency drive provides shortcuts for directing our behavior, since it frees us from the need to reconsider, reassess, and think deeply.  As Robert Cialdini, an expert in persuasion and influence, notes: ‘Once we have made up our minds about issues, stubborn consistency allows us a very appealing luxury: We don’t have to think hard about the issues anymore.’”

We Become More Confident for No Good Reason

Once we make a choice, we convince ourselves that we’re right, to justify our actions and to stay consistent, even when the facts ay otherwise.

Via Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead:

“Canadian psychologists Robert E. Knox and James A. Inkster demonstrated how that consistency grows on us.  They discovered that, at the race-track, people were much more confident of their horse’s chances of winning just after placing their bets than they were immediately before laying down the bets.  Even though nothing changed and the horse’s chances of winning were exactly the same as before, they made a remarkable mind shift in confidence simply by placing the bet. 

The explanation for this somewhat bizarre mental change stems from our desire to be–and come across as–consistent with our actions.  Cialdini explains: ‘We encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment–those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.’  We simply convince ourselves that we have made the right choice, feel better about our decision, and start acting according with a greater amount of confidence of the rightness of our choice than objectively warranted.”

We Adopt Foolish Consistency

We’re more likely to stay consistent to our decision, than to respond to new facts and information, especially if it contradicts what we already decided to be true.

Via Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead:

“In the same vein, tunnel vision develops.  A difficult decision needs to be made or a harsh reality needs to be faced, and once we have made up our mind and decide how to move forward, we have a strong, mostly unconscious, desire to remain consistent in our behavior, even if that becomes foolish consistency.”

Ignorance is bliss.

Except when it’s not.

This is a case where knowing is half the battle and I think that we can avoid some of the downsides of Tunnel Vision, simply by being aware that it exists, and knowing what some of the symptoms look like.

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Image by Gerlos.

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