are riding on a perfectly straight road between here and there and you are
already pointing toward there, you’ll need to learn how to steer your
motorcycle (yes, there’s a bit of a metaphor coming). This is how beginners are taught to steer a
bike: point your head where you want the
bike to go, keep your head upright, make sure your eyes stay fixed on that spot
and the rest will happen naturally. It works. The bike goes where your eyes are
pointing. In fact, if you look at a wrong spot while turning the bike you will
go there instead and possibly ride into it or off the road. The name for this phenomenon is “target
fixation.” The concept goes back to
World War II when bomber pilots would accidentally fly their planes into their
targets, clearly not the desired outcome.
psychologist who spent many years studying perception, I cannot explain the
phenomenon and cannot find an accepted explanation. I’m sure it involves a very complicated
relationship between eye movements, visual image processing and muscle control.
However, target fixation is real and does describe a human behavioral trait. Suffice to say that we’re just built that way. It’s also interesting to note that the physics
of turning a motorcycle is complicated and some of the dynamics are not even well
understood. Still, despite all of this complexity we can steer the motorcycle (or
bicycle) by knowing where we want to go and orienting our focus on the right target.
metaphor is clear: it is important to identify your goal and then focus your
attention and energy on that goal and not on intervening distractions. If not,
you run the risk of colliding with the distractions. I wonder whether this is,
in fact, only a metaphor or is, rather, a principle that more generally
describes how we function.
self-fulfilling prophecy is, less obviously, a lot like target fixation and describes
an outcome premeditated by where we direct our attention. The outcome may be
positive, negative or anywhere in-between, but the outcome is a result of our
focus. Most of us have experienced or witnessed self-fulfilling prophecy. Relationships thrive or end, dreams flourish
or whither, work succeeds or fails, longings are attained or unmet- with much determined
by the outcomes we foresee (whether grounded or not). The impact of these biases
on our behavior may be subtle and the small, immeasurable steps toward the
premeditated outcome almost imperceptible and unconscious yet cumulative as
they propel us toward an anticipated goal. Just as in target fixation you end up where
you orient your attention and though the mechanism is subtle your point of
focus determines whether you successfully navigate that tight bend in the road
or land in a ditch.
The implications are clear. Set your goals consciously, intentionally and
with positive aspirations. They are likely to become part of your future.
(Other Thoughts and Essays)