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Prophecy and the Art of

Motorcycle Steering

Unless you 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.

 

As a 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.

 

The obvious 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.

 

A 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)

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