Sometimes our minds can trap us into thinking about a situation in such a way that we get stuck. We don’t realise it at the time but we’ve fallen into the trap of ‘tunnel-vision thinking’ or context blindness. When this happens we end up ignoring new, relevant information that may emerge, and this can make life really hard. This article explores the way in which our thoughts can trip us up and gives an insight into how we can help ourselves to become aware of it. 


Do we see things as they really are? 


We think that everything we see and experience is just as it is. But that’s not really the case. We experience the world around us through filters. Let’s say you wake up tomorrow in a really great mood. And as you go about your day, you find that you’re smiling or saying good morning to people. Your body language may have an air of openness about it and this positively affects other people’s attitudes towards you. Life on this day is being experienced through a ‘happy filter’ and it feels good.

The same can happen for anger. If you wake up in a bad mood, you may feel angry. If this happens you’re are far less likely to be smiling and wishing everyone good morning. Your body language is likely to be less open and probably has a more defensive / aggressive stance. This in turn has an adverse effect on other people’s attitude towards you. Today your world is being experienced through a ‘bad mood / angry’ filter and life is not so good that day. 

We see our world through many different filters. You may find sometimes that your filter is to be fixated on a particular idea. 


With tunnel-vision thinking you can’t see the wood for the trees


There are many different brain types and all have their good and bad points. For some people, their thoughts can be problematic. For example, you may find yourself thinking about a problem. You might find yourself only able to look at it from one angle. Despite running it over and over in your mind, you find you’re unable to come up with a solution. You may even ask for other people’s opinion on the matter. But you find you can’t take in what they say. You just can’t see a different viewpoint from the one you already have. 

When you’re caught up in this way of thinking, you can become very blinkered. This is just another filter. You might be trying to get to a goal that has many different routes to the same outcome, but you can only see one. When we do this it is called ‘context blindness’. We are looking closely at something and cannot see the surrounding information that will lend context to it. If we had allowed the new information to inform us, we would be able to evolve and change our ideas. It should be stated that context blindness is a condition in itself, but what we are referring to here is a tendency of thinking in this way, which can cause us problems. 


There is no other way! REALLY?


We all suffer from context blindness at some point.  I’d like to tell you a story that will illustrate how this can happen. 

One day a builder called Steve was asked by his boss Tony to buy some bricks. The bricks needed to match an old house in London. Tony said that he should buy them from a company called Smiths, about 20 miles away. The next morning the builder sets off for Smiths to buy the bricks. 

Now, it turned out that Smiths had moved and was now many miles away from the job. However, Steve was fixated on the thought that Tony had said to buy the bricks from Smiths, so he doesn’t let this new information deter him. He drives miles and miles to Smiths to get the bricks but on arriving there he finds out that they no longer sell the exact bricks required. Now the samples he is shown are not a good enough match for the client and on some level he knows this. But he is still fixated on the idea that the bricks have to come from Smiths. He buys the closest ones he can get. All the way home he is driving and he has the nagging thought that the bricks are not right. 

But Tony said to buy the bricks from Smiths…! 

When he arrives at the job the next day, unsurprisingly the bricks are no good. So now he has to drive all the way back to return them! It’s now taken 2 days and a lot of miles and he was charged a handling fee. And the ironic thing is he drove past a dozen brick suppliers in London that would have been nearer and able to supply the exact bricks needed. 

You might read this and think it sounds ridiculous, but the fact is we’ve all done silly things as a result of our faulty thinking. When we can become aware that we have closed our minds off to additional information that would help us to find a solution, we can find our eyes suddenly opened to new possibilities


It’s not always a bad thing!


If this sounds a little like you, then don’t despair – it’s not necessarily a bad thing. You’ll find that actually you can use it to your advantage. This kind of brain, when channelled properly, can have many benefits.

For instance, you may find that in your work you are very thorough which makes you very reliable. People are highly likely to respect and trust you for the work you do. You probably go that extra mile to make things as perfect as possible for your clients or customers. (If I was choosing a builder I’d want one with this filter. They’d be meticulous in their workmanship, even if they drive miles out of the way to buy bricks!). 

Also having a single-minded attitude towards something can help you to achieve goals and deadlines without being sidetracked. 


Do you have a pattern of tunnel vision thinking?


Think about a recent event where you struggled or things seemed to be going wrong. Cast your mind back and see if there was any evidence that you had tunnel vision thinking. Did you perhaps get so caught up with an idea or a thought that you didn’t allow for any new information to let you evolve and adjust your ideas as you went along? New information adds context don’t forget and not acknowledging it leaves us in danger of only seeing half of the picture.

Once you become aware of this, you may find that you are able to see it more frequently. 


What can you do about it?


If you have people around you that know you well, they’re probably aware you tend to think in this way. So it would be beneficial to bring it to your attention if they catch you doing it. Rather than making it something negative, you could give it a funny name which makes light of it. This makes it less serious and we can all benefit from being able to laugh at ourselves.  It is likely that when tired, stressed or emotional, that you will find yourself unable to see the wider picture. This is when your thoughts are most likely to trip you up. 

It is a good idea to constantly check out our own thoughts. When you’re struggling, ask yourself if this is one of those times that your mind is stuck in tunnel vision thinking. We can change our behaviour once we’re aware it’s causing us problems. Once we bring our conscious awareness to something we know is there, we’re in with a chance of changing it.

I hope you have found this information on context blindness helpful. As ever please share if you know someone who would benefit from reading it. For more information about how the brain works, head over to our website. 

With very best wishes


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