I was recently reading a book named “Thinking Fast and Slow”.

The author of the book, Daniel Kahneman wrote:

Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.

And the reason behind this is — you are thinking about it! When we think about something we tend to elevate or exaggerate it’s importance. This is called Focusing Illusion.

The Example of Paraplegics

Kahneman gave a great example of Focusing illusion. It’s regarding what we think about a paraplegic when we see him. A Paraplegic is a person who is paralyzed from the waist down. That means, he can’t move legs or bend knees. Now, what happens when we see someone with this condition?

Of course, we feel sympathetic for the person and we think they are always sad. But that’s not the truth! Maybe they are often sad about their condition, but what we don’t understand is that they don’t spend all of their time thinking about their physical condition. They think and experience other things in life and sometimes happy.

The truth is, a paraplegic or a blind is not always unhappy for his physical condition. Nor a lottery winner is always happy for he won a lottery recently.

According to Daniel Kahneman:

When we think of what it is like to be a paraplegic, or blind, or a lottery winner, or a resident of California we focus on the distinctive aspects of each of these conditions. The mismatch in the allocation of attention between thinking about a life condition and actually living it is the cause of the focusing illusion.

The Experiment of 1988

During an experiment performed in 1988 by Dr. F. Strack and others, some students were asked two questions:

  1. “How happy are you with your life in general?”
  2. “How many dates did you have last month?”

When they were asked first about how happy they were about their life and then how many dates they have last month, no correlation was seen between the answers. That means no relation was found suggesting students having more number of dates were happier.

But when the questioner reversed the order of the question, that means, they are asked about their dating life first, then their answer to how happy they were about their life began to get influenced. A huge correlation was seen between their number of dates and happiness.

This happened because, after they were asked first about the number of dates they had, they began to exaggerate the impact of the number of dates on their happiness. But when they were asked about their happiness first, the answer regarding their number of dates did not change, as it’s just a number.

Focusing Illusion We All Went Through

When we study, we think that we have to study hard in order to get a great job. We think that the better the result, the better the job, the better the salary. But the truth is that the impact of education is lesser in carrier success and salary than most people think when they think about it!

Because when we think about it, we tend to focus so much on CGPA that we forget other important external factors such as skill, networking, etc. Of course, CGPA will make a difference, but the difference is smaller than it appears when we focus on it.

It would have been much more easier to achieve carrier success by spending time on things that matter rather than just grinding over books to ensure a 0.01 increase of CGPA.

Why I Still Regret Buying My Most Expensive Headphone.

Focusing illusion happened to me while I was buying a headphone 4 months ago. I bought a headphone, Anker Soundcore Space NC, spending almost $100. Before buying it, I watched a whole lot of youtube recommendation videos and asked my friends and I was sure it’s a ‘must have’ for me. I thought to myself — this headphone is going to revolutionize my life.

But, after I’ve bought it, I rarely use those. I don’t like the fact that I will have to go through the hassle of connecting the headphone with the mobile using Bluetooth every time I use it. I will also have to remember to switch it off and charge it while I’m not listening. And last but not least, it’s heavy and uncomfortable to carry sometime.

I keep going back to my $4 wired headphone thinking to myself, maybe I don’t even like the idea of a wireless headphone! And now, I want to get rid of it.

When people are induced to believe that they "must have" a good, they greatly exaggerate the difference that the good will make to the quality of their life

What’s the Takeaway from This?

Just like focusing on or thinking about something increases it’s importance, not focusing or not thinking about something decreases its importance. Hence, we cannot but be careful about what we think.

Have a good day. :)

Further Reading

Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer? A Focusing Illusion.