A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

Winston S. Churchill

You’ve probably heard of a study called the invisible Gorilla Test.

It was created by two psychologists, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, and is one of the best-known experiments about understanding our selective attention.

If you haven’t, here’s your chance to take the test: it’s a brief video clip.

When you’re ready, press play and count how many times the players wearing the white shirts pass the basketball.

selective attention test

Have you guessed the correct passes?

And did you see the gorilla? 

According to the study, half of the people who watched the video and counted the passes missed the gorilla.

It’s mind-boggling how we could miss a full-sized gorilla thumping its chest for 8 seconds, isn’t it?

(I missed it too when I first watched this video years ago.)

What this experiment tells us is that as much as we want to believe we see everything around us, the reality is that we don’t.

We only see what we choose to see and shape our perception based on narrow vision, not the actual world as it is.

And what’s more important to me is this:

Once you see the gorilla, you can’t unsee it.

It’s impossible to block out the gorilla from your sight once you know it’s there, even if you missed it the first time.

Watch the video again: you’ll see what I mean.

Often, Tragedy in Life Plays Out This Way

From stories we read and hear, we know life-changing events such as divorce, illness, or unemployment can devastate us, but it’s likely to be just “someone else’s story”.

… until it suddenly becomes our reality and hits us in full force.

Now all we see and think about is the once-invisible threat—a dwindling bank balance, a cheating spouse, or a debilitating illness—becoming our reality and sucking the life out of us.

The “Invisible Gorilla” of COVID-19

In its inception, COVID-19 was that “invisible gorilla” in western countries.

When people on the other side of the planet were battling through the virus, frantically trying to contain it, we ignored it, observing with a mild curiosity how it would pan out.

No one predicted how quickly it would become our story, too. And soon it’s all we think about, hear about, read about and talk about.

A vast amount of media coverage and abundant information made it impossible to unsee the virus.

It constantly reminded us how fragile our lives are, how vulnerable we are, and how the invasion of the virus has changed the way we live in a way we’ve never imagined or experienced before.

Life was no longer the way we knew it.

Making the Virus Gorilla Bigger?

When you gave all your attention to the pandemic, have you ever wondered what else you might have missed?

Like many people, I had never paid so much attention to the death toll until this pandemic.

People die every day. You don’t let mortality get in the way of living your life. You certainly don’t think about it or talk about it all the time.

Why should we?

Talking or thinking about it doesn’t change the fact: the natural course of human life.

Yet, the pandemic suddenly made me super sensitive about mortality. I eagerly looked up the latest death toll. Uttered OMG. I let out an involuntary shiver and imagined just how bad it was going to get…

It started as a morbid curiosity and then became a daily habit.

Then came realisation.

I was making an already full-size gorilla even bigger! And doing so made everything else become invisible or tiny, such as:

The Hope Gorilla

The virus has been around for a long time, wreaking havoc in every aspect of our lives.

When we realised its fatality, we couldn’t do much except help reduce the spread through social distancing.

But we didn’t have to make our lives all about the virus, despite how it has changed the way we live.

It was only a matter of time before the human spirit, resilience, and collective effort in developing a vaccine saw us through the latest threat to our existence.

It stemmed from feeding the hope gorilla while minimising the virus gorilla in our mind.

And having nurtured the hope gorilla has made our bumpy journey a little easier, lighter, and more productive.

Final Thoughts

The hope gorilla and the virus gorilla coexist, vying for our attention.

And your very attention makes one gorilla bigger than the other.

And the size matters as it influences how you feel: whether your heart palpates with anxiety, fear, and uncertainty or remains calm in anticipation and hope for a better tomorrow.

Those emotions affect how you behave, whether you stockpile, overeat, and oversleep, or double down on a healthy regimen.

Be mindful of your selective attention. 

Nurture the hope gorilla every day. It’ll enable you to see the opportunity even in the most challenging time and make the most of what you have and more.

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