Ironically this true story starts with “A guy walks into a bar…” The man’s name was Burt and he was an up and coming professional. While no one would believe him at the time he knew he was bound for stardom and fame. As he set down at the bar to drink a beer, a man named Frank sitting a few bar-stools down and around the corner just within reach of Burt was harassing a young couple at a nearby table. Burt after several minutes of listening to the abuse from Frank directed at the couple told Frank that he needed to “shut his mouth.” Then turning to give Burt a tongue lashing of his own, Frank’s head was immediately met with Burt’s hard swinging right hand.
The punch lifted Frank out of his seat and sent him flying into the air and across the room. As Frank went flying into the air, Burt Reynolds, yes Smokey and the Bandit Burt Reynolds said in an interview that he realized at that moment Frank didn’t have any legs.
Mistakes are a part of life – should we intentionally attempt to avoid some mistakes more so than others (punching men without legs being one) of course. But the important anatomical lesson of this story isn’t that the man didn’t have legs, it’s that Burt Reynolds didn’t use his own eyes to assess the situation.
Although the man was sitting in close proximity to Reynolds, he failed to see the whole picture. Reynolds would later in the interview go on to say that had he been paying attention he might have seen the wheelchair leaned up against the bar. This type of failure to see the whole picture actually has a name in research settings. This type of routine error carried out everyday by humans is called “looked but didn’t see” error.
Our limited scope of vision is partly anatomical. At normal viewing distances the area of vision is actually only about the size of a quarter. This deficiency can be overcome with two things: awareness and training.
If you have ever been out in public with someone that has elite level training in assessing their surroundings and potential threats it is often amazing what all they notice around them when compared to those without training. They can recall where all of the exits are located, the color of the shirt on the person that held the door for them on the way in, and all kinds of often meaningless facts. Likewise when things are important to us we become aware of them, if that person had been wearing a Dallas Cowboys shirt (this year 2016) it’s likely that I would have noticed them as well. We’ll save the topic of awareness for another discussion, for now lets stay focused on the training of visual scope and its impact on performance.
What we see is greatly influenced not only by who we are and what we like, but also what we are. Research has proven time and again that people can view the same situation and circumstances in very different ways. Let’s take for example, you and I go out to play golf. You are an expert golfer and I can barely find my way to the tee-box (this is an actual fact), and hypothetically we both eventually end up on the green in the exact same place to putt.
What are the chances that you and I would view of our next stroke in the same way? What are the chances that you and I, one as expert and one as less than novice would be thinking the same thing? If you know anything about golf you know it is very unlikely.
The reason for this is because experts and beginners tend to view things in very different ways. One of the differentiating views between experts and beginners is something called the “quiet-eye period.” This is essentially the amount of time it takes for you to calculate what and how much of your body you need to perform a task or activity.
What researchers have found is that experts regardless of field have a longer quiet-eye period. Sticking with the example, expert golfers are shown to hold their eye position on the ball much longer and hardly ever take their focus from the ball to anywhere else. Contrast that with my Happy Gilmore approach and it would appear that I’m trying to get extra points for being the first one done.
Why am I bringing all of this up and what does it have to do with you? Let me attempt to tie it all together. While the quiet-eye period is most often linked specifically to our field of vision I believe it illustrates a representation to other life domains as well.
If we can develop the ability to pause a little longer and increase the “quiet-eye period” it might prevent us from punching legless men or saying harsh words to our spouse, children or employees.
Developing a greater wherewithal to pause just a second longer before we act might reveal the consequences of our actions in advance and change the course of our destination.
You have undoubtedly seen this quiet-eye period in use in others that we perceive as being far superior in some area. We have seen healthy and seasoned relationships leverage the quiet-eye period to wait to discuss a heated situation until later. We have all been around leaders that utilize a longer quiet-eye period before speaking in response or meeting with an employee that needs redirection or termination.
Sadly most of us have experienced turbulence either as the result of our own or that of someone else with a short quiet-eye period. We have lashed out at others and then regretted it, we have done something in quick response to only feel like an idiot later, maybe your like Burt Reynolds and punched a legless loudmouth without thinking? Regardless of the experience, we have all been subject to acting without thinking.
Let me leave you with 5 specific areas to be mindful of in considering the length of your quiet-eye period AND 3 Emotionally Intelligent questions to consider in response to lengthening the your quiet-eye period.
- Your reaction to family, friends, customers, and work colleagues.
- Your reaction to disappointment.
- Your reaction to success.
- Your reaction to gossip – (So important!! Those that stir the $hitpot should have to lick the spoon!)
- Obviously…..your golf game!
Emotionally Intelligent Questions
- What just happened? Or maybe…..what just REALLY happened?
- Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I saying the right thing and in the right way?
- Do I need to say this RIGHT NOW?
- Am I the one that needs to say this at all?
- What is the outcome that I actually want? Is what I’m about to do going to help me get that outcome?
Love to hear your thoughts and comments about your struggles and success with quiet-eye periods
Sean Z. Callahan