Focusing Illusion

As I see my daughter Swara (4 years) throw a tantrum for a toy that is broken, I can’t help but wonder why she cries as though it is the end of the world. This is despite the fact that she has 10 other similar toys. But over time I am sure she will begin to see the world with a slightly wider angle lens and realize her folly. This is a little example of what Daniel Kahneman called focusing illusion which he describes as “Nothing In Life Is As Important As You Think It Is, While You Are Thinking About It”. Let’s explore what the focussing illusion is.

Focusing Illusion when comparing

The focusing illusion is a cognitive bias that makes us see a small portion of what is happening in our lives and give it inordinate importance. Often this leads to bad decisions and a sad life. A classic example of this is when we try to compare how happening life in Goa is. Most people romanticize about staying in Goa because of one or two aspects of staying there. Because they like the beaches and seafood they believe that everyone in Goa is happier them. But for a moment imagine staying in Goa and living a life for 2-3 months. After a week or two, you will soon see that the beaches and seafood are probably not as important as it is 1-2% of what you do in a week. Even in Goa, you would curse your maid and probably your boss (like how did it in your city) and face all the problems that you face. This is the gist of focussing illusion as it accentuates the differences between two places or things by making the difference to be much more what it is. People make decisions based on these differences and make the wrong ones. Thus when we compare things we need to compare with as a whole and not just based on 1-2 factors. Especially when making decisions that are hard to reverse you are better off to stop and compare the two situations considering all aspects.

Wear the wide-angle lens

The focusing illusion happens because the mind starts to focus on that one aspect which is under consideration and then starting using the imagination to draw connections. This means that by nature the mind gives inordinate importance to that single point which is under focus. The only counter to handle the focusing illusion is trying to look at the current situation by looking at things from a bigger picture. Seeing things from a wide-angle lens gives us the wisdom to see the problem in its entirety. Most often the problem which we are facing in the short term will shrink to a small dot if one considers the longer-term impact of that single problem. By being able to see the current challenge with a wide-angle lens we will be able to make better judgments.

Focusing Illusion in Marketing

Marketers and salespeople have been using the focusing illusion for quite a long time to enhance one or two features of a product to convince users to buy a product. They often do this by showing the impact of one of the features in a very impactful manner. As a consumer, you think that these features are the only one which matters and then we end up buying a product. The most common use of this is showing how their product is superior to others by showing up one feature in an exaggerated manner. These are also used in Pre-sell Marketing pages which focus on 1 or 2 aspects of the product and convinces the users to buy the product.

Overall I think as a person looking to lead a happy and peaceful life one must beware of this focusing illusion and take corrective action to see things from a longer-term. Most often that single problem which you are focussing on now is a tiny-tiny spec in your whole life. So need to work out mechanisms to be able to break free from the focussing illusion.

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