The Role of Attention in Making Choices

Gary C Smith, Director of Education and Training and Geomic Code Reader, Geomic Code Research Institute - January 26, 2021

At the Geomic Code Research Institute, we work to understand and elucidate the concept of unconscious choice and the “filtering mechanisms hard-wired in the brain” as Jordana Cepelewicz describes them in her article, “Your Brain Chooses What to Let You See”. Jordana tells us that these mechanisms “allow us to focus our attention on stimuli of interest.” For her, this process the brain uses is one of de-prioritizing what is not relevant to us in the moment.

We at the Institute agree with Jordana when she tells us that this de-prioritization often happens on an unconscious level. She says that, in these instances, our focus “is directed not by a goal but rather by particular properties of the stimuli, like their brightness or motion.” At the Institute, we would add “shape” to that notion and tie the process of making choices to individual, usually unconscious, preferences humans have for shapes and colors.

It is our preferences that influence our decision-making, most often without our fully conscious assent to the decision. So, how, we wonder, can we bring our choices into the light of conscious decision-making?

Basic scientific process shows us a way – Look first, observe, see, and then say. I myself use these steps in a morning mindfulness exercise I perform as I gaze out my window. I call this exercise “Birds”. Here’s how “Birds” works:

  1. Sit in a relaxed and “heads-up” posture.
  2. Bring your full attention to the moment.
  3. Look for 10 (and only 10) birds.
  4. As you spot each bird, say what it is out loud.

Because my “looking” is focused on birds, my brain naturally filters out any movement in the background (or foreground) that it registers as “not bird”. It helps that the birds are smaller than the branches and leaves on the trees, which are being moved by the wind. For this reason, even the little hummingbird captures my attention.

In this simple mindfulness meditation, my goal, my priority, controls the process. Again, as Jordana puts it in her article, “The brain…gets rid of information that’s distracting or less useful in order to make the more relevant inputs stand out.”

Sometimes in our lives, we are making choices at a level below what we are aware of. The Geomic Code Institute’s founder, Phil Canville, discovered that these unconscious choices are driven by our individual preferences for specific objects and colors.

We are drawn to these shapes and colors, or we avoid them, based on our innate inclinations. To tie Phil’s idea to Jordana’s: Our preferences are driving the ship of our prioritization process when we are making decisions. That is, we set our priorities based on our attraction to or avoidance of the components that make up our world.

Several cognitive neuroscientists refer to our conscious decisions as “top-down” and our unconscious ones as “bottom-up”. As we live our lives and make both kinds of choices, we “generate the brain’s internal representation of its environment” in a kind of “priority map, with peaks and valleys that dictate where attentional resources should be aimed.”

Doing my morning mindfulness “Birds” exercise is my way of bringing my attention to a specific goal. All I want is birds, 10 of them, and then I can get on with the important things I need to do today – such as writing this blog article.

Phil devised a way to record our preferences from a platform of “purity of preference” – a phrase his business and life partner, Sharon Stewart-Canville, came up with. Thus was born the Geomic Code Assessment.

When you take our complimentary Geomic Code Assessment, your results come to you as a Geomic Word Cloud and summary paragraph. The Word Cloud arranges what we call your Dynamic Natural Abilities (Geomic D-N-A) in a pattern of large-font words to medium-font words to small-font words, all of which are your unique strengths. The largest words are your skills and abilities that are most familiar to you. The medium-sized words and smallest ones represent opportunities for personal growth.

At the Institute, we can help you focus your attention on these individual and professional developmental opportunities in a way you may not have done before. Let us help you open the door to your individual attentional resources. I invite you to take a Geomic Code Assessment and contact us so that we can show you how your Geomic D-N-A can help you better interact with the world around you.