proximity eyeI was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one. Mark Twain

My initial discovery of Proximity Blindness was as a student.  I’m sure anyone who’s ever been a student can relate to this story:  In class a teacher would assign a paper due, let’s say, Friday in two weeks.  “Great,” you think.  “I don’t’ have to worry about this until next week!”  You finish the week, and have the time of you life on the weekend, perhaps going surfing, or to a rodeo.  As Monday rolls around this assignment looms over your head.  “I’ll just leave it until Thursday,” you say.  “Sacrificing Thursday is worth it to be stress free Monday through Wednesday.”  And so it goes.  Thursday comes around.  You’ve left yourself plenty of time.  You sit down, and in one session write a paper nothing short of your best.  You take a break after finishing, perhaps eating some Extreme Moose Tracks Ice Cream as a reward.  Sitting back down you edit the paper.  Other than correcting a few misspellings the paper is excellent, or so you thought…

The teacher turns the papers back the next Friday at the end of the day.  You look at yours with chagrin.  The grade is much lower than you know you deserve!  You begin to reread.  “How could this low grade possibly be justified?”  You ask yourself.  As you read you find the answer.  There are many poorly worded sentences, and a few grammatical errors.  Reading the paper a week later they are obvious, and you feel silly for not catching them before. But, they were invisible on that fateful Thursday when your essay was written.  You have just suffered the consequences of Proximity Blindness.

Proximity Blindness is the unconsciousness of circumstances.  It is brought about by being too close, or too attached to an activity, project, or goal.  Those with Proximity Blindness tend to miss obvious evidence, or misread circumstances when making a decision, the same way I would miss poorly worded sentences.  The result is performance far below capability.  To borrow a Chinese proverb, Proximity Blindness is not being able to see the forest through the trees.

People only see what they are prepared to see. Ralph Waldo Emerson

By the time I went to college I had figured out a solution to Proximity Blindness.  I would write my papers a few days before they were due, forget about them for a few days, and then return afresh.  My beginner’s mindset allowed me to polish the paper, not only removing senseless errors, but also adding a degree of sophistication my writing hadn’t seen before.  In worst case scenarios (the times when I wrote the paper the night before) I would not print the paper until the next morning; allowing myself the night to get space.

The real epiphany was when I noticed myself suffering from Proximity Blindness in other areas of my life.  I realized it is not confined to writing, but can afflict many areas, such as:

  • Romantic relationships
  • Sports, athletic endeavors, and physical activity
  • Addiction
  • Bad habits
  • Limiting beliefs
  • Financial ventures
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Negative situations, such as hostile living arrangements

Fortunately the solution can be used with these situations also.  All that is required is a change of perspective, in the same manner that waiting a few days before editing by papers allowed me new perspective.  However the above situations are far more serious than a grade, and require serious action to overcome.  The following are a few ways to do it:

  1. Get Space. The most affective and acclaimed way of doing this is through meditation.  Meditation is a skill, and it must be learned like one; through practice.  To learn how to meditate there are many books available.  One popular one is How to Meditate by Lawrence LeShan.  Meditation retreats are a great way to get space and learn meditation simultaneously.  Vipassana meditation retreats are very affordable and quite well regarded.  Find retreat centers on this site.  Another way to get space is through exercise.  Altering your physiology (in this case through physical movement) is a proven way to change your thought patterns, thus changing your perspective.  Remember: dancing counts as exercise.
  2. Get Perspective. Find stories of people in similar situations, especially those of people who have conquered their Proximity Blindness.  Stories of all kinds abound on the internet, and in bookstores.  One way to get perspective is by joining a group of people who share the same problem.  For Alcoholics this would mean going to Alcoholics Anonymous.  For an Athlete it might mean hiring a expert in the sport.  Be creative when choosing organizations.
  3. Get Advice. Find a mentor.  It’s best if they’ve overcome a similar Proximity Blindness.  They can coach you through problems and help you see solutions you hadn’t thought of.  One good way to find a mentor is by joining an organization, but potential mentors are everywhere.  Just ask around.

With a little initiative and awareness Proximity Blindness can be overcome, and even prevented, time and time again.

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Wayne Dyer