Handling overwhelm this way is not for the fainthearted. It means resisting deep instinctive and cultural tendencies. For Paula to clear her office, she must reject the idea that every book is an irreplaceable treasure. For Sonya to feel less swamped by obligations, she must learn to say no, even when it strains a relationship. The reality of the 21st century is that you simply can't fit in every social obligation you think you "absolutely have to." We evolved to live in relatively small groups of, say, 50 individuals; you probably have three times that many contacts, through e-mail alone, every single day. Guarding against surfeit is as essential for us as guarding against scarcity was for our ancestors.

You can use attention-focused missions to trim all sorts of once rare, now overabundant items from your life. Use the strategy in restaurants, to eat only until you're satisfied, rather than stuffing in extra calories, as any primitive human would rightly do. Use it to toss clothing you haven't worn for years, or to pass a sale rack without buying some shiny, attention-grabbing, utterly unnecessary object. Use it to prevent overwhelm in any of the countless situations that make you go mind-blind. I'll use it right now, to verify that fact I was checking when interrupted by the Very Excited Pug. As soon as I remember what it was.

The Focus Test
For a dramatic demonstration of attentional blindness, watch the video on this website.

You'll see a brief clip of students playing basketball. First, watch the film and (this is crucial) count the number of times the white-shirt team passes the basketball. Don't come back to read the next page until you've finished counting.


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