“Think about all the people today, yesterday, and tomorrow, you will pass and not see. Do you really see everybody who works at a restaurant where you’ll go after here to have a celebratory meal?” -Bill Clinton

Hours after Clinton uttered these words at LMU’s commencement on Saturday one of the graduates to whom he spoke dined at a small restaurant near campus. When his salad arrived the young man turned to the waitress and said, “Remember how when I ordered this I asked for no cheese?” Except this was not the same waitress he had ordered from; he failed to notice that he was now talking to a completely different person.

Psychologists call this “inattentional blindness” and studies show three factors influence this phenomenon. Because our brains have limited processing power we are more likely to not fully see someone when we are concentrating on something else (like the menu), when we don’t expect to ever meet the person again, and when we don’t take the time to explore them fully or draw an inference about them.

One way to overcome this is setting a specific implementation intention. For instance, decide that for the next week every time you order something from a cashier or waiter you will pause for three seconds at the start of the interaction to take the individual in, smile, and have one thought about how they might be feeling right now.


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