How rushing and frustration leads to inattention


When we rush or get frustrated, our ability to process the number of things in the cognitive part of our brain diminishes. Our brain reduces its focus to what it thinks is important. Unfortunately that may not be the hazard that unexpectedly pops up in front of you.

Let me give you an example. Today I investigated an incident involving an experienced driver that struck a small white pole about 600mm high. The driver noticed the pole when he parked the car about 2 minutes before hand but when he went to move off he didn’t see it or remember that it was there, hence contacting it.

We had been discussing the incident for a couple of minutes I asked “What were you thinking at the time you starting moving the vehicle?”

He said “Well, I had just been called back to the workshop where I’d already been, awaiting for this guy to turn up”. He continued but his voice raised “Now, he calls me to tell me he’s there and ready for me and tells to me come now!”. He quickly calmed down and reflected on his thoughts and said “I suppose I was frustrated that I had to go back there and I’ve got a lot to do. This bloke has already wasted half an hour of my time!”.

So I asked “do you think you were rushing?” He said “Shit yeah and pissed off too!”. I could see his emotional state.

When we are in this state, our body pumps out adrenaline. This causes your focus to narrow to the task that is occupying your emotional centres in the brain. In this case, having to repeat a process that has already wasted valuable time for an individual. Time he perceives he doesn’t have lots of.

This is a common lead up to safety incidents. When an event occurs that takes us out of the logic and rational part of our brain, into the emotional part and with a narrow focus. This is a dangerous phase. If something unexpected pops up that requires cognitive resources to sort out……then you better hope that there isn’t a lot of hazardous energy involved.

So what can you do? Well basically there are two options available. One is to recognise that you are rushing and/or frustrated and try to calm yourself. Typically this requires cognitive resources to do, which we have just said are limited.

The second option is build a routine into your brain that triggers when you are in the emotive state. A ‘look for hazards” or “eyes on path” type of automatic routine (habit). This routine will run automatically without you having to think about. Therefore cognitive resources are not required. I call these keystone habits.

So be wary of people that are rushing and/or frustrated. They are likely to not be paying attention to you!!!!


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