Here’s an interesting quote by William Walker Atkinson:
“Psychologists have noted the effect of, and realized the important part played by that mental state known as Expectant Attention. Expectant Attention is that concentrated direction of attention toward some action, event or happening which the individual expects to occur, i. e., to which he looks forward, with more or less confidence and belief, as likely to occur or to come to pass.
It is an axiom of psychology that the laws of Attention operate so as to cause the individual to perceive far more clearly the objects or facts toward which his attention is specially directed, and to perceive far less clearly those objects or facts which are outside of the field of his special attention.
Out of the multiplicity of sights and sounds which knock at the door of consciousness at almost every moment of your life, you select those which fit in with the general subject, idea, or line of thought to which your attention is directed, and at the same time reject the consideration and perception of those not so fitting in with such. If you are especially interested in violin music, you will hear clearly the notes of the violins, while the remainder of the instruments manifesting sound in the performance of a large orchestra are relegated to the “fringe of consciousness” and are perceived only as a general background.
Another person would ignore the violins and would hear only the notes of his favorite instruments. In the same way, at a theatrical performance where a number of persons are on the stage at the same time, you are apt to see the actions and to hear the words of your favorite actor, while those of the others are far less distinct in your consciousness. Likewise, you read from the pages of a book only that which is associated with your previous ideas concerning its subject: hence the old saying, “We get from a book only what we give to it.”
Moreover, once having made up your mind concerning a subject, you fall into the habit of unconsciously or subconsciously selecting from your world of experience those facts and data which serve to corroborate your own belief, and those which serve to contravert the opposite belief. You find on all sides facts, data and arguments sustaining your position, and overturning the opposite contention. You tend to become blind to undesired and unwelcome facts, data and arguments, though you may not realize this unless you are especially watchful over your mental processes. From the same experience, however, you would gather a similar array of desired evidence on the other side were you committed to the views of that side of the case. When we say “you,” we mean “all of us” as well. Our subconscious minds are strong partisans; they eagerly search for and select the desired objects of thought, and determinedly shut the door to the opposite class of objects.
The application of the mental laws just called to your attention is quite important in view of their practical effects upon your everyday life. By reason of these laws, the degree of your success in any particular line of work depends materially upon the degree of interest which is aroused in you concerning such work. If your interest is keen, then you will perceive and discover on all sides, in every day of your life, certain facts, data and other things which will serve the purposes of that work you will find yourself dwelling in a world surrounded by such facts. If, on the contrary, you manifest little or no interest in your work, but perform the same almost mechanically, then this world of helpful things, ideas and facts will not exist for you—you will dwell in another world. There will be nothing in you to call out of the outer world that which is in harmony with itself.”
Although this effect is clearly studied by modern psychology (you can find under “confirmation bias”), it’s interesting to notice how Atkinson turns it around as a positive thing for our own life, as opposed for something that is only limiting.
He clearly warns us to be aware of it, but he also tells us that we can use it for our own benefit.
We certainly have to appreciate his thinking and insights!