Doug Waltman

Target Fixation

Just about anyone who rides a motorcycle understands the concept of target fixation. Wikipedia calls it "an attentional phenomenon […] in which an individual becomes so focused on an observed object that their awareness of hazards or obstacles diminishes." And sometimes "the observer may fixate so intently on the target that they will not take necessary action to avoid it, thus colliding with it." Humans will focus so intensely on the danger ahead that they forget to avoid it.

I see target fixation as a darker take on the platitude, "keep your eyes on the prize". Both are rooted in the understanding of humans to gravitate towards the thing they focus on. It's a natural attraction that can both send us spiralling towards disaster and help us achieve our loftiest goals.

When we set our focus on the negative aspects of life (fear, failure, despair, loss, etc.) we shut out everything else. We become fixated on those things and head full steam towards them. How many pessimists do you see leading successful businesses?

I fall victim to negative fixations from time to time, and it's hard to realize what's happening when you're in the midst of it. But that's the point, we don't realize it. We need a friend in the passenger seat to reach over and grab the wheel. We need a path around the danger.

People are my path. As I'm writing this in the coffee shop, one friend is making robot noises and the other is miming jokes. These are pleasant distractions to everyday stress. I know this, yet coming down here was a struggle. I've got a sore knee, a bruised ego, and a million ideas swirling in my head. My heart tells me to be a hermit and get some work done. I've made that choice before, and I know better this time.

I know I need people around me to avoid negative target fixation. I'm going to focus on what's positive, building connections, learning, growing, and being patient for the negativity to pass. I will seek a path around the danger.