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How to Combat Change Blindness: My Takeaways After Living in France

Updated: Aug 15, 2022

Hello again Readers!

I am happy to see a few new faces have joined us, and I will say it genuinely warms my heart to know our little family is getting bigger by the day. I am back to my keyboard as promised to give you my thoughts after abroad, but today I am a little hesitant. Now, it's not that I couldn't write an essay on every ancient cathedral, magnifiant view, and towering mountain I visited in France...but me being me I know I can do a little better than simply regurgitating my itinerary. If I had to speculate, I reckon this hesitancy is rooted in feeling a bit puzzled upon my return home to the US. Moreover, I left expecting to come back with some life changing outlook that would change me completely, and yet now I sit home and feel so normal?

The view from my apartment in France

The thing is readers I know these two months did a lot. My outlook on the world has definately expanded, I learned alot about the values of friendship, and generally just cultured myself greatly on France and "tout le monde" as the French would say. So, my question to write on today is why does progress sometimes feel like stagnation? In other words why do we not feel change even when we do change?

On second thought maybe an itinerary is easier...

Seriously though, to kick off this thought experiment I was a little curious myself as to what other (more knowledgable) sources thought on the question. Really because I had a hunch it had something to do with some brain chemistry. And I was right- kind of. Apparently the brains of us mere mortals require attention and visual stimulation to recognize change. Meaning we must witness an image and process it through the visual stream of the brain and that we quite literally must 'see it to believe it' (Cavanaugh.) This would explain why it's sometimes seems so hard to perceive our intrapersonal progress. When our eyes cannot see us foster invisible skills they also cannot signal our brains that progress is actually occuring.


Yet, in the same way we can't notice the Earth's rotation and it still turns, all of us continue to develop even if our brains can't specifically identify it yet. So, the million dollar question is, how can we actively identify changes our brain can't even register are occuring? And honestly, I think the answer is more simple than I originally thought. To see something is to percieve it, so you must perceive change to identify it. Basically this all comes back to our trusty tool of mindfulness. When you make an effort to be hypervigilant for not just physical changes, but subtle internal changes of wellbeing too you force your attention towards your progression. Since your brain won't actively regisiter things it can't see, attaching physical landmarks to our intangible improvements is key. This small shift allows you to not only work with your brain's limitations but also capitalize on them.

I used this method a lot this summer when trying to judge my improvement in French. Bilingual ability is an interesting intra-personal skill to monitor because there are so many different facets of comprehension. Between conversating, oral comprehension, and writing coherently, genuine holistic improvements seem marginal in comparison with the plethora of vocabulary and grammar left to learn. I struggled a bit in the beginning weeks abroad, because faced with all this change and my perceived "inability" I felt dumb in comparison to everyone else around me. So, even when I was in school everyday studying the language for hours on end, I found it really difficult to feel like I was progressing at all. Yet, after a little fatherly advice and some introspection I realized that I couldn't be so hard on myself. I had to be making progress even when it didn't feel like it. So I started noticing the small things. 'Oh wow I remembered that word we learned in class this morning', 'I am able to talk more casually in the future tense now', 'I am becoming less stressed when I interact with locals.' All of these were tangible, specific observations that I would make note of, and they all helped me to FEEL change.

What I came to really realize from this experience of mindful observation is how even in a completely different country, with completely new people, and in a completely different language I could still feel the same. I could feel motivated, stunted, competent, and anxious all the same in France as I could here. This summer abroad truly showed me real change must come just as much from your heart as it does your head. So even if the true answer on how to feel change seems to be to find tangible ways to notice it, I genuinely think in order to feel change you must also just FEEL it. Sometimes things just click. You've been active so long now you just FEEL healthy. You finally quit smoking when you finally FEEL like you are done smoking.

Me in a small village of France

And I know at the end of the day it can be hard to control our feelings. They fluctuate with our circumstances and they are, at the end of the day, majorly impacted by other things in our lives like relationships, work, and families as well. But, in order to control what we feel we must also be able to control what we think. And this is the magic of life. While this means that the old adage is true, you really can't outrun your problems, it doesn't mean you can't out think them. And, honestly it is very freeing to think that permanent change is just a thought away.



Today readers I give you all a test. Think of something that you've been working towards lately. Do you feel change blind? If you think yes journal on this one phrase. I am noticing my progress in x by y. And do that for 7 days. After 7 days reflect on how your perception has changed, and come back and to report your findings! You already saw my examples, now come up with your own! Progress does come in drops not waves :)

Leave your takeaways in the comments and keep an eye out for new featured poetry soon!


Until next time Readers!

Brittany.



  1. Cavanaugh, J.; Wurtz, R. H. (2004). "Subcortical modulation of attention counters change blindness". The Journal of Neuroscience. 24 (50): 11236–11243. doi:10.1523/jneurosci.3724-04.2004. PMC 6730360. PMID 15601929.


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