Exercising your peripheral vision to broaden your thinking

This excerpt from Chapter 4 of Thriving on Overload delves into how going into peripheral vision can broaden not only what we perceive but also our thinking.

There is a reason that houses with expansive views, from hilltops or looking out over the ocean or a lake, attract premium prices. There is something uniquely attractive—and beneficial—about being exposed to broad vistas. Andrew Huberman, professor of neurobiology at Stanford University, says that when we go into panoramic vision, for example by seeing horizons or walking down the street, it has a calming effect on our nervous system and disengages our vigilance of attention, the tight visual focus that we usually have, for example when we look at screens or are indoors.

You can readily practice peripheral vision. Stop reading, look straight ahead, and see what you can notice at the edges of your field of sight. Try gently redirecting your visual attention to the edges of what you can see, without moving your eyes. You will likely find yourself calmer and more relaxed. This simple activity puts you in a state of mind similar to meditation. As you walk around during the day try deliberately entering panoramic vision, directing your attention beyond what is in front of your eyes.

Broader visual perception, perhaps not surprisingly, can expand our conceptual understanding. Studies have shown that people who broadened their visual field were more likely to experience insight in solving problems. See more broadly, and you will think more broadly. The ability to expand your visual perception also enables faster reading by minimizing fixations and allowing you to more readily absorb concepts.

One of the meta-themes of the book is that in order to thrive on information, we need to reconcile and integrate many paradoxes, notably that between highly narrow focus and extremely broad perception. We need both. Exercising peripheral vision is a powerful way to consciously shift our modes of attention.

As noted elsewhere in the book, this practice can also be valuable when applied in meditation practices.

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