How often are you a little deaf?

Today is September 28 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you a little deaf?” Those who spend their time translating dreams into reality understand the necessity of becoming a little deaf every now and then to ignore the critics. And there will be plenty of critics along your journey.


As discussed in other Navigate the Chaos posts, anyone putting in the daily grind required to succeed puts into practice what Dale Carnegie wrote in How to Win Friend and Influence People: “Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” One such person who maintained outstanding character and self-control was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

In her October 10, 2016 New York Times editorial entitled “Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Advice for Living,” Justice Ginsberg wrote:

“Another often-asked question when I speak in public: ‘Do you have some good advice you might share with us?’ Yes, I do. It comes from my savvy mother-in-law, advice she gave me on my wedding day. ‘In every good marriage,’ she counseled, ‘it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.’ I have followed that advice assiduously, and not only at home through 56 years of a marital partnership nonpareil. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”

As a trailblazer who fought for gender equality as a lawyer and became a beloved hero of the progressive movement as a Supreme Court Justice, Ginsberg had to ‘become a little deaf’ throughout her pioneering career. For example, at her confirmation hearing in 1993, Ginsburg recounted “many indignities” that she endured because of her gender while in law school but that, she said, “one accepted as just part of the scenery,” such as the time that a male employee told her that women were barred from a particular room in the library, which she needed to enter as part of her work for the law review. On another occasion, a dinner with the dean of the law school, Ginsburg and the other women in her class were famously asked to justify taking the place of a man. But this approach of becoming a little deaf served her well as she would go on to have a 27-year tenure on the Supreme Court.

Turns out, research supports the tactic of ‘becoming a little deaf,’ or ignoring what is said or placed in your way. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University published their findings in a 2016 Psychological Science article revealing that when people learn what to ignore, they think, search, and move more efficiently.

“Individuals who explicitly ignore distracting information improve their visual search performance, a critical skill for professional searchers, like radiologists and airport baggage screeners,” said lead author Corbin A. Cunningham, a graduate student in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences’ Attention and Perception Lab. “This work has the potential to help occupations that rely on visual search by informing future training programs.”

In two experiments, researchers asked participants to search for certain letters on a computer screen. They had to find either a capital “B” or an “F,” among other letters of assorted colors. Sometimes, the participants were told the “B” or “F” would not be a certain color, like red. Other times they were given no color hints.

When participants were given one color to consistently ignore throughout the experiment, their reaction time slowed at first, but after extended practice, about a hundred trials, they were finding the target letters significantly faster than participants who weren’t given a color to eliminate.

In fact, the more information participants were able to ignore, the faster they found the target. Although trying to disregard distractions might initially slow people down, the researchers concluded that over time, people are more efficient when they know what’s not worth paying attention to. The ability to ignore is a key part of the ability to pay attention, the researchers said.

How often are you able to become ‘a little deaf’ to ignore the critics and keep moving forward translating one dream after another into reality?