9 min read


Why are you curious? Is your curiosity genuine or triggered? Let's learn to control our attention.

In today's world, we are constantly being stimulated and entertained by information. Too much information, some might say. There's so much out there designed to elicit your curiosity, marketed to suggest you need it to achieve ‘x’ and created to be engaging to keep your attention.

Some of it is even good. Even if you filter out the wrong, the useless, and the boring, you could learn continuously for your whole life.

But is your curiosity truly genuine or is it triggered?

Most marketing and "internet writing" involves trying to trigger curiosity. To evoke a feeling that there's something worth clicking on, or buying, there. Mystery. Violated expectations. Evocative statements. Statistics. Color. Rich imagery. Design.

How many times have you fallen for marketing campaigns and regretted your choice? Blamed it on hasty desire?

Working out whether that trigger is creating curiosity, or unmasking something you are genuinely curious about, is not easy. The thing feels salient and important, in that moment.

Is it, though?

Now, you might occasionally take the time to consciously ask yourself some reflective questions to decide. Questions like these.

  • How salient is this to me and who I aspire to be?
  • How will it affect who I become?
  • Is it worth my time and energy (and money)?

Those are questions you'll find really difficult now but you can train your subconscious to prioritize this salience over clickbait. And then make decisions for you in the blink of an eye, if you listen to it.

Finding Salience: An Exercise

Let me introduce you to the question that you will wield against the constant online stimuli and curiosity piques.

"Is this salient for me?"

A lot of you are passive scrollers. You are being constantly engaged and told what to attend to. For the most part, you're not in charge of your curiosity.

Here's a simple exercise to take charge:

  • If something seems elicits your curiosity, add it to a list and set it aside. Don’t follow up, at all, in the moment.
  • If it comes up in your mind without a trigger a few days later, dig in. Otherwise, leave it. It’s not important.
  • Clear the list regularly, with a smile on your face.

At least a day after reading about the thing, sit with pen and paper. And write down answers to these questions.

  • Why does this matter to me?
  • What might I learn?
  • How might that change my skill set, character, and capabilities?
  • Will knowing more about this topic get me closer to my aspirational self?

If you can’t convince yourself on those. Or you find yourself parroting the marketing/course/book material. Then it doesn’t matter to you. It’s not important.

Subscribers - there are a few more exercises in a coaching guide at the bottom of the page. Are you appreciating these? If so, let me know. My inclination is to stop them from the new year and just integrate the work behind them into paid material (which people tend to 'do' rather than 'read' more often).


Adapted Transcript

  • Why are you curious? Thirst for knowledge
  • Problems of spending too much time being entertained by information
  • Is it bad to be entertained mindlessly?
  • Why should I prioritise salience? Controlling Curiosity
  • Training your subconscious: prioritising salience over clickbait
  • Knowing what is salient to me seems hard. Who do I want to be?
  • Who should listen to this message?

Why are you curious? Thirst for knowledge

Why should you keep learning? You're never going to know everything anyway. But it's a really simple challenge to people. Why should you keep learning? Where does this drive come from? It's a crazy drive. It's a drive that means you'll never be happy if you think you should always learn more.

It's self-defeating. Think about what you're learning and whether it actually will help you in any way, shape, or form or whether it's purely for fun. If it's purely for fun, that's fine. But that's learning for entertainment. That's not self-improvement. It's not learning to do something, it's just fun because entertainment is fun and that's fine. But you shouldn't think of it as learning because ...

If it's not productive for you, it's not learning.

Most people spend too much of their time being entertained by information and being entertained by the vast amount of things that you could know something about.

Problems of spending too much time being entertained by information

There are several problems with that. Firstly, it makes you really quick to jump to conclusions and assume that you already know something about a topic. This makes people more judgmental, reduces people's empathy, reduces your ability to kind of say, "Well, I don't know how you're feeling and I don't know what you're going through because I've read that one article but it's just one article".

And most people are far too quick to jump to the, "I understand and know this. Hence I know everything". Because there is so much information out there.

So what I'm talking about with salience is focusing on the information that is important to you and fits with the kind of person you want to be.

The contributions you want to make the life you want to live. You could keep learning all sorts of interesting and vaguely fun things for the whole of your life. And some people seem to get immense joy from that. That's fine, it's who they want to be - maybe as a curious learner. So maybe it works for them, but for a lot of people, not only do they not think about their aspirational self but it also leads them to just continuously consume content because of things like the fear missing out.  What if we miss the web three bubble or what if I can't do that? I don't know that so what if I can't have these opportunities because I don't have this.

And the thing is, you will never be able to do everything. The only people who pretend that they can do everything are diluted. And there are people who think they can do everything often because they have expertise in one area and a base level of knowledge in the other.

Dunning-Kruger effect

So the Dunning-Kruger effect is if you get a little bit of knowledge about something, your confidence in that knowledge is really high. And as you learn more, your confidence in that knowledge actually starts to drop again before it peaks. So anybody who's gone to university will have kind of experienced this.

You think you know everything about something because you've been introduced to it and it all makes sense. And then you start to examine the intricacies in it and you learn that actually, none of this makes sense.

Is it bad to be entertained mindlessly?

The thing with consuming in a kind of mindless fashion, particularly the way that most content is produced nowadays, is it takes you to the peak of the Dunning-Kruger ignorance hill. It's a hill at the beginning of when you're learning about something, when you think you know everything and you actually know nothing.

And what I'm really encouraging people to do is spend more of their time down into things that really interest them and are important to them, or help them be who they want to be or do what they want to do. Spend less time knowing a tiny bit about something and then judging it because people spend far too much of their time knowing a little bit about the situation in various foreign countries.

Thinking they know enough to make judgements on what the geopolitics of it all or they spend too much time knowing a little bit about what their political opponents are doing. They think from a couple of sources and then judging them/dehumanizing them. So one of the ways to combat that in your own life is to prioritize salience.

Why should I prioritise salience? Controlling Curiosity

If you learn about what is salient to you,  you can build expertise in more things and focus your entertainment on stuff that develops the character traits you want to have. Things you genuinely enjoy and doesn't have negative implications for you. So when I say salient, it can be for learning or it can be for living.

For people who are feeling like they're overwhelmed by information, realize that overwhelm is more about attitude than it is about the vast array of information out there.

Salience is one of the most useful routes out of that, because it gives you a clear set of things to focus your time and attention on. And it also helps you work out what's not salient and what can just be discarded.

Training your subconscious: prioritising salience over clickbait

If you're used to looking for salience, you'll be less likely to go down clickbait headlines and be attracted to them. If your body and brain adapts to looking for stuff that's of genuine interest to you, then a lot of the psychological tricks that clickbait headlines rely on will work less on you.

So when you're scrolling through a list of search results or when you're flicking through a social media feed, you'll be more likely to find something that's actually good. Without having to spend too long doing it because it's become habitual for you to make those decisions well, rather than to make those decisions based on the list of cognitive biases that are apparently inherent in people. Mindless people who aren't paying attention or who haven't trained their minds for salience.

The subconscious can help you make better decisions in the context of salience and information.

What I mean is it can help you find stuff that's either fun for you or that is meaningful for you. Given the sea of information out there and how terrible Google has become as a search engine where there is no decent way of searching through the internet at the moment, if you're looking for learning, making those decisions well allows you to access stuff that's very meaningful, useful, or entertaining for you quickly without being led down any of the rapidly expanding clickbait.

Knowing what is salient to me seems hard

It seems really hard. Initially it is hard because what you're doing is you're reprogramming yourself to look for what matters to you instead of to look for what you kind of automatically seek for, for no particular reason or for these biases.

Those changes are difficult. Changing yourself to automatically look for salience takes a bit of time. It takes a lot of effort and it means slowing down to do this intentionally. You can't just scroll through and pick a result. You have to think for a while. When you've done that for a little while, it becomes automatic.

Really what I'm saying is that salience in the context of information is a transformation worth making for most people, because most people would be better off having a kind of more in tune, intuitive response to the realms of information out there than they would be either trying to pay attention all the time, which is impossible.

You can't pay attention all the time

Nobody can naturally do that. You just don't have the mental stamina. Or letting their passive state guide them in a direction that doesn't fit with who they want to be, which is where most people are. Most people's sense of who they want to be are mixed up with who they should be that it's really tough to unpick the two for a while.

Unless you take a step back and give your mind time to do its magic reset process, unpicking between who you should be and who you want to be, this will never happen. There are lots of people who live their whole lives never unpicking those two things.

Who should listen to this message?

My audience is people who have realized that they want something more from life and have an information diet which is already in quite a good place.

I can help individuals who have deeper problems to progress from passive scrolling to passive engagement in cool stuff. I'm really targeting people who know that they have had an issue with mindlessly scrolling, see the problem in that, and want to get somewhere else.

For returning subscribers...

Welcome back! Here is your copy of How to Find Salience - PDF Coaching Guide. Let me know if it was helpful in any way. Good luck.