The Ténéré Tree, shown here in 1961, used to be the only tree within 250 miles of a certain area of the Sahara Desert. Used to be, because in 1973 a drunk truck driver hit it and killed it.
Can you imagine? Wide open desert and you hit the one famous landmark.
This probably happened because of “target fixation,” a phenomenon where your attention on a hazard often increases your risk of collision. This term was first used in World War 2 pilot training and is something I’ve been thinking about lately.
To avoid colliding with the obstacle you need to look at your destination rather than the thing in your way (advice may not apply to brick walls). You need to be aware of the hazard but it shouldn’t be your focus.
Here’s an article about avoiding target fixation during motorcycle racing. Doesn’t it sound like something that could apply to our goals and plans in daily life as well?
“Target fixation is a panic reflex. When confronted with a dangerous situation or something unusual suddenly appearing in our field of vision, our natural instinct is to look directly at the object posing the threat and exclude everything else. Unable to look away and even consider an escape route, we tend to go where our eyes take us, often directly into the object.
[There] are obviously situations out of your control that can’t be avoided. What then? Avoiding target fixation is a matter of controlling your vision before and as you deal with a crisis and managing the panic that arises.
Part of executing your plan effectively is to look, and focus on, where you need to go rather than at the hazard that may be directly in front of you. Yelling inside your helmet, “Don’t look at the car!” by the very nature of the statement puts emphasis on the car rather than going around it, but—as we explained a few issues back when dealing with bad habits—it’s helpful to take a positive view of the situation rather than a negative. That means focusing on and looking for the path around the car (or around the bike on the track or through the gravel on the road) rather than the hazard itself. And maybe yelling, ‘Go around!’ or, ‘Look for the apex!’ inside your helmet instead.”