View Part 1 Here

There are different types of attention that use different parts of the brain.  For instance hearing a loud noise that makes you jump, much like my cat knocking over my bedside lamp at three in the morning, is known as the “startle.”  Horowitz explains this as, “A chain of 5 neurons from your ears to your spine take that noise and converts it into a defensive response in a mere tenth of a second, elevating your heart rate, hunching your shoulders, and making you cast around to see if whatever you heard is going to pounce and eat you.”  That sounds about right.  I always feel my heart pumping through my chest, I start to search endlessly for the culprit (inevitably the cat), and start thinking about what I would do if there really was a burglar/ninja/Cloverfield monster in my living room.

Luckily, this reaction requires very little to no brain power at all, but more complex attention styles do exists.  A different part of the brain is used when you hear your name called from across a room, or an unexpected sound like a cat meow when you are in an office building.  A third type of attention takes affect when you actually focus on something.  Whether it’s listening closely to a song’s lyrics, or a TV’s narration, or someone’s anecdote, a separate pathway takes over.  Seth explains, “Here, the signals are conveyed through a dorsal pathway in your cortex, part of the brain that does more computation, which lets you actively focus on what you’re hearing and tune out sights and sounds that aren’t as immediately important.”

“In this case, your brain works like a set of noise-suppressing headphones, with the bottom-up pathways acting as a switch to interrupt if something more urgent – say, an airplane engine dropping through your bathroom ceiling – grabs your attention.”

So the basic rundown is that hearing is easy, listening is hard; especially with the high amount of distractions that our auditory system picks up and our brain deciphers every second.  Seth reminds us to train our listening like we would any other skill. Don’t listen to the same music, mix it up.  Listen to our pets, they are trying to communicate.  Listen to other people’s voices, not the words, but the sounds, the emotion behind it.  These are all things we can do to improve on our listening skills. Don’t give them a reason to say “You never listen to me!” again.

I strongly recommend you read his full article linked at the start of mine, and perhaps buy his book.  I know I am going to start reading it tonight.