In EBT (early buddhism), there's a strange idiom of "following signs", "picking up on a sign", "paying attention to a sign".
There are some reasons for this, but it occurred to me today that even in plain English we use the same idea.
Lesson 1 - Jack and Jill
Jack and Jill were in high school.
They liked each other and wanted to communicate that, but both were shy, and both lacked the life experience to get the message across.
This was a time in history where girls were not permitted to make the first move, so the pressure was on Jack to establish the knowledge of liking.
Jack tried, but failed.
He didn't follow the right nimittas (signs).
He didn't pay attention to the right nimittas, he followed the wrong nimittas.
What were the right signs?
When Jack approached Jill to chat, she was smiling, friendly in greeting, and the body language was clearly engaged and interested in the conversation.
That's at least 3 good nimittas right there.
Jack dimissed the good signs as Jill just being in general a good person who was nice to everyone as far as he could see.
So he dismissed those 3 good nimittas as inconclusive evidence.
Bad nimitta #1 caused Jack to ignore probable good news. Instead of giving more thought and opportunity for the 3 good nimittas, Jack followed Bad nimitta #1 to quickly dismiss 3 good nimittas.
Jack made a really unfunny joke, and Jill reflexively laughed heartily even though she didn't think it was funny.
That was a great nimitta right there. 4 good, juicy nimittas.
Jack ignored the good nimitta, and he followed a bad nimitta (#2) that led him to think, "Well, that joke was inherently funny and anyone would have laughed at that." (no they wouldn't)
Despite what he perceived as a hopeless cause, Jack summoned the courage to follow a nimitta (good, bad, neutral?) that compelled him to ask Jill out on a date on Friday.
Jill, responded, "Sorry Jack, Bob already asked me out on a date this Friday."
What do you think Jack did?
Of course he followed a bad nimitta (#3) that led him to assume Jill liked Bob and didn't like him.
If Jack had enough pañña (wisdom), he could have spontaneously generated a good nimitta to make him think to ask, "Are you and Bob boyfriend and girlfriend?"
Jill really wanted to say, "But maybe we could go out next week?", but her shyness and conservative nature made her pause a little too long.
Alas, it was too late. Jack ran away crying.
Jack is dumb because he ignored all the good nimittas (at least 5 good ones) and unwisely focused (a-yoniso manasi-kāra) on the 3 bad signs that led him to think thoughts concluding the case was hopeless.