I’m not very good at noticing things. Maybe it’s because my mind always seems to be thinking about half a dozen things at once or maybe I’m just always eager to get tasks done (which I opined about here and here). Whatever the reason, I find it hard to take notice, to stop and smell the roses, to observe the world around me.
On the way to work today, I noticed something I wouldn’t have before (and it was somebody else who drew my attention to it). That made me think: why don’t I notice things, what am I missing, and—most importantly—is it something I can change? I don’t know. Some people are naturally observant, and some people are not. That’s not to say that it’s not a skill that you can grow within yourself, but it might not come as easily to me as it might come to you.
Why It’s Important to Notice Things
Sure, I can shrug my shoulders and move on with life. Why do I need to “notice” things? So many reasons; here are a few:
- Writing. Being observant is critical to writing, to building a narrative and believable characters.
- Being mindful. It’s hard to live in the moment if you’re not noticing the moment.
- Serving. If you don’t notice people, you don’t notice when they need to be served. People often won’t tell you when they need something; you need to see it for yourself.
- Safety. Noticing what’s going on around you keeps you from blundering into a dangerous situation.
- Gratitude. When you notice the little things, the sweet things, you’re more grateful for them; you don’t take them for granted.
How to Notice Things
Clearly noticing those things around you has many benefits. But how do you become more observant. Doubtless there are countless games and methods to help you. Those in the armed forces, especially spec ops, are trained to notice everything and not be noticed. But it’s unlikely that you’re going to join up just to improve your observational skills. So here are some ideas of my own that might help you notice things. I’m certainly using them on myself:
- Stop multi-tasking. I know this sounds ridiculous, but when you stop doing two things at once, you can put your whole self into the one thing you’re doing.
- Focus your thoughts. My thoughts are usually going at a thousand miles per hour in a thousand different directions (that’s a slight exaggeration). It’s reasonable to suppose, then, that being turned in inwardly so much keeps me from noticing that which is outward.
- People watch. I know this sounds creepy, but you’d be surprised by the insights you find when you watch people. On one level, people watching is interesting and helps me create interesting characters, but on another more important level, I see what that person might need.
- Listen. This goes with the above. If you listen to others, you’ll be able to understand them better, both because of what they say and what they don’t say.
- Focus on your breathing. Meditate, run, exercise, do something that gives you time to just think of your breathing. There’s nothing more fundamental that the regular rush of air into and out of your lungs, the study thrum of your heart.
- Look at something you’ve seen before and notice something new about it. Like a picture on the wall. have you really observed it in length or do you just have a vague idea of the subject. If somebody asked you to recreate it, could you? As I write this, I’m looking at a picture of Jesus holding a child. They’re pointing to something, a flower maybe? I’ve never noticed before that while the Savior is pointing with his right hand, the child is pointing with his left. Does it matter? Maybe not, but it’s a new observation about something I’ve seen countless times.
If you want to listen to the professionals instead of me (and I take no offense), read this great article from Psychology Today. Here are a few of the important points:
- Use your senses (all of them).
- Listen to your instincts.
- Avoid distractions.
- Ask yourself key questions throughout the day (to spur observations).
The thing about Mindful March is that if we go through the daily steps, we’ll find ourselves more observant. This leads to greater happiness, to greater living. It can also keep us safe as we notice those things around us that can cause pain or harm. Being mindful is not just the newest fad word; it’s a valuable skill that can help us on our journey to happiness and enable us to keep ourselves both physically and mentally safe. After all, those instincts you should listen to? They were honed over countless years of human evolution; don’t ignore them now.
Choose Joy and Take Notice.