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Increase Your Powers of Observation

Increase Your Powers of Observation

    My husband and I were walking down a busy street in downtown Chicago.  Suddenly, my husband gasped.

    “What?” I said.

    “You didn’t see that?”

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    “No, what are you talking about?”

    “In front of us.  A bird just swooped down and tried to grab a sandwich out of that woman’s hand.”

    “No kidding, that’s crazy!”

    “You’re really not that observant, you know that?”

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    He was right.  Even though I’m a writer and have been told countless times that keener observation makes for more interesting prose, this is not my strong suit.  When I’m out and about, I’m usually in my head too much to carefully process what’s going on around me.

    You may naturally focus inward, but when you’re at work, being a great observer is critical to your success.  You will be better able to size up what’s working and what isn’t, and adapt your approaches to fit your environment.  It’s also easier for good observers to pick up on unspoken messages and cues, resulting in stronger and more empathetic relationships with other people.

    One of my New Year’s resolutions is to practice some techniques that colleagues and friends have shared.  Maybe they will help you too.

    Be mindful

    Once a day, pick a time to relax in a quiet, peaceful place.  Close your eyes and let the tension in your muscles go.  Try to stop all of the activity in your mind, instead focusing on your breathing and the sounds and smells around you.  Acknowledge how the space under you feels.  If your mind begins to wander, gently pull yourself back to the present and stay there for 15 minutes or more.

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    Sit in a public place and journal

    Take a few minutes to sit in the park, library, or shopping mall.  Really see the people around you and pay attention to what they’re wearing, how they’re walking, and the interactions they have with others.

    Record the details coming through your senses, such as the construction work that just began one street over, or a late customer banging on the door of a closed store.  Write whatever comes to mind, including how the scene makes you feel.

    Create stories

    When commuting on the train or waiting in line, observe the strangers in the vicinity.  Take note of their characteristics and behavior and imagine what their lives are like – where they live, what they do for a living, who their family members are, etc.  You can do the same thing with photos of people you spot in magazines or online.

    Eat consciously

    Instead of wolfing down your lunch while working at your desk, have a meal with no distractions – even conversation.  Eat slowly as to observe how the food smells and tastes, and its texture as you chew.

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    Walk instead of drive

    Walking allows you to interact more with your environment, which is helpful in honing observation skills.  Note the weather, the amount of commercialization and traffic, the influence of nature, and whether the scene around you is calm or chaotic.  Guess what urban planners, residential developers, or landscape architects had in mind when they designed the locale.

    Take off your headphones

    Similarly, while in transit on foot or in a vehicle, you can better observe your surroundings and listen to interesting conversation and noises if you aren’t devoting all of your attention to your iPod.

    Consume entertainment actively

    It’s tempting to zone out while listening to a favorite song or watching a great movie.  But once in a while, it’s smart to practice your observation skills by thinking about the meaning behind a songwriter’s lyrics, or what the director was getting at when s/he shot a scene a particular way.  This may also help you enjoy your entertainment more fully!

    (Photo credit: Macro shot of a woman’s green eye via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on October 16, 2018

    The Ultimate Guide to Help You Sleep Through the Night Tonight

    The Ultimate Guide to Help You Sleep Through the Night Tonight

    It’s well past midnight and you’ve got to get up in less than six hours. You toss and turn all night. Before you know it, another hour passes by and you start panicking.

    If I don’t get to sleep in the next 30 minutes, I’m going to be exhausted tomorrow!”

    One thing is for sure, you’re not alone. Over 70M+ Americans have stated that they don’t get the proper sleep they need at night.[1] So what could possibly be causing this insomnia epidemic?

    Throughout my entrepreneurial journey of building my language learning company, I have experimented and researched dozens of best sleep practices. Some have flopped but a few have dramatically improved the quality of my life and work.

    In this article, I’ll look into the reason why you’re sleep deprived and how to sleep through the night tonight.

    Why you can’t sleep through the night

    The first step to improving anything is getting to the bottom of the root problem. Different studies have shown the reasons why most people cannot sleep well at night.[2] Here are the main ones that the average person faces:

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    Stress

    If you’ve ever stayed up at night worrying about something, know that it’s a major sleep inhibitor. When you’re feeling stress, your mind and body becomes more activated, making it incredibly difficult to fall asleep. Even when you do manage to sleep, it won’t be deep enough to help you feel rested the next day.

    Exposure to blue light before sleep time

    We’re exposed to harmful blue light on a daily basis through the use of our digital screens. If you’ve never heard of blue light, it’s part of the visible light spectrum that suppresses melatonin, our sleep hormones. Other harmful effects include digital eye strains and macular cellular damage.

    While daytime exposure to blue light is not very harmful, night time exposure tricks our brain into thinking it’s daytime. By keeping your brain alert and suppressing melatonin, your mind is unable to shut down and relax before bedtime.

    Eating close to bedtime

    Eating too late can actually be an issue for many people, especially those who are older than 40. The reason is, eating before laying down increases the chances of Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which stomach acid backflows into the esophagus.

    Another reason not to eat too late is sleep quality. Even if you manage to sleep right after eating, it’s likely that you’ll wake up tired. Instead of letting your body rest during sleep, it has to digest the food that was entered before bedtime.

    Rule of thumb: eat 3-4 hours before bedtime.

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    Medical conditions

    In some cases, it could be medical conditions that cause your sleep problems. If you can’t relate yourself to the above reasons or any of these common sleep problem causes, you should visit the doctor.

    The vicious sleep cycle

    The biggest danger to repeating the bad habits mentioned above is the negative cycle that it can take you through. A bad night’s sleep can affect not only your energy but your willpower and decision making skills.

    Here’s an example of a bad sleep pattern:

    You get a bad night’s sleep
    –> You feel tired and stressful throughout the day.
    –> You compensate it with unhealthy habits (for example junk food, skipping exercises, watching Netflix etc.)
    –> You can’t sleep well (again) the next night.

      You can imagine what could happen if this cycle repeats over a longer period of time.

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      How to sleep better (throughout the night)

      To help you break the vicious cycle and stop waking up in the middle of the night, I’ll explain to you a list of actionable steps to solve your trouble staying asleep.

      1. Take control over the last 90 minutes of your night

      What you do (or don’t do) before bedtime have significant impact on the quality of your sleep. Many times, it can be the difference between staying up until 4am and sleeping like a baby.

      Here are a few suggestions:

      • Go from light to dark – Darkness stimulates production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Turn off unused light around the house, and think about investing into warm light that you can use in the bedroom before bedtime.
      • Avoid screens (or wear blue light blocking glasses) – Keep the bedroom a technology-free zone as the light from electronic devices can disturb your sleep. If you need to work, wear blue light blocking glasses (also known as computer glasses) throughout or before you sleep to prevent sleep disruption.
      • Find an activity that helps you to wind down  This could be anything that calms you down, and reduces thinking (especially unnecessary stress). Fir example, listening to soothing/good feel music, taking a hot bath, reading or meditating.
      • Keep any electronics you have on the other side of the room or outside the room – One of the most harmful things that can disrupt your sleep is the notifications you get from your smartphones. The simplest way to avoid this is to keep it away from you.
      • Create a bedtime routine – A night routine is a couple of things you do prior to going to bed. By doing these things every night, you’ll have a more restful and high-quality sleep. Learn how to pick up a night routine here: The Ultimate Night Routine Guide to Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive

      2. Eat the right nutrients (and avoid the wrong ones)

      What you eat (not just when we eat) plays a critical role in your sleep quality. If you’re ever in doubt of what to eat to improve your sleep, take the following into consideration:

      • Kiwi – This green fruit may be the ultimate pre-bed snack. When volunteers ate two kiwis an hour before hitting the hay, they slept almost a full extra hour. Kiwis are full of vitamins C and E, serotonin and folate—all of which may help you snooze.
      • Soy foods – Foods made with soy such as tofu, miso and edamame, are rich in isoflavones. These compounds increase the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that influences the body’s sleep-wake cycle.
      • Fiber-rich foods – Eating more fiber could be key for better sleep. Eating fiber was associated with more restorative slow-wave sleep—the more you eat, the better you sleep—per a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Fiber prevents blood sugar surges that may lower melatonin. Get a fiber boost from beans, artichokes, bran cereal and quinoa.
      • Salmon – Most fish, especially salmon, halibut and tuna boost vitamin B6, which is needed to make melatonin— a sleep-inducing hormone triggered by darkness.

      3. Adjust your sleep temperature

      Once you’ve gone through the first 2 recommendations, the last step to experiment with is temperature. According to Sleep.org, the ideal temperature for sleep is 60-67 Farenheit. This may be cooler than what most people are used to, but keep in mind that our body temperature changes once we fall asleep.

      Rule of thumb: sleeping in cooler temperature is better for sleep quality than warmer temperature.

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      Find out how to maintain the optimal temperature to sleep better here: How to Sleep Faster with the Best Temperature

      Sleep better form now on

      Congrats on making it to the end of this guide on sleep. If you’re serious about taking the necessary steps in improving your sleep, remember to take it one step at a time.

      I recommend trying just one of the steps mentioned such as taking a hot bath, blocking out blue light at night, or sleeping in cooler temperature. From there, see how it impacts your sleep quality and you can keep doing what works, and throw away what doesn’t.

      As long as you follow these steps cautiously and diligently, I know you’ll see improved results in your sleep!

      Featured photo credit: pixabay via pixabay.com

      Reference

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