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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 July 8, 2020

    18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

    18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

    The act of writing in a journal often seems daunting or unnecessary to many people. Even authors who work on novels might shun the idea of daily diaries. What purpose does jotting down words on a regular basis do if not contributing to the next novel, play or song? I know from experience many benefits of journaling that I wish to share.

    1. Understand Yourself Better

    Though many people and even writers avoid keeping journals, I vow to do it more often. Not only do I desire to take up daily journaling but also I plan to do it with pen to paper.

    Some of the benefits I’ve found from my more active days include finding myself in the sense of understanding what matters to me and what I want out of life. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to find a spouse who is my best friend and advocate in raising children. I attribute this and much more to what I learned about myself in keeping journals for years.

    2. Keep Track of Small Changes

    I’ll admit that I never got very far with my guitar lessons, but in writing in a journal, I have seen the ability to track small changes like those that come when you practice anything.

    Those learning a musical instrument often fail to see the small improvements that come with regular practice. Writing won’t help you switch chords any faster, but it will help you to develop a better sense for language and grammar just by doing it.

    3. Become Aware of What Matters

    As you continue to write in a journal, following a stream-of-consciousness feel, you can look back on the topics that you chose to write about. Those issues and emotions that poured out of you will provide insight on to what matters most to you.

    You may not even realize that you’re job is depressing you or that you want to spend more time with your kids until you look over your thoughts that you weren’t really thinking about.

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    4. Boost Creativity

    The idea that the brain and its neural activity across hemispheres encourages learning also shows up in increased creativity. Just like with learning an instrument, your increased activity will inspire your thoughts to connect and reconnect in different ways.

    When I wrote in a journal, I often wrote poetry as well as just my thoughts as they came out. I started to hear poems more in my mind; so much so that I took to scrawling lines on napkins and finding metaphors in mundane activities.

    You really are what you do, so writing helps grow more than being a writer. Writing boosts the way you communicate and structure language, which really is a creative process.

    5. Represents Your Emotions in a Safe Environment

    A journal is as private as it gets. You can lock it in a safe or tuck it under a pillow and no one will accidentally share it on social media or have an opportunity to “leave a comment.”

    Write about your sorrow as much as your happiness and frustration and know that you don’t have to keep your emotions inside your body. You can put them on paper.

    6. Process Life Experiences

    When you take the time to look back over what you’ve written, be it a week or a year later, you will have the distance you need to more objectively interpret your raw feelings.

    Everything from losing a job to losing a loved one can emerge in a new light for a fresh perspective. Figuring out how the benefits of journaling affect your perspective on life will create connection and increase creativity.

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    7. Stress Relief

    In combining the exercise inherent in fine motor coordination that comes from the act of writing with the emotional release of self expression, those who maintain a journal relieve stress.

    Try it out. Go home and write about your day. Write about the traffic. Write about the coffee order the barista got wrong but you didn’t have time to change. See how you can physically purge some of that pent-up stress by putting it on paper.

    8. Provide Direction

    Though journaling is often conducted as an activity without much direction, it often provides direction.

    One of the biggest benefits of journaling is that your chaotic thoughts merge to show a direction in which to head. Asking the right questions is the only way to achieve the best solutions, so look to your journal to find your way toward your next goal.

    9. Solve Problems

    Just as in practicing math problems, we all get better at finding hidden solutions through the act of processing.

    Think of your next goal as X and solve your life problems by reading your journals as word problems. The benefit of journaling here is that you write, explore and process to recognize and then solve problems.

    When life is too in-your-face, you have to step back to see reality. Living in the moment allows us to write in the moment and use that expression to solve problems.

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    10. Find Relief From Fighting

    Solving your problems only comes after time to process, recognize and strategize. Just as in the benefit of journaling where relief comes from the act of writing, relief from fighting comes when you decide to “sit this one out” and communicate one-way.

    Fighting is only productive when the fighters care to communicate and find common ground. When the emotions are as high as the stress levels, writing will function as the best time out.

    11. Find Meaning in Life

    Journaling will show you why you are living, whether you are wallowing in things you wish to change or striving to make the changes. Your life will begin to take on new meaning and your own words will reveal the actions that got you where you are so that you can assess and pave a new path for your future.

    12. Allow Yourself to Focus

    Taking even a small amount of time out of every day will provide you with not only peace of mind but also increased focus. Taking a break to meditate in writing and journaling will sharpen your mental faculties.

    13. Sharpen Your Spirituality

    When we write, we allow all the energy and experiences to flow through us, which often provides further insight into our own spirituality. Even if your parents didn’t raise you to follow a specific religion, your thoughts will start to show you what you believe about the universe and your place in it.

    14. Let the Past Go

    I’ve mentioned a few examples where going back over your writing offers advice and direction, but the simply truth is that writing down our feelings can be the best way to let them go. We can choose to literally throw these pages away when they’re filled with negativity and hate.

    15. Allow Freedom

    Journaling is the perfect way to not only express yourself but to also experience the freedom of being who you are. Your books can stay private or you can publish them. Your freedom stems from your sense of self and your perception of your thoughts.

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    16. Enhance Your Career

    Again, the private act of pen-to-paper processing provides the benefits of journaling mentioned above, but you can also enhance your career when you take similar ideas and categorize, edit and publish them in an online blog.

    Your thoughts will often be personal and express emotions, but another benefit of journaling is uncovering fresh ideas about your work.

    17. Literally Explore Your Dreams

    All the benefits I’ve mentioned explore ideas, thoughts and emotions, which is also what our dreams and nightmares do. Through writing down your dreams from the previous night, you can enhance your creativity as well as connect some of the metaphorical dots from the rest of your journal.

    18. Catalog Your Life for Others

    No one wants to think about dying, but we all die. Leaving a journal will act as a way to reconnect with family and friends left behind. The ideas you wish to keep personal while you process the life you’re living will serve to rekindle and inspire those who loved you through the process.

    We consider our partners our life witnesses, but writing provides a tangible mark on the world.

    Now that you’ve learned all the benefits of journaling, it’s time to start writing a journal:

    Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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