We are exposed to endless forms of distractions. Our attention is constantly being disrupted by the hustle and bustle that comes with everyday living. In addition to work, school, and home activities, we jam our waking hours with lots of stuff like watching television, surfing the internet, playing video games, texting on our cellphone, and listening to music. No wonder our brain can go into sensory overload.
Amid the whirlwind of distractions, make it a priority to observe your environment. Take notice in the people, activities, and things that surround you. Look beyond the superficial to collect and decipher the cues. Hone your observation skills to better interpret and determine your best line of defense or course of action to the situation at hand. Learn to take notice in the small but important nuances that serve a significant purpose in our lives.
What makes being observant a forceful tool?
Historically mankind has successfully survived due to our keen observation skills. For tens of thousands of years, our ability to observe has served us well in terms of safety, security, and existing with others. Even today, we find that failure to be observant can produce negative consequences. Too many people have been hurt or killed due to texting while driving or failing to heed the warnings when distracted by talking on the cellphone or listening to music with headsets.
Additionally, being observant can aid us in our relationship with others. When we pay close attention to people’s attitudes and behaviors, we can gain a better understanding of who they are, how they think, and what they might do. Such knowledge is invaluable. It allows us to structure our interaction with them to produce the best outcomes and diminish any potential difficulties.
What can you do to strengthen your observations skills?
Disconnect from technology:
If you are serious about becoming more observant, occasionally unplug from your cellphone, television, computer, iPad, and other technologies. Tune out these glaring forms of distractions and concentrate on your environment. Make this a given during critical times when you are putting yourself and others in danger. Such examples might include accidentally hitting another car while texting and driving at the same time or running a red light while talking to a friend on your cellphone.
Utilize your five senses:
To become a better observer, tap into your five senses, including your sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. Fully maximize your observation skills by using your eyes to scan your surroundings, your ears to carefully listen to sounds, your nose to detect any unique smells, and your touch and taste to gather additional cues through feeling and savoring.
Be aware of your surroundings:
Pay attention to what is going on around you but carefully filter out anything that doesn’t seem relevant. Our brain isn’t meant to process everything, so train yourself to make the distinction. Be on special alert for anything out of the ordinary or a situation that might pose a threat. Observe the traffic as you drive, the people around you, the changing weather conditions, and all other happenings that might directly or indirectly affect you. Then set aside all inconsequential information to make space for what matters.
Communicate with intention:
Whenever you interact with others, put your observation skills to good use. Take notice in the people’s appearance, what they say, their body language, their stance, and how they present themselves. Look for any discrepancies in people’s actions and words and apply this to your evaluation of the situation. Draw upon your overall interpretation of people to determine how best to frame your communication with them.
Tune into nature:
As often as possible, get out and spend time in nature. Be it walking, running, or riding bikes in the local parks, along the beach, or on a mountain trail, make it a point to quietly take in the scenery. Focus on the sights and sounds of the animals and other forms of life, be aware of the landscape, including its vegetation and rock structure, and watch for the array of colors that paint across the sky. Increase your awareness of nature’s beauty and use your experience to rejuvenate your spirit and outlook on life.
Being observant is a valuable skill to develop, but don’t stop there. Learn how to interpret your observations. Look for patterns and trends and determine how they interplay with each other. Combine these findings with your experience to predict and respond to the future. Do you have a friend who is displaying signs of depression? Is it becoming increasingly more dangerous for your parents to live alone? Have you observed negative changes in your own current lifestyle? Take notice and act. Despite everyday distractions, train yourself to become a skilled observer and use these skills to improve the quality of life for you and others.
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Written by: Patricia K. Flanigan, Smart Strategies for Successful Living
Patricia K. Flanigan has worked in higher education for over 28 years. She holds a doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of La Verne as well as a M.A. in Latin American Studies and B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before retiring and moving to Idaho in 2015, she served as the dean of online education and learning resources at Saddleback College, a large community college in Southern California. She currently consults in higher education, volunteers for AARP, writes for a local magazine, and serves as an Affiliate Faculty member at Boise State University and a contributing member to LEARN Idaho. Since February 2017, she has been the founding director for Smart Strategies for Successful Living, a community-based website designed to promote quality aging. As an educator, her focus is to inspire others to live and age well.
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