Being More Observant Is a Skill You Can Learn; This Is How You Do It
Then use this skill to take over the world *evil laugh*
Ok not really. No taking over the world — the first rule is that you can only use your power for good!
So what qualifies me to advise on this particular topic?
I am not a Doctor of observation; I don’t have a Ph.D. in paying attention, I am just a very average person who has over the years developed a knack of knowing what is going to happen next.
A skill I learned somewhat accidentally as a result of me being curious. I have always been interested in all sorts of different topics; the arts, fashion, science, the economy, culture, music, nature, food, the environment, human rights, and so on.
So my brain is very active, thinking about the connections between these topics, breaking them down, and working out what they mean in the broader spectrum.
When you combine that with instinct, you would be surprised by the level of accuracy you can achieve.
‘There is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance.’ Albert Einstein
For my day job, I analyze all sorts of data and create content for my clients to help them to prepare their brand for what is going to happen next.
The predictions that my team and I make have been so consistently precise that it has left people wondering if we can see into the future.
There is no crystal ball; we are not psychics; it’s a mixture of research, paying attention, reading patterns, and a gut feeling.
Let’s use a simple example of how the acutely aware brain functions.
What you and I see on our journeys to work, will most likely be completely different.
I will be thinking about the weather, how busy it is, what type of transport is on the road, what people are wearing, how they are driving, if there are any new property developments, how long they are taking to go up, did that new store open yet, what has gone out of business?
When I am stopped at the lights, I will be looking closely at the people surrounding me, their facial expressions, body language, the lacquer on someone’s nail, the logo on their shirt, and so on… It’s a lot,
but I don’t even realize I am doing it, it’s just something that has always been there. I can’t tell you exactly what happens to all this information; I guess it just sits inside my brain somewhere until I need to call upon it.
What do you notice on your journey to work? Probably not all of that.
I am here to tell you that this is a skill that can be mastered, and if you do take the time to pay more attention to the stuff that is going on around you, it can open up all sorts of insights that you might not have seen before, and begin to enhance your day to day life positively.
(On the flipside developing this level of consciousness can also alert you to all sorts of other things, and some of these are not so positive).
‘The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who haven’t got it.’ George Bernard Shaw
But we shall focus on the good; the question is, do you want in?
You do! Ok great, let’s get started. In the beginning, we should focus on paying more attention in general; this doesn’t mean you need to notice everything; that’s too much, but instead of bumbling around transfixed by your phone, try to focus on some key points.
But wait. First of all, you’re going to need to PUT DOWN THAT PHONE. This also applies to tablets, computers, or whatever piece of technology is stuck to your eyeballs. You’re not going to be able to use your senses to absorb all the information that is floating around you unless you are fully able to engage. (I put that in bold because I mean it!) If you have done that, then we can begin.
We live in a world that is fast and relentless, and it can render us unable to properly absorb anything because all these different stimuli are fighting for our attention.
When you are beginning this process a great way to start is by going on little walks, or whatever your usual mode of transport, swap it out for something slower, so you have more time to think.
Take in your surroundings.
There are numerous tasks that we carry out every single day on autopilot. Have you ever had one of those mornings where you get to work bleary-eyed and realize you have no recollection of anything you did before you arrived at your desk?
Stop that habit. When you are doing something mundane pay attention and look out for changes.
When you get up in the morning think about the sounds, are the birds singing, the weather — is it raining? If you struggle to remember to do this, keep a notebook by your bed to remind you to write down what you have noticed that morning.
In a group setting, it’s always super interesting to watch how people behave, and it’s another way of paying attention. Business meetings can often be dull, but there are plenty of things you can be doing to keep yourself occupied.
The people involved, what is their contribution, how do they present it, how do their peers interact, watch their body language.
What about the atmosphere in the setting, is it calm or charged? You can look at simple things like how much input each person gives, or focus on an individual, work out the reason behind what they said or how they said it.
So for example; Board meeting ten people present, Sally only contributes once in the whole hour. Reason — she is new to the business and seems a little shy, plus Nigel is dominating the meeting. The atmosphere feels a little volatile.
Take notice of people.
Isn’t it nice when someone notices you got your hair done, maybe you lost a few lbs, or treated yourself to a fancy manicure? You can be that person, the one that notices; it’s not hard. This is an easy one to practice too as you can do it anywhere there are people.
Start to look every time you pass someone, quickly glance at what they are wearing, what does their facial expression say about their mood. You can go one step further by thinking about how they are behaving in that situation, who they are with?
How are they interacting? Once you’ve been practicing this on strangers it will be much easier to notice changes in your peers, which you can then compliment them on.
Train your brain.
There are plenty of opportunities when you can be coaching your brain. When I was training for a half marathon, I was doing a lot of running in the gym on the treadmill so I would set myself all sorts of tasks to keep my mind busy.
I would take notice of who had come into the gym, what they were wearing, what equipment they had chosen to use, I would make a mental note of how long they were in the gym.
If there was no one in the gym, I would do the same thing out of the window with people outside, if there were no people then I would use cars, there’s always something. The important thing is that you are paying attention and to multiple happenings.
Being observant is a useful skill, and just like anything, the more you practise, the better you will get, but this is just the beginning, and these are just observations.
‘My powers are ordinary. Only my application brings me success.’ Isaac Newton
Once you have started to pay attention to the things that are going on around you, it’s quite likely that you will begin to wonder about why they exist or what had happened to cause that particular event or situation.
As a result of this, it’s quite normal to start to piece things together which in turn fuels your curiosity.
Observation, intuition, curiosity, and critical thinking are an extraordinarily powerful combination not only to allow you to see snippets of how the future might unfold but also to boost your creativity exponentially.
So remember when you’re pounding that treadmill relentlessly, or making your sleepy morning traipse to brush your teeth, those other things you notice in the process could be a tiny piece of a puzzle that you are yet to understand.
If you do keep practicing you might even begin to be able to work out the complete puzzle, before anyone else.
When you think of it like that, you have to admit, it’s pretty cool!
Originally published here
Futurist and Art Director. I provide insight to help my clients plan their brands progression. I do this by creating beautiful content that produces an emotional response. I help people to understand complex topics through visual communication, and provide practical guidance for disruptive design.