As we plunge headlong into the holidays, what better to think about than exercise! Over the course of the next two months we’ll be presented with non-stop opportunities to indulge our feasting fantasies while, at the same time, face the challenge of moving our bodies enough to burn of the added calories. What does this have to do with being intentional about Noticing? Nothing, really…or everything!
It seems to me that by Noticing more, beginning with acknowledging the obvious opportunities that we have to immerse ourselves in holiday celebration, thanksgiving and reflection, we can enjoy everything about this beautiful season, including the food! By being more intentional about noticing the sights, sounds, smells and emotions of the holidays, we don’t have to make it a ‘one-trick pony’ of over indulging in any one thing. So, I’m offering a suggestion–an exercise in noticing–that may help now and in all that you do after you achieve your goal of (fill in the blank) during the holidays. This isn’t a physical exercise like going to the gym or jogging through the park. In fact, it’s an exercise that begins with stopping. That’s not so bad, is it?
Recently, Cathy and I have been shopping at antique stores, second-hand shops and vintage/retro outlets. If you’ve ever been to these places, you know that they are rich in variety and usually packed with lots of stuff. You also probably know that the sheer magnitude and diversity of choices can be overwhelming. I am usually just looking for something specific like a new-to-me pair of cufflinks. Cufflinks are small. Usually, they are in locked cases that can be just about anywhere in a store. In my ‘hunter’ mode, I enter, scope out the layout of the place and zero-in on likely destinations for said cufflinks. In the process, I miss virtually everything else in the store. I’m practicing the art of reduction, excluding everything around me in order to see one thing. It’s only by accident that I notice other items that may be of interest and value.
That process of exclusive observation is one that I believe is practiced far too frequently by way too many of us—men and women, alike. At work, we focus on the complaining employee, the dirty corner, the one wall that has a mark on it to the exclusion of all that is working well and looking good. At home, we pay attention to the kids playing their video games, the crying child, the dirty dishes, and the unmade bed to the exclusion of the smiles, banter, comfort and love that pervades everything before us. Here’s an exercise that will help you get out of the ‘reduction’ process and into what Winifred Gallagher in Rapt refers to as Top-Down attention. As you’d guess by now, the exercise begins with Stopping and it works wherever you want to practice it. The technique doesn’t require a lot of additional time but promises to change your perspective instantly!
The Three Minute Noticing Exercise:
- Stop–1-3 minutes, tops
- Observe–Without turning your body, employ all of your senses to take in what is before you. Do a count: 1, 2, 3, etc and with each number in the sequence, shift your eyes to something different and focus there for 3-5 seconds. Count to 11,shifting to a new object with each count. Continue counting: 12, 13, 14, etc but now notice objects illuminated by natural light or in shadow. How is the light adding dimension to the object or the people you see? Remember, you’re staying still, turning your head and adjusting where you’re looking with your eyes. Continue counting to 19 but now, pay attention to colors and, possibly sounds. When you reach a count of 27, stop.
- Notice–What did you see? This isn’t about memorizing every object or listing the specific things you saw. Rather, it’s about what your expanded vision of the space enabled you to appreciate.
- Record what you Noticed–I recommend recording what you saw and noticed in a little notebook or something else permanent.
At first, were you overwhelmed by the thought of noticing so much in one place and from only one perspective? From a top-down perspective, is what you saw pleasant? Interesting? Alarming? Fun? Encouraging? Is there action that you might want to take as a result of noticing so much in such a small space and timeframe? Thank an employee; congratulate the kids for their good behavior; Hug your spouse for making this space so warm and inviting; buy something–other than cufflinks?!
This exercise doesn’t take long and it’s guaranteed to encourage you. Expand your observations by asking, ‘what will someone else notice if they are viewing the exact same space as you but from a different vantage point?’ When I ask this additional question, I’m reminded that my view, while valid and important, isn’t really complete if I don’t get input from others. In all cases, Noticing is hugely important and this exercise will help you see into a world filled with opportunities to celebrate, improve, serve, worship and lead more joyously.
Try it right now. It really doesn’t matter where you are. I’m in a Starbucks and I just did it. You can be in a conference room, living room, office, mall or forest. It doesn’t matter. Just stop, count and notice. Make some notes. As the Southwest Airlines ad says, “You are now free to roam the about the planet”, having been enriched just a little by Noticing the space right in front of you.