May 3, 2024

Direct Your Attention to Your Surroundings and Be Rewarded for It

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Posted by Sharmarke Hujale

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5 min read

“You can’t be seen until you learn to see” — Seth Godin

If there’s one thing I enjoy the most when I’m on public transport, it’s staring out of the window and letting my mind wander.

I’m not sure when I developed this habit, but I’ve done it for as long as I can remember.

I used to as a kid, daydream my way out of reality, not paying much attention to what was happening outside.

But this changed when I became a designer. My window-gazing became focused. I started to direct my attention to landscapes, buildings, streets, people — whatever caught my eye.

The reason is that learning about design made me conscious of elements like space, contrast, hierarchy, alignment, balance, and repetition.

Learning design gave me a new appreciation for things I had seen but never really noticed.


The challenge of digital distraction

As I started to pay attention, I noticed how glued people were to their screens on public transport. It’s not to say that you can’t use your device — as I do myself — but it has become the new normal instead of looking outside.

And it’s no surprise since we live in a highly digitized world where technology improves and becomes more accessible by the second.

I’m all for new tech. But as technology advances, something else is decreasing — our ability to pay attention and notice things. And by that, I mean paying attention to our surroundings.

The more we pay attention to the notification sound that comes from our phones, the less we pay attention to what’s around us.

And it makes sense. Because we don’t find our surroundings interesting anymore — we’re not tuning into them.


Childlike curiosity

Imagine all the hidden gems passing us by.

Just look at children. They naturally find things interesting because much of what they experience is added to their “database” (the brain). Everything is exciting.

I get to experience this firsthand with my 1-year-old daughter who absorbs everything she sees — from the texture of the concrete to the patterns or paintings on the wall — from the fallen leaves on the ground to working ants.

It’s a different story for us adults. Our sense of wonder goes down as we become familiar with things. And that’s natural as it gets stored in our database. It doesn’t excite us anymore.

Haven’t you found yourself dismissing information shared by a friend about something you already knew? And that information might have revealed something new had you noticed it.


A call to mindfulness

But the good news is that we can all relearn to pay attention. Being interested in things is not a personality trait, it’s a habit.

When we were kids, our noticing was sparked by natural curiosity, not by intentional effort. So, we gotta make a decision — a decision only we can make for ourselves. To choose to pay attention, to notice.

Here are three things you can do to start building the habit of noticing.


1) Lead with your curiosity

When you see something familiar, approach it with a question instead of an assumption. Ask yourself if there’s something you don’t know or might have overlooked in the past.

You’ll notice how differently your mind sees things when you do this.

I remember when I re-watched some of my favorite movies, like The Lord of the Rings. I would notice things I hadn’t seen before.

It felt like they had added new scenes. Or I just didn’t notice certain details when I watched it the first or second time.

You can apply the same principle when you re-read your favorite book or revisit your favorite place.

Chances are, you might discover something unexpected that excites you again.


2) Be Humble

You’ve got to acknowledge that no matter how much you know, there’s always more to learn.

Look at the world through the lens of a beginner. This isn’t to say you’re letting go of your expertise. But you should look at it as an invitation to complement what you already know.

In all honesty, it’ll strengthen your observational skills, which is definitely a plus.


3) Practice mindful observation

Pay close attention to details, patterns, and nuances as if you were experiencing them for the first time, just as a kid would. And take pictures of these details. Or write your observations in a notebook.

I took 12 pictures of a tree, spanning from September to December.

Do this enough times, and you’ll notice an improvement in your ability to pay attention. You’ll also, as a consequence of this habit, appreciate new aspects of the familiar. And become mindful of things you might have taken for granted before.

Like the roof over your head, access to clean water, the food on your table, the people who love and care for you, and the ability and capacity to learn.

These things might seem trivial for some because we’ve become so accustomed to having them that we fail to recognize their significance.


The simple act of paying attention can take you a long way

— Keanu Reeves

Being aware of what’s happening around you helps you to be thoughtful towards others in general.

When you pay attention, you’ll find it easier to connect with others because you see them instead of passing by them.

So, tune in on the world. Start noticing what’s around you.

The world becomes more fascinating that way.


Note:

You can check out Story Seeds, my digital product with prompts to encourage you to be present, attentive, and notice the small moments of your everyday life. Get it by clicking here.

Images from my digital product Story Seeds

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