Are You Noticing Your Life?

Guess what happens when you mate two of the biggest MVPs in the self-improvement world together? Specifically the heavy hitters of “being present in the moment” and “gratitude,” left alone in a hotel room overnight with a fully stocked minibar?

A) A tacky portmanteau named “mindfultude”

B) A pernicious STD

C) A lovechild called “noticing”

If you answered B, I like your style—but no, it’s C. The cross-pollination of mindfulness and gratitude is a deceptively simple concept called noticing.

Picture your average whirlwind-of-a-day—flitting from one thing to the next, succumbing to habits that automate your existence, glazing over in the car ride to work/ at the 2pm team meeting/ as you reheat your burrito bowl dinner/ as you watch The Crown on the couch. In your mighty effort to manage the busy-ness of being alive you flicked the switch to AUTOPILOT and! oh! shit! Maybe you forgot to turn the switch back to LIVING?

We can’t necessarily stop the calvary of life from charging full steam ahead, but we can take notice along the way. We can open our eyes to the spectacle of being alive. How?

We can do two things:

Step #1: Plop yourself into the now (a.k.a., not ruminating about what happened yesterday, and not fretting about what might happen tomorrow). This will require a bit of curiosity, this act of settling into the moment, this radical act of witnessing what’s going on around you with as little judgment as you can muster. This step is about pressing the pause button, even for a 20-second interlude.

Step #2: Appreciate something good/ something great/ something not horrible that you observed in Step 1. This step is about twigging into your life—the wee joys you’d have otherwise missed while you were busy Taking Care of Business.

Examples of what you might notice if you slow down and intentionally zero in on WTF is going on around you, you whirling dervish, you:

  • A client of mine slowed her walk down between meetings, and noticed—for the first time ever, even though it had been there for years—a photo on a colleague’s cubicle of an Italian Greyhound. The women became fast friends with the help of a little canine bonding (and noticing).
  • What about pausing between bites to really notice the flavor of the arugula/ bite of lasagna/ Granny Smith apple/ Jeni’s Gooey Butter Cake ice cream? I’m conscious for the first two potato chips I eat and then I enter The Potato Chip Trance … I zone out, in a race with myself to finish the bag. Yet if I stop and savor each and every Kettle Brand Krinkle Cut Truffle Oil & Sea Salt I (slowly) stuff into my face, the snack (and therefore a piece of my life) gets incrementally better.
  • Noticing LadybugsI love this recent quote from Tamron Hall in the NYT: “My son’s always curious about New York when we’re walking. He notices everything. When you’re not seeing New York through the eyes of a 4-year-old, you can forget how special it is.” This reminds me of a friend’s young daughter, effortlessly placing herself into each and every moment, noticing each and every thing. Waiting in a parking lot she’ll find a ladybug and delight in the experience of the ladybug in her little life. She’ll watch it, let it climb on her arm, count its dots, name it (Bella, usually). Might you notice the happenings around you, too? Chipmunks, bugs, buildings being built, trees blowing in the wind, star-crossed lovers walking hand in hand?
  • The anecdote of a terminally ill man sticks with me—a man who knew his days were numbered, and appreciated the morning coffees he felt fortunate to *still* get to experience. Apparently he’d swirl the coffee around in the cup, notice the way it looked, smelled, and tasted. The rest of us heathens consume our coffee/ tea/ shot of whisky mindlessly every morning … but what if you knew you only had 100 left? Wouldn’t you taste and appreciate and notice your beverage with the knowledge it was a simple, fleeting joy worth savoring?
  • What about noticing the smile of the flight attendant? Noticing the fascinating cloud formations in the sky? Noticing the buds bursting through the soil? Noticing the way you get swept up when you’re reading a fabulous novel? Noticing the way your back feels better after stretching? Noticing your loved ones’ non-annoying attributes? Noticing how you feel when you’re noticing more often?

I’ve spoken with you before about Reveling in Your Mundane, Everyday Existence, and is it too tacky to quote myself for what I wrote in that post? “Life gets incrementally better when we appreciate the small joys born out of our mundane moments.” Zipping to the mailbox can be mundane, but what if we noticed the sound of a bird while we picked up the flyers? (OMG please use this Cornell Lab Merlin app which magically identifies what kind of bird is singing karaoke in the trees. It takes noticing to new levels.)

Sure, noticing isn’t always pretty.

Isn’t it true that paying attention to the details can unwittingly zero us in on the unfortunate parts, the ugly sides, the various states of disarray? Sure, that can (and likely will) happen.

Noticing your 8-year-old’s bright-eyed enthusiasm for Lego might shine the spotlight on the messiness of 1,945 pieces of Lego strewn about your living room floor.

Noticing the jaw-dropping talent of an author / athlete / artist / astronaut you admire might underscore how untalented you are at the thing you might like to be fantastic at.

Noticing your breath—in a valiant attempt to achieve Zen-ish-ness—and breathing deeply into your belly as the experts advise (even putting your hands on your expanding and contracting gut) might draw your attention to the extra bits and pieces around your midriff in a decidedly un-Zen-ish way, thank you very much. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who feels this way😳?)

So sure, we might not like all of what we find when we get the magnifying glass out and observe the goings on in our lives—but no one ever said the Art and Science of Noticing was supposed to be an exercise in appreciating the perfection going on around us. We can intentionally shift our attention back to the good stuff, and choose not to dwell on the Lego-strewn carpet.

Wake up to this moment.

What do you see right now, just beyond these words on your screen? What does it smell like where you are? What sight intrigues or amuses you? What’s going on? As I type I’m sitting at a gate about to board a flight, noticing the taste of cinnamon in my latte and how comfortable the loungey chair is that I was lucky to score. I’m noticing my fellow travelers to be weary but relieved it’s Friday (okay maybe I’m projecting a bit on that one but we can notice whatever we darned well want).

We don’t need to be acutely aware all of the time (because that would be a sensory overload shitshow); we just need to be acutely aware more of the time. Imagine what your life might look like/ feel like if you noticed 10% more? If you dropped into the moment just 10% more often than you currently do, and found something that made you feel anything?

And I’ll leave you with a quote by the always-worth-noticing Alain de Botton (from A Therapeutic Journey): “We don’t need to add years; we need to densify the time we have left by ensuring that every day is lived consciously—and we can do this via a maneuver as simple as it is momentous: by starting to notice all that we have as yet only seen.”

No wait, here’s the encore: listen to the sound of these cute little birds. Aren’t they worth noticing?!

Jodi Wellman

P.S.: Idea! How about you take notice of my book, which is now available for preorder: You Only Die Once: How to Make It to the End with No Regrets!

P.P.S.: Let’s do Instagram together.

P.P.P.S.: Oh and just in case you missed it… I’d love you forever if you took 16 minutes out of your life to watch my TEDx talk!


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