I am constantly trying to teach my children to be more observant. It is not easy. Two almost-ten-year-olds and an eight year old are not particularly receptive to nurturing this ability. I have always believed that talent of being highly observant is an enormous blessing for those who manage to cultivate it. Being observant can be such a huge benefit. I am pretty good at it. I try to remind myself to work on improving it as often as I can.
For one thing, observation helps to keep you safe. I have a very strict rule with my kids about having mp3 players, or video games, or phones with them when we are out in public. I know that if they are distracted by these things they will not notice what is going on around them, and that puts them in danger. I have taught them that it is very important to look strangers in the eye and memorize their description. I encourage them by mentioning humorous things that I notice when we are out in public. (My kids are crazy about anything funny.) They know that if they are really looking around at the world they will catch glimpses of things that really interest them.
There are lots great, simple games that you can play with kids to help develop their observational skills. My favorite one is the one where I just collect a bunch of random objects from around the house, put them on the table, and cover them with a towel. I sit the kids down with pen and paper and lift the towel while counting to ten. Then the towel goes back, and they see how many of the items they can remember and write down. Simple, fun, and good for them...yay!
On a more adult level, I like to walk into a room and see how quickly I can absorb all of its details. I try to take in the colors on the walls, paintings, smells, plants, and photographs. It’s a great exercise, and a great rescue if you find yourself in a really boring situation and you forgot your book. Being observant is important to me personally because I believe that it helps me to be a better writer. When I notice details about the beauty of the outdoors I make a point to retain them so that I can attempt to recreate them in the pages that I write.
Observance is also a really powerful tool in personal relationships. When you are observant enough to notice when a friend or a colleague isn’t acting quite like themself, you can reach out to them. Or again, you can help to keep yourself safe if you observe odd behavior in a stranger. I was looking at quotes about observation and I discovered two really awesome ones, both by Will Rogers. I found that interesting. The first one, I think, is absolutely brilliant, and the second, I find hilarious.
Here they are:
“People’s minds are changed through observation and not through argument.”
“There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”