If I were to define the ‘power of observation’, I’d say it’s the ability to notice and pay close attention to things, people (including ourselves) and situations around us. As humans, we have all naturally been gifted five senses: to see, to hear, to smell, to taste, and to touch. Not only do we need these five senses in order to practice the power of observation, but we also need an additional sense: the sense to think and reason.
Observation gives you the power to learn more about - yourself, the people around you, and the situations that you face everyday. When you are more mindful of what’s happening around you and what’s happening inside of you, you may lead a life with effective decisions which are relevant to what you desire intrinsically. I’ve broken down the process of observation in two parts:
To observe what happens inside of you
To observe what happens outside of you
Know Thyself: Observe the World Inside Of You
Modern Psychology tells us that our minds are divided into three parts, namely:
The Conscious Mind
The Unconscious Mind
The Preconscious Mind
The conscious mind contains all of the memories, thoughts, wishes, and feelings of which we are aware at any given moment. This is the part of our mental processing that we can rationally talk and think about.
The unconscious mind is a reservoir of thoughts, feelings, memories, and urges that we are not consciously aware about. The unconscious mind contains contents that are unpleasant or unacceptable, such as feelings of anxiety, pain, or conflict. The preconscious mind consists of anything that we can potentially bring into the conscious mind.
In order to know yourself better, you need to become a keen observer of your unconscious mind. Majority of the people are only aware of their conscious mind and they do not bother trying to learn about what’s happening in the unconscious part of their brains. Such people have very little control over how they react to situations, and they often end up regretting actions that they did not plan to do. Knowing your unconscious mind can be divided into two parts:
Knowing your trigger/pain points.
Knowing your defense mechanisms for those points.
Knowing your trigger/pain points
Before you go on to heal the content which triggers you, you first need to know it and bring it into your conscious mind. The easiest way to do that is to observe very keenly on how you feel about certain situations.
For example, you may have experienced trauma as a child because of an unhappy marriage of your parents. So, if a person asks you about how close you are to your parents, you may experience an unpleasant emotion of distress. You need to observe and embrace that emotion consciously. You may ask yourself - “How am I feeling right now? Why am I feeling like this? Is this emotion related to any past experiences of mine?”
The next thing you would need to do is to write the answers on a piece of paper. Every time you feel a negative emotion, try to consciously observe it and keep writing them down in a diary.
Knowing your defense mechanisms
After you are done learning about the emotions in your unconscious mind, you need to identify what defense mechanisms do you use to counter them. If we take the previous example of the child trauma where the person asks about your relationship with your parents, you’d see that you might have a defense mechanism to counter it.
You might want to change the conversation entirely, or you may lie about having a good relationship with your parents. You could also end up answering rudely to this question. All of these are defense mechanisms that you’d use to let go of the situation at hand. I want you to write those reactions right next to the emotions for which you reacted. It could look something like this:
Emotion: Distress/Anxiety because of bad memories of childhood trauma.
Defense Mechanism: Lying about having a good relation with my parents.
Solution: Breathe deeply; take a second or two, then gently tell the truth about the relationship while acknowledging that trauma happened years ago and now I can let go of my past.
You can see that I have added a ‘Solution’ section in there as well. That is because when you finally learn about the emotions of your unconscious mind and the defense mechanisms that you uptake to counter those emotions, you can consciously accept them and find a solution to heal them. This is the whole process of knowing your unconscious, bringing it to consciousness, then finding and implementing a suitable solution to eradicate that negative emotion entirely.
Observe the World Outside Of You
Now that you have learned how to observe the world inside of you, you need to learn how to observe the world outside of you. As mentioned earlier, you would need to use your sixth sense of reason and rationale in order to learn more about what’s happening around you. I have broken this process down in steps, which are as follows:
1. You need to be open. Before you make any observations, you must first be open to receive them. This starts with an optimistic belief that there are things you can learn from all around you. You need to become a learner from the core of your heart. Once a wise man told me, “I believe I can learn something from everyone.” With that belief, he was ready to observe everything that was helpful to him. When you start with this attitude, you have a chance; if you don’t, the odds that the rest of these ideas will work, go down. If you already believe that you know everything, there is very little chance that you will entertain any new observations from your surroundings.
2. You need to be intentional. You never know what you might observe and learn. Yet, by being open, you are preparing for the possibilities to learn more. But you must also be intentional. That means that you need to know what your learning goals are, and to possess intentions of finding what you are looking for. For example, if you want to become a Life Coach, what are you seeing in the world around you that can help you become a Life Coach? Or to avoid unnecessary mistakes? If you are intentional about looking, you will find the lessons that you seek.
3. You need to be multi-sensory. To be fully observant means using more than just your eyes to seek what you are looking for. You can observe with your hearts; and depending on what you are wanting to learn, perhaps your nose, your fingers and your ears as well. True observation is a multi-sensory experience. What someone says is not the only important thing you need to focus on. Also, how they look and how they sound plays a part in a message, doesn’t it? Or to be able to rationally comprehend how the person communicates with you, also gives you an idea of what the other person actually means.
4. You need to be still. That means to let go of any distractions that you have in the moment. If you’re busy replying to a person on your cell phone, then how do you expect to get the most out of that specific situation? To observe means to be still in order to look, to listen and to be grateful for your surroundings in the present moment. Without stillness, much of the power of observation is compromised and you only get to understand the surface of a certain situation at hand.
5. You need to be neutral. That means in order to get to the essence or the roots of a certain situation, you need to let go of any prior beliefs or opinions that you have about it. You need to observe from a neutral viewpoint, or else you will compromise the essence of what you are observing. For example, you are trying to observe two people who are having a debate over gay rights. If you personally do not believe in gay rights, and you try to comprehend the debate from that view, you will automatically feel the person who is arguing against gay rights is correct. But if you try to observe the debate from a neutral view, you will understand the arguments without any bias.
I believe that if you follow all of these steps, you can get a good hold of understanding your surroundings through the power of observation.
Live a Meaningful Life
Now that you have learned the processes of how to know the world inside of you, as well as how to know the world outside of you, the question is: How can it give you a meaningful life? If you’ve been trying to connect the dots, or in other words if you’ve been trying to use the power of observation while reading this article, I am confident that you already know the answer to this question. If not, do not worry; let me explain it to you briefly.
When you get to know yourself better, you understand WHAT you want in life. This is a very important question because every other day I meet people who are not sure about what they want in life. If you know what’s important for you, what you desire and what you do not desire, then you will be quite certain of what you are looking for in life.
If you observe your surroundings consciously while practicing mindfulness, you will learn HOW to get what you want in life. You will learn the process and what it takes to go from where you are to where you want to be. After you know where you want to be and how you can get there, the only thing that is left is for you to start acting accordingly. If you know yourself decently, you’ll know what motivates you to act in life. You see how easily you have put purpose and meaning into your life just by using the power of observation?