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The Secret To Noticing What’s Worthwhile

October 24, 2006

Girlfriend mad at you for not noticing her new highlights?  Friends wondering why you drift out into space as they’re talking to you?  Here’s what’s going on…

I’ve always been baffled by the problem of perception — the determination of what a person notices and doesn’t notice when looking at something.

Take for instance a trip two years ago to Alex’s pizza with my friend Greg.  I remember walking from the parking lot into Alex’s with Greg, sitting in the booth, and eating pizza.  Because we are there so often, we know everyone who works there — we don’t even have to order, we just sit down and they bring us our food.  I can remember the waitress telling us they had just put up a new sign outside the restaurant just the other day.  I asked, “Really?  I didn’t notice.”

Here’s the question — Why didn’t I notice?  As I was walked the sidewalk into Alex’s the sign was right there in front of me.  Why didn’t I notice the new sign?  This (in a rather odd way) made me very angry.  I wondered — What else in life am I missing — things right in front of my face, and I don’t even notice?

I remember the next day going outside, and staring intently at the trees, grass, and flowers.  I can remember going up to a flower bed and staring at a few flowers for several hours, just wondering, how much there was to notice.

I found this process to be mentally exhausting and of little utility, but I continued doing it for several months – staring intently at various things around me and trying to notice things most people wouldn’t notice.

I can remember going into Shoney’s and purposely counting the number of shrubs along their sidewalk, the number of windows — even trying to mentally arrange booth positions.

I kept wondering to myself — What can I notice?  I kept reassuring myself — If there’s anything worth noticing, I’m going to notice it.  The world’s not going to pass me by.

People put so much work into things and people don’t even notice.  I like to pay special attention to wallpaper and its designs — pictures on walls and their positions/size/placement, borders, furniture and how the texture of the cloth feels, etc.

This was nice for a time, but life became frustrating as I always felt I was missing something — in fact, I was missing 99.999999999999999999999999% of everything going on in the world.  I wanted to know about every person’s life, exactly what they’re thinking at every moment, what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, etc.  I wanted to see every city and every field in the world and notice every little detail to it all — and I found I was never going to be able to do so.

I figured this couldn’t be a satisfactory way to view life and began to wonder what the flaw was to this mindset.

Btw, this mindset is held by people in many different ways.  People in the small towns always talk of the ‘city’ and how they’re “missing out” on things.  People in the city talk of “missing out” on the peaceful life of the country.  People talk of their life not being exciting.  All of these mindsets are the exact same problem.

What is the flaw?  It comes down to the determination of what a person will notice to begin with.  A person will only notice what they deem important.  What they’ve deemed benefitial or worth noticing.  You may have heard the saying “You’ll only notice what you’re looking for.”  It all comes down to what you want and purpose.

This is normally based on knowledge.  Architects notice architectual aspects of a building, such as ceiling height.  Decorators always tend to notice pictures, wallpaper, lighting, etc.  A societal-philosopher tends to notice people in the room and watches them intently – wondering if the people around him are happy and whether the social system in place is best for people all around him.

People notice what they understand most, and what they understand most is typically what they’ve studied / thought about. What they’ve studied/thought all comes down to their intial decision to study those things to begin with.  Why did they study them to begin with?  Because they decided to — they wanted to.  They did so because they deemed it benefitial to themselves to do so.

What you notice is what you’ve chose to notice.  What you see in the world around you is what you’ve chosen to see.  What you believe is important to you, will become important to you, and what you believe doesn’t matter, won’t matter to you.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find that absolutely fascinating.  Every word that comes out of a person’s mouth tells you about a person’s decisions.  What they notice in a room — whatever it may be — is an indicator to what goes on in their head.  I love to listen intently — no matter what a person is talking about.  I have a passion for the mind and for people in general, so I love to listen.

As for “missing out” on all kinds of things around you — Don’t worry — that’s bad thinking to begin with.  You will only notice what you’ve chose as important and deemed benefitial to know anyways.  You’re seeing everything you’ve decided is worth seeing, and as for the things you haven’t noticed, you don’t want to notice them anyway — do you?

Decide what you want, and notice away.  See what you think, decide something else, and notice some more.  Keep deciding and keep noticing something new everyday — with whatever is around you.  Believe me, there’s always something to notice and a new way to looking at things.

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