One of the questions I have been asking myself is what the difference is between noticing and observing. In numerous resources, the two words show up as synonyms; however, as I dipped a little bit into what difference there might be, my intuition that observation takes me deeper into what I notice felt affirmed.
I notice hundreds of things during a day, many over a few minutes.
Sitting here typing, I notice the sound of the keys.
I notice while typing (thanks to a fabulous typing teacher in high school who made us type endlessly without looking at the keys) that people are out walking, and that the street in front of this house has mostly cars and very few trucks.
I notice my joyful feeling about that, given that the street I lived on before this was a constant stream of traffic and included 18-wheelers.
I also notice it is never crowded at this time of day since schools up the street are closed for vacation.
I notice that the lawn is burned and dry, in much need of rain.
I notice it is a cloudy day and a sensation of coolness coming through the open window.
I notice the sounds of my cat racing around the house.
I notice how many things I notice while focusing on the well of observation, musing about what moves me from noticing to observing…spending more time and intention with what I notice.
I notice that each morning, no matter what the temperature or humidity, there are those who are committed to walking.
As I observe them over a sequence of days, I find myself admiring their commitment and ask myself whether I want to join the morning walkers. I prefer afternoons or early evening but the heat has been such that the later hours are much too hot.
I begin to think about whether I am willing to change my morning rituals for the sake of my physical wellbeing.
In observation, what we notice takes up residence for further exploration, perhaps leading to insight, discernment, learning and changing a course of action.
When observing, we add time, thought and extended presence to the seeing.
Noticing generally moves from thing to thing, moment-to-moment, fleeting and most of the time, with no further need to pursue. It is inconsequential.
For example, I just noticed a delivery truck turn down the street perpendicular to the street on which I live. I have no need or desire to observe anything about that.
On the other hand, the crows have captured my observation.
Ah, perhaps that is something to note…observation is when noticing captures our attention, captures us and holds us. It can be unexpected, even as other times of observation are chosen with clear intention.
The crows captured my observation over a year ago when I had the joy of observing a nest, watching the whole process from chicks hatching through the weeks of care before they flew. I was held to my observation in joy, delight and anticipation of seeing the chicks as they began to explore beyond the nest.
Observation of the crows led me to researching their habits and lasted over a period of several weeks. I learned that the chicks move to what’s called fledglings and then to juvenile crows. The juvenile crows stay with their parents anywhere from weeks to years and rarely return to the same nest.
THE BEAUTY OF ONE WELL AND HOW IT CONNECTS TO OTHERS
Ah…observation can move us to connect with other wells, such as curiosity or delight or nature or, even, belonging. Crows, as I continue to observe out my current windows, seem to know what it means to belong together.
This well, for me, is more about the spontaneity of moving into observation than, for example, when I scheduled observations of my faculty for the sake of professional protocols.
The seeing à observation that is more of a surprise and adds joy or nourishment to my life is what I am looking to expand. It might even be called an art.
This well is about observation capturing me, pulling me in. It gifts me that which I would otherwise completely miss.
And it often calls for Kairos time – time of presence.
TWO LAST THINGS
Two last pieces, with perhaps one calling for more attention in the future.
I am writing a memoir about my education and recall how often the word “daydreaming” was used, meaning I daydreamed too much.
Throughout my professional years in education, I heard that word used to describe many other children, and in a way that was more depleting than uplifting. It felt like a stigma that meant one is not attending properly to learning, distracted.
I am a daydreamer, yes, in the best sense of that word and space it occupies.
However, I believe that teachers missed the fact that I was actually observing when they thought I was daydreaming. They are two completely different things. Stay tuned!
Last, as I looked more into the difference between noticing and observing I came across a wonderful resource, which is Farnam Street and The Knowledge Project with Shane Parrish, who I have not known of until now.
Thanks to him for this delightful, humorous example of the difference between noticing and seeing.
In A Scandal in Bohemia, Sherlock Holmes teaches Watson the difference between seeing and observing:
“When I hear you give your reasons,” I (Watson) remarked, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning, I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”
“Quite so,” he (Sherlock Holmes) answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”
“Well, some hundreds of times.”
“Then how many are there?”
“How many? I don’t know.”
“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”
I had to smile at this example for I live on the third floor now. One day I decided to count the stairs as I came up and another day I decided to count my steps, which meant including steps across each landing.
I often now observe how I feel going up and down on any given day. Most of the time I observe how grateful I am for the stairs, as they give me a tiny bit of a good workout…plus add 14 more to the loft and it’s almost cardio time!
Enjoy sharpening your art of observation and please feel free to share a story!
Or have fun with family and friends discovering the difference and if that discovery makes a difference in the conversation.