The Power of Observation

You’ll get the same advice everywhere (and you’ve gotten it from me too) about finding inspiration in reading or people watching…or by just planting yourself in a new place you’ve never been before.

This time, however, I want to take you one step further.

When police officers are trained, they learn a lot about developing their observational skills, remembering little details about events or people so that they can apply them later.  We take a lot for granted when we are out and about…we look past everything because we’re distracted by our own thoughts or inner conversations.  It isn’t until something significant catches our eye or our ear that we are jolted back into the present.

Buddhists practise something called “mindfulness” which can be an excellent tool for working on your powers of observation.  You don’t even have to be Buddhist to use it :-).  Simply put, it is about focusing in on the present…focusing your ears and eyes, all of your senses so that everything that happens, as minute as it may appear, is consciously observed.  But it is not easy to do!  Set an alarm for five or ten minutes and for that amount of time, try to stay completely in the present, giving your complete attention to whatever you are hearing or seeing, but ignoring any distracting thoughts at the same time.  It takes some work to do!

Once you have tried the 5 minute experiment, take it a step further.

Go for a walk with the intention of remembering as much as you can about everything you see and hear on your 15 or 20-minute walk.  The test will be when you get home…because you are then going to make a list of everything you can remember from your excursion, every observation you made.

Why am I giving you this exercise?  Simply put, you will realize how much you miss, many little bits and pieces of daily life that you may actually be able to use in your lyrics.  Exercise isn’t just for working your muscles, it is also for working your mind and your mind is a pretty powerful writing tool.  Once you have tried the walk, take it a step even further and put yourself in a place with a lot of people activity, like a mall or a park.  This time, do the same thing as your walk…try not to allow yourself to be distracted by your own thoughts and simply observe as much as you can.  Later, when you get home, pull out a piece of paper (or your laptop) and make a list of everything you remember.

This practise will help you to develop your powers of observation, just like the cop who’s in training.  A songwriter is always “in training” because we are always on the look-out for a new idea or something to stimulate our creative consciousness.

If this exercise works for you…let me know right here!

And keep your eyes and ears open…


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