Wednesday, March 09, 2011

I switched it on

The title of this blogpost is inspired by my 2 year old nephew who has a number of hobbies, one of which is to tell you whether a light is switched on or off. Only at the time he was calling them "ights" (pronounced eye-ts), and when he says "I switch it off", he might really mean "you switched it off", "you should switch it off" or he switched it off...
Have you ever been in one of these situations where you suddenly realize you've been making a mistake. All of the clues were there that something wasn't quite right but somehow you were blind to them. This happened to me today. It wasn't a disastrous mistake but I found it funny how long I'd been going down the wrong road when all the signs were there telling me to do a u-turn! How come I missed the signs!?
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I think, perhaps it's because we're designed to adapt to our environment, at least to some extent. So if something isn't quite right, many of us adapt and block the problem out. My rationale is based on the fact that after a relatively short period of time our brain gets used to what it sees, smells, feels, hears and tastes until we don't notice anymore. A lot of the time not noticing is handy as it keeps us sane when faced with sensory overload (the fish market, noisy work environment, furnace breaks down in winter ...).
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But the flip side to this is we can easily get into the habit of tuning out, at which point it's easy to miss important clues that might otherwise tell us we're making a bad assumption. Taken a step further, tuning out can hinder creativity. This can happen when not seeing what's right in front of us makes it difficult to generate new ideas. So what can we do to jumpstart our powers of perception? Here are a few ideas that might help:
  • Why do I like ...?
    Ask yourself why you like something. It might start out to be something simple like your favourite dish, a song, or a reclining La-Z-Boy couch and get progressively more complex (a hobby or past time, a room, a world leader, a branch of psychology, etc)

  • Manual Pilot
    Choose one thing you do everyday where your mind would normally go on autopilot and resolve to be present instead. Try focusing on your 5 senses. This is a great way to rediscover food!

  • New Shoes
    Ask yourself how someone else might see the same thing or situation. i.e. Put yourself in someone else's shoes. We often get this advice for dealing with tense situations, but I find it's a lot easier to adopt this mindset if you're practising it in less stressful situations on a daily basis.

  • Journal
    Consider writing about your experiences after completing a task. This is handy if things don't go your way, but can also be very interesting when you feel things went really well. I've often just put pen to paper to see what I'd end up saying and sometimes I unravel some insights that surprise me.

  • Unfold the Napkin
    I touched on this technique in an earlier blogpost. Try drawing what's in front of you. It doesn't have to be a time consuming labour of love. It can just be simple sketches involving stick men. Again I've got surprising results using this technique!

  • Mouths of babes
    Spend some time hanging out with kids. It's crazy just how perceptive they are (*I switch it off!*) and remember that we were like that once as well :-)

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