Welcome to Episode #88. This is your host, Kristi Angevine, and today is about a simple but profound topic: The power of noticing. To pay attention, and notice on purpose, is not a practice that most of us naturally do. So, let's dive in.
Welcome to Habits On Purpose, a podcast for high-achieving women who want to create lifelong habits that give more than they take. You'll get practical strategies for mindset shifts that will help you finally understand the root causes of why you think, feel, and act as you do. And now, here's your host, Physician, and Master Certified Life Coach, Kristi Angevine.
Hello, hello, everyone. As I record this, my house is almost silent. I may have jinxed myself by just saying that out loud, but for the moment, it is silent. My kids and husband are resting, the cats aren't yet fully awake and being mischievous, and I can't hear any noises from our new puppy. That type of silence, in the dark, by myself, is just glorious.
So, this morning, my office, where I'm sitting, is a place where there's a lot going on in a very small space. The space I have is about maybe 10ft. x 12ft., and it serves a few purposes. It is office, podcast recording studio, sewing room, yoga space, reading nook, and this morning, it is the perfect place to pack my suitcase without tromping around and making too much noise waking my people.
Last night, I decided to prioritize sleep and reading before going to bed instead of packing. It was a great move. So, as I record, this is less of a serene office and studio and more of a laundry space and trip packing space.
Anyways, one of the things that I've had to do this morning, is be really intentional about where my mind goes. I have this finite period of time to get a few key things done before I leave for the airport.
Without being intentional, it would be so easy for me to let my mind wander and tend to tidying piles of clothes, shuffling piles of paper that are in need of filing, and essentially do a bunch of little, tiny things that I want to do but don't absolutely need to do.
Which brings me to the topic of today, the power of noticing and the power of paying attention. Let's frame this topic with one of the most common questions I get from my clients. Now, what do I do? How do I work through this? What are the next steps?
Say they have an a-ha moment, and they realize that their habitual overwhelm at work is rooted in people pleasing and saying yes at their own expense. Or they realize that they have a deeply ingrained belief that anger is unprofessional, so they've all shoved their anger down and haven't yet learned how to listen to what its message is.
They realize what's behind a habit and they want to fix it. This used to be my most common question, too. Once we realize that we have an issue, that there's a problem or riddle to solve, and we see it in a new light, it's natural to want to fix it, to address it, and to move past it.
To ask, what do I do? What are my next steps? What am I going to write on my list tomorrow, to do, to make this change? Otherwise, what's the point of noticing something, or tending to a habit that we want to change?
To this question, the most common answer I give, 95% of the time, is actually not a list of steps. But my answer is to say that the change starts with noticing and awareness. So, how can something as simple and as vague sounding as “awareness” be your best ally for change? Better than a list of things to start doing?
Don't we actually need an action plan and steps? Don't we need a spreadsheet and protocols? Don't get me wrong, there's a time and a place for concrete steps and actions, and understanding what comprises the path forward.
Mentally constructing plans, without taking action, is honestly the best way to stay where you are. However, taking a bunch of steps and knowing the blueprint for how you go ahead is actually like building a house of cards on quicksand, if you don't also start with noticing and awareness.
One of my favorite authors, Cheryl Strayed says, “She understands that attention is the first and final act of love.” To pay attention, is therefore an act of love. So, when you pay attention and you notice what your mind does, what your emotions are, what you do when you're on autopilot, you are engaging in a loving act.
Let me sell you on this awareness, and paying attention. The cool thing is, we all know how to be aware. We all know how to pay attention. We all know how to notice. But we may have forgotten to do it more consistently and on purpose. So, I'm going to start telling you about, and selling you on awareness, by sharing a little story about my new puppy.
We have this new puppy. He is, right now, about, I guess, six and a half, maybe seven months old. He's very small, he's maybe eight pounds; probably won't get much bigger. When we take him for a walk… He's currently still in his little harness. We're about to be on the cusp of doing obedience training, and doing different things other than a harness. But for now, he's in this little harness.
And so, when we go for a walk, he can pull and pull and pull on that leash as much as he would like. He could go smell everything, and he can stop. What he does, our experience of walking him, is that this tiny, little dog wants to just pull so hard to every rock, every flower, every plant, every pine cone, and every pine needle. He goes this way, he goes that way, he starts, he stops.
Trying to walk at an even pace with him, or go for a run with him, is just this experience of starting and stopping and moving and left and right and pivoting. He checks out all sorts of things; some things longer than others, and some things for not that long. Then he gets distracted by a sound or a squirrel or a flower or a leaf that's blowing, or a car or a noise, and he'll charge ahead to that thing. Then he'll pivot. He's all over the place. It's adorable.
To him, it’s probably very purposeful, right? He smells something, he hears something, he goes to investigate it. It’s probably very intentional in this puppy's experience.
Now, this is just speculation here for a point, but from the outside view, what we experience, is there's lots of errant, excited, random moves that are repeated over and over and over, but without real clear pattern.
So, as I was walking him one day, I noticed that there's this parallel between his puppy curiosity and what looks like some spasticness, going everywhere, and how my mind had been operating lately. I had had a bunch of stuff going on in life. A bunch of stuff going on with changing from summertime lack of structure, to school, to things going on with work, to the podcasts, etc.
A lot of things were coming together, and I had felt anxious and overwhelmed, and all sorts of less than comfortable emotions. When my mind is overwhelmed, and tense and strained and anxious, it was doing the same thing this sweet, little puppy did. It was moving from thing to thing to thing very quickly, worrying about this, worrying about that, worrying about this other thing.
My mind was focusing intently on one thing for a few moments, and then ruminating at something in the past for a bit, and then refocusing on the present. But maybe something totally different. Like, “Oh, I think the dishwasher needs to be unloaded,” and maybe halfway unloading the dishwasher and then remembering, “Oh, I actually need to get back to this other thing.”
So, just like this puppy moving all over, my mind had been moving all over the place. And just like this puppy, I had been all over the place. But while I was doing it, I was not very aware that I was doing it. I wasn't really aware that one moment I was anxious. One moment, I was tense. One moment, I was overwhelmed. One moment I was focused.
Seeing him on his walks helped me notice the experience that I was having, mentally and emotionally, from a different vantage point. When I reflected, and I could notice, “Oh, here I am with my mind going from thing to thing to thing. Here I am noticing some second guessing, some catastrophizing.” I had a different vantage point that was more of a kind, loving, watch your vantage point.
From this place, I was able to actually notice what was going on. So, what exactly do I mean by awareness and noticing? Well, let me explain it. To notice, is simply to be aware of what's going on for you.
For your thoughts, it's to notice, “Oh, my thoughts, right now, they are a bunch of speculations focused on what others might think of me. Oh, my thoughts are really rapid right now. There's a lot of imagining the worst-case scenario. Oh, I noticed I'm asking you a bunch of unproductive questions. Why does it have to be like this? Why are people so entitled? What's the world coming to? Why don't they do that?”
To pay attention and to notice your emotions, is to detect an emotion, to feel a feeling. As that feeling is there, to have awareness of the fact that you are feeling an emotion. It’s to feel anxious and go, “I notice I'm feeling anxious right now. This anxiety, it feels like a constriction and tension to my shoulders and arms. Oh, I notice I'm feeling overwhelmed. I notice this is discouragement.”
To notice and pay attention to your actions, is to be in the middle of an action. To be in the middle of second guessing or beating yourself up or ruminating or walking briskly around the house, or speaking in this surly tone. To notice, “Oh, I am second guessing. I am spiraling and beating myself up. I am ruminating. All I'm doing is imagining the worst-case scenario. I am being really curt and walking around the house stomping, as I'm packing things and closing doors loudly.”
So, when you notice what your mind is doing, where your thoughts are clustering, what your somatic and emotional state is… When you notice what you're doing, it's like stepping off a merry-go-round, and seeing the merry-go-round go around itself, and not the view from the horse.
The simple act of noticing opens the door to awareness of what is present for you, as opposed to just being in the moment without that awareness. When you do this, you give yourself a new perspective, and you give yourself the opportunity for choice.
You can't ruminate and notice your rumination at exactly the same time. You can't feel flooded by self-consciousness and think, “I notice I'm feeling self-conscious,” simultaneously. As I heard the lovely Robyn Tiger say at a conference recently, “You can't think and feel at the same time.”
As soon as you can notice and pay attention to your inner experience, or your behaviors, you get space from them, even if it's just for five seconds. In this space, you have the chance to be intentional.
Here's an example of what this might look like. I'm packing for a trip. I'm looking in my drawers, I'm looking in my closet, I'm thinking about what I might need for how many days I'll be gone. As I'm doing this in my bedroom, the bed gets fuller and fuller and fuller with possible outfits.
I've got the suitcase open; I've got clothes around them, pile of socks, I've got a belt, I've got purse. At first, it's an orderly experience. But then, I start getting a little tense. I'm thinking, “This is taking too long. I don't know what I'm going to want to wear. I don't know how dressy people will be. How hot is it going to be? Am I going to wish I had a different shirt to go with those pants?”
I start moving piles around. I stand in the closet and I stare, and I think, “I need one of those closet consults, from one of the professional style people.” I start looking through hangers and then going through my drawers, and then I start noticing what I'm doing. To notice, I literally have to stop what I'm doing. For me, it looks like taking a breath or two, and then reflecting on what I'm perceiving.
It sounds like, “Oh, I am packing my bags from a place of anxiety and tension, right now. I am tense. I’m like a song that's played in staccato. My mind is picturing myself feeling like an outsider, unsure of my outfit. I'm having analysis paralysis with these clothes choices. I'm sitting here, I'm worrying, and I'm flitting about a bit. I'm not actually making decisions for packing my suitcase.”
When I step back and I notice my actions, I notice my mind, and I pay attention to my emotions, all of a sudden, I have an opportunity to be more deliberate.
It sounds like this, “Okay, this is starting to spiral to a longer than necessary packing experience. I am forgetting that my main goal is to be comfortable and to get packed quickly. Okay, deep breath. What can I do right now to make this easier? Okay. What I really want is reassurance it’s going to be okay. Well, I can do that for myself right now. Kristi, it’s going to be okay. It always is. I'm going to feel so great finishing this task without so much mind chatter. So, let's pick the outfit, pack it up, zip it up, and move on.”
That type of self-talk isn't accessible when I'm in the middle of imagining feeling like I don't belong, or imagining that my outfit’s going to feel uncomfortable. That type of intentional self-talk is only available when I can step back, have awareness, and notice what I'm doing.
So, by simply noticing what I was doing and thinking and feeling, my experience was radically altered. What's more, because I have this altered experience with this extra awareness, I now can anticipate what my mind might do in similar situations in the future.
So say, for this example, when it comes to packing for a trip to a place that I don't know much about, at a conference that has a scene that's unfamiliar to me, my mind will tend to worry, speculate, and spend a bunch of time on minutiae, hem and haw over what shirt goes with what shoes, without actually making any decisions. I'll make a big mess in my bedroom and spend a lot of time worrying.
My mind is ripe for anxiety and imagining feeling like I don't belong, kind of like being in middle school. Knowing that this is my tendency, and anticipating that it may come up in the future, arms me with important information. I can now expect this might occur, and I can be even more sensitive to notice when this might start happening.
I can notice the whisper of anxiety about outfits, instead of retrospectively seeing that I had packing drama while I'm sitting on the plane looking back the last couple of days. When I can set myself up to notice things that are more subtle, I can therefore catch myself in the proverbial “on ramp” for an experience, as opposed to catching myself when I'm on the interstate itself, in the thick of feeling drama.
That beautiful Cheryl Strayed quote, “Attention is the first and final act of love,” what that means to me is that to pay attention is not just a loving gesture towards others, but a loving act towards yourself. When you can pay attention and notice what you're doing, you give yourself a precious gift to be able to deliberately interrupt your life on default.
When you can pay attention to taking something personally, to beating yourself up, to catastrophizing without considering solutions... When you can pay attention to anything you do when you're on autopilot, you are engaging in a loving act of giving yourself perspective. And with perspective comes clarity. And with clarity to what's really going on, comes agency.
So, instead of your mind being like a puppy all over the place, pulling and tugging and distractible, you can truly be intentional. Now, to notice and be aware, it's not something that we do 24/7. We would never leave our house if we were perpetually noticing and paying attention to what's going on.
But to intermittently pay attention to what your experience is, is so useful. So, what this looks like, is every so often checking in. Taking the pulse of your system, so to speak, of how you feel, of what you feel, of what you're doing, and what your mind is offering you.
When so much of our life is unconsciously unfolding without awareness, this requires bringing awareness in, on purpose. You can't just think, “You know, I'm going to be more aware,” and expect it to happen. You actually have to do this on purpose, plan for this, and execute this.
I usually recommend doing this with a once-a-day journal session, or a timer; that's literally your cue to check in. What's going on for me, right now? It doesn't have to take long; you don't have to write a dissertation in your journal. It could literally just be writing two or three lines. You could type it into your phone, or you could just have a timer set to go off three times a day, once a day, once a week, to say let's check in.
So, when clients asked me, now what do I do? Awareness is the most important, effective, first step. Because once you can be more aware of what you're thinking and doing and feeling on autopilot, you can interrupt your default. You can choose to do something else, and you can anticipate and prepare for the autopilot, automatic, experience in advance.
This helps you become more attuned to more quickly noticing when you're flooded with a common emotion or engaging in a common behavior. So, I want to keep this practical.
My questions for you are these: What are you going to pay attention to in yourself this week? Are you going to pay attention to what you're thinking, the quality of your thoughts, how you're feeling, what you're doing? And, how are you going to make this easy? Are you going to do a check-in while you brush your teeth? Before you sign into your computer? Or are you going to ask yourself what's going on for me right now?
Are you going to set a little reminder on your phone? What can you do to make it very easy to start paying attention to yourself? Find a simple way to bring consciousness to what is usually your automatic, unconscious experience, and you'll be turning on the lights in a room that is usually dark.
Thank you so much for listening. If you're a longtime listener, thank you. I'm so grateful you're here. If you are new, thanks for tuning in, and I'll see you next week. If anybody listening is going to be at any of the conferences that I'm going to, I will see you even sooner than that.
Would you like to start exploring your own thought patterns and your own beliefs about yourself in the world? Are you at a point in your life where you're really ready to be deliberate with your approach to life and deliberate with your habits? If so, I would love to connect.
I would love to help you with the exploration and the application of the concepts that I teach. I keep a small private practice panel, and if you're interested in private one-on-one coaching, you can learn more about if we're a match by going to habits on HabitsOnPurpose.com/private.
Thanks for listening to Habits On Purpose. If you want more information on Kristi Angevine or the resources from the podcast, visit HabitsOnPurpose.com. Tune in next week for another episode