How to Notice What’s Going on Within You and Around You

Profile of young African American woman looking up, wondering.

I was struck many years ago by information Bessel van der Kolk provides in his excellent book The Body Keeps the Score that I’d like to share with you. It has to do with the power and importance of noticing what’s going on within you and around you. Van der Kolk’s book is mostly about enhancing our understanding of trauma however many of the principles are applicable to understanding ourselves as human beings whether we have trauma histories or not.

Noticing, which means paying attention and being very focused in order to become more aware, requires making an effort to pause and take in what’s going on within you and also to observe what might be going on within others. In The Body Keeps the Score, van der Kolk says, “At the core of recovery is self-awareness. [One of the] most important phrases in trauma therapy is ‘notice that.’” I suggest that at the core of becoming more self-aware is through the practice of noticing.

Noticing what happens within us and around us can greatly enhance our awareness and can empower us to use that awareness to either strengthen things that are positive or consider ways to decrease and even eliminate those things that are harmful to us or others.

What are some of the things we can focus on noticing? Here’s a list for you to consider:

  • Thoughts: tuning into the specific statements you are making in your own head
  • Feelings, the emotions that one experiences towards themselves and/or others
  • Sensations: the places in your body that are responding to your thoughts and feelings
  • Images: what pops into your head that somehow captures some key aspect of what you are thinking about, feeling and then experiencing in a sensory.
  • Beliefs: those core deep-seated personal truths about life, oneself and others
  • Assumptions: those things you believe are true but may or may not be factual
  • Memories: those snapshots of past experiences that somehow relate to what you are thinking, feeling and sensing.
  • Expectations: comparing what you thought should have happened to what actually happened. This also could be connected with wishes and hopes.
  • Values and possible values collisions: what matters to you based on your own value system.

There are other areas on which we can focus when it comes to noticing things going on within us or others but this list can get you started on practicing enhancing your ability to notice.

Approaches to promoting self-awareness such as mindfulness can greatly assist us in noticing what is going on. Mindfulness is not just trendy, but actually takes a great amount of practice to learn the skill of attending and being more aware of our inner world. The benefits of becoming better at noticing can greatly enhance our life experiences, and the health and depth of our relationships with others and with ourselves. I hope you pause right now and notice the many thoughts, feelings, sensations, etc. you experienced as you read this blog.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. Is this idea of pausing to notice at a fairly deep level what is going on inside you and/or what might be going on for someone else a new concept for you? What do you notice about noticing when you pause to notice things :-)?
  2. How do you think raising the degrees to which you notice what’s going on in your inner world and in the world around you might enhance your emotional and relational health and possibly that of those with whom you interact?
  3. Consider some of the ways you might explore the idea of noticing by googling some of the keywords. There are some amazing lists online of feelings and sensations and thoughts that you might find helpful.

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute