The psychologist Ellen Langer talks about the importance of living with full attention and not mindlessly. Paying attention is about being open to noticing new things, even in situations which seem so familiar to us that we feel we already know them completely. We tend to operate on automatic pilot using assumptions that have served us well so far whether its about people or our environment or our way of doing things.
So, for example, I enjoy sea swimming and swim at a local beach usually at high tide. Its a big wide beach beside which is another smaller one I had always assumed to be too rocky for swimming. I thought I knew this smaller beach well and didn’t relish the idea of cutting myself on jagged rocks. What works for us we tend to repeat over and over so I wasn’t enthusiastic when a swimming friend suggested we try it but my assumptions proved to be all wrong.
The rocks in fact form a natural outdoor swimming pool at low tide which is beautiful to swim in. So the combination of my friend’s enthusiasm and happening to go there at low instead of high tide helped me discover an absolutely wonderful natural pool which you can see in the photo.
Noticing and being alert to new possibilities might help us discover, for example, lots of good places to swim. In fact recently on my ‘new’ beach I met someone who is in the process of writing a book about all the best beaches, rivers and lakes to swim in Ireland, documenting the myriad of possibilities open to us to enjoy.
Can you think of a time when you had your assumptions shaken, allowing you to see something or someone you thought you knew well in a new light? Try writing about what that was like. What did you learn to see differently? What difference has that made?