I had a teacher in middle school, Mrs. A, who wanted us to learn the 21 comma rules of the English language. As a “rebellious” pre-teen I decided that requirement was ridiculous and actively chose to not learn those comma rules. I, and about half of the class, failed the test. So Mrs. A gave us another shot and retested us. I only did mildly better because I still actively didn’t study, but somehow I managed to pass that 7th (or 8th?) grade English class and even went on graduate high school too.
[FAST FORWARD TO ADULTHOOD]: I don’t know how to use a freaking comma!
And, despite the ability to travel in time, I wish deeply that Mrs. A would have helped us notice that learning how to use a comma might be helpful in the future instead of simply forcing us to learn 21 rules. I don’t know – commas might useful when we’re writing a college essay or, perhaps, a blog post. The worst part is, I don’t even know to what degree I am incorrect in my comma usage. [Face palm]
The important piece: I didn’t even notice the benefit of commas. Go with me…
And, it has taken me about 15 years to finally notice that correct punctuation might be an important thing. The powerful piece though, is that I finally noticed it and am now motivated to change my comma usage. Mrs. A could try all she wanted to get me to learn those rules and then try even harder to get me to apply them, but it’s not until I realized I wanted to know how to use a comma that I am embarking on a journey of self-teaching. (Note: this self-teaching might be another 15 year endeavor.)
Let’s step aside from the 2 person model of teacher and student and dive into our own lives.
One way to make lasting change – and the most powerful way – is for us to notice what’s going on in the first place.
Without knowing that information, change is like trying to salt and pepper my writing with commas; some things will stick, but there are going to be a lot of weird clauses and pauses.
Speaking of noticing…have you noticed that I’m using the word notice frequently? I’m using it because there’s no weight attached to it and subsequently no judgment attached to it. I notice that it’s 71 degrees outside. I noticed that I was tired the other day. I notice that after I meditate I feel at ease and after a max effort workout I feel fried.
It follows that with enough noticing we begin to see patterns. For example, almost every Tuesday when I wake up I feel sluggish and not ready to work out. It takes me a doubly long warm-up session to prep my body to move. After noting this for several weeks I saw the pattern. Then a few more weeks and I was upset that this was still happening. Finally I began to ask why.
Since it’s important to me to move well when I get to the gym AND I now notice this pattern of “every Tuesday I it takes me 20 minutes to warm up instead of 10” I can begin to figure this thing out.
All because I took the time to notice what my body was experiencing every week was I able to see that there was something to work on. Without marking these experiences in some way, my feelings would seem random and Tuesdays would potentially go on as being labeled a “weird” or “off” day instead of a consequence of something.
It turns out that my nutrition is a little lazy over the weekend and I also take between 2-3 full days off before my Tuesday training sessions. These are two patterns that I also notice because I track my training and nutrition right now. It’s highly likely that one of these causes could result in my “off” training on Tuesday. The only way for me to investigate further is by choosing which element to try out – either tighten up my nutrition on the weekend and make sure I hit my macronutrient numbers or try moving in an intentional way over those 2 days.
Before I knew that something was happening (i.e. I thought Tuesday sluggishness was random), I was pretty angry and would sulk through the extra 10 minutes of my warm up. Now that I’ve narrowed down the reasons, and that this is happening on a regular schedule, I don’t feel both sluggish and angry that I’m sluggish. I’m now closer to knowing why I’m sluggish. That knowledge is the beginning of motivating me to change my behavior. And, it’s all because I took time to notice what was going on.
Noticings are facts* made on a feeling, thought, action, or person that don’t have judgement attached to them.
When you’re getting started, I’d stick with yourself – it can get a little sticky with two people. I say they’re facts because they are things like
- I get dizzy when I stand up.
- My stomach was gurgling when I ate three handfuls of jellybeans.
- On Tuesday mornings it takes me 20 minutes to warm up instead of 10.
- When I was asked to do 3 things I only remembered the first thing.
- I forgot the Oxford comma in that sentence.
See where I’m going with this? These are things that actually happened – and that’s it. Can you see how that’s better than these generalizations:
- I get dizzy a lot.
- My stomach has been acting funny.
- I’m always forgetting things.
And, way better than these judgments:
- Jellybeans are bad.
- I can’t workout in the mornings, I’m not a morning person.
- I’m so stupid that I can’t remember those things.
Write it down!
The best way to notice: write it down, let it sit, and then reflect on what you wrote.
I hear grumbling through my computer, I do. Maybe your grumble is your first noticing? Notice that you are hesitant to write stuff down. Revisit that in a little bit. Are you still hesitant? If so, why? Table it. Come back to it.
Noticing things is a process and a process that you may or may not be ready for – and both places are totally ok. This is where you are right now and that place isn’t a reason to judge yourself. (If the case is that you’re not ready, come back in a bit and try again.) I’m not into the idea of forcing change, that’s precisely the point of letting you notice it – it’s in your control. I don’t think I need to bring in the comma story again, do I?
All the power
With a noticing you add IF -> THEN statements to your life instead of generalizations and judgments.
If I eat 3 handfuls of jellybeans, then I’ll feel sick in my stomach.
If that’s a consequence you accept, then eat the jellybeans, and if not, then don’t. Also, it’s so important to recognize that it might take you a long time to notice that:
- It’s the jellybeans that make your stomach gurgle.
- You felt so much gurgling that you tell yourself that next time you don’t want to eat the jellybeans.
- [At some point in the future] you reach for jellybeans and eat 2 handfuls knowing that the 3rd handful will push you over the edge of a happy stomach.
Every place along that continuum is the place for you. All we’re doing is noticing what’s going on and reflecting on it later. Lasting change takes time and the best way for it to happen is for you to be in control of it and make choices based on what you’ve been noticing.
*Note: I use the term fact here because these are personal truths that you are experiencing. I don’t think the word “feeling” does the practice of noticing justice because it’s quite easy and tempting to add a judgment to a feeling versus a fact.