Become The Observer of Your Life, Then Lasting Change Will Follow
A practice of mindfulness is priceless. Without it, we can go through life only experiencing things superficially, missing the things that bring lasting enrichment. However, when you become The Observer, taking in information without judgment, you’ll see what you want more of or less of, in your life.
For example… how observant are you? If I asked you to identify the colors in a picture of a forest, no doubt you would say green, brown, and maybe some yellow. But an artist closely inspects each area for color or hue; she also sees the variances of shade (black added to the hue), tone (gray added to the hue), and tint (white added to the hue). Not only that, she detects the differences in intensity and value. Before the painting is done, the artist will have mixed hundreds of different combinations of paint, each one intentionally performing a specific function on the canvas. Why is this so important? Jon Kabat-Zinn explains “The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness.”
Likewise, I encourage you to become The Observer of your own life and mindfully acknowledge each “brush stroke” that is transforming your “canvas”, your life. You get to choose. Or as I often share with my clients a quote from Pema Chödrön, “You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.” Conditions and circumstances, like the weather, come and go. You get to decide what stays permanently.
When you’re The Observer, you’ll become aware of very subtle emotions, impulses, sensations in your body, and behaviors. This can be difficult at first, because we’re creatures of habit and do so much on autopilot. Plus, our preoccupation with response distracts us from noticing when the impulse, sensation, thought, or emotion happens. Once you engage in a response, the opportunity to notice is gone.
Becoming The Observer of your life lays a solid foundation for making personal changes. It requires a unique state of mind that moves you into a neutral witnessing mode. Be careful not to confuse observing with thinking about yourself with the ego part of your mind, which puts you in the comparison, judgment, or criticism mode.
When you start comparing yourself to others or to an idealized version of self, pause and step back until you become The Observer once again. Just observe what you are thinking, feeling, and doing as it occurs.
The ability to become The Observer of your body and your behavior — The Noticer, The Watcher, The Witness — will enable you to be fully aware and present in each moment. It will ultimately help you to identify what you’re doing, feeling, and thinking, and why. This will eventually lead you to the moment where you can make a choice to change your habitual responses. As Thích Nhất Hạnh says,
“The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion.”
One of the best ways to awaken your inner observer is to observe the breath and body. Close your eyes, sit still, and notice all the sensations you feel with each inhale and exhale. Pay attention to the things that pull your attention away from observing the sensation of breathing.
Don’t be surprised that you meet with resistance to becoming The Observer of your life. The impulse to engage and respond is a well-worn path in your brain and is strong, so be prepared for some uncomfortable feelings. Stay with them and this will lead to the next stage — observing with curiosity the uncomfortable feelings, without acting on them…don’t get up, don’t reach for your phone, and don’t open your eyes. Breathe deeply and stay in the moment. This teaches you to control your impulses and pause before acting.
With daily practice, you’ll soon rewire your brain and develop new neural pathways that form your own personalized monitoring system. It will alert you to triggers, emotional states, body sensations, and patterns of thoughts that precede your impulsive reactions.
As you develop The Observer and your ability to pause between stimulus and response, you’ll be able to easily assess each situation and choose to respond mindfully. Over time, you’ll be able to improve your ability to consistently curb your impulses and make more reasoned decisions. Within these moments, notice the new response in your body and emotions. This is when you finally break your old pattern and begin to mindfully create new patterns and behaviors!
When you master observation, you can create real change in your life and make it less likely that people will be able to push your buttons or make you lose control. Please feel free to download my free eBook, 7-Point Wellness Assessment, to begin honing your mindfulness skills of observation and assessment, without judgment.