The power of observation

Whether using observation to learn about your physical surroundings or be in partnership with people, this life skill holds valuable insight to growth and connection. How observant are you?

September 26, 2023
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Hey everyone, welcome to the Self Awareness Journey podcast. I'm Melissa Albers. And I'm JJ Parker. This podcast is for seekers of happiness, joy, and a centered approach to success in life. Seekers of their true, authentic selves. Get ready for some real talk on everything from anxiety, emotions, and habits.

To love, compassion, and forgiveness. We know you'll be challenged and enlightened by this conversation, and we're so glad you're here. Let's dive in!

You like going on nature walks?

Yeah, I do. I love it.

What, what about a nature walk do you like?

Oh, I like the air and the feeling of being outside and just all the things coming to life in the woods or wherever. Like the leaves.

so like a lot to look at,

Yeah. Lot to look

Yeah. Uh, when I go walking with people,

Mm hmm.

especially in the woods, like if we're out at the boundary waters or, you know, hiking with friends, um, some people like are there to hike.

Mm hmm. Get her done.

is fine. Like, they just walk, you know, like, one foot in front of the other. Get it done, right?

We're getting to the other side. Um, and some get absolutely lost in, like, observation. In just looking at all of the tiny things. You ever walk with someone who's, like, constantly stopping and,

I'm that

at this rock! Look at this leaf! Look at the bark on this tree!

yeah. It can be very annoying

I am that person. I'm that person

You are? Oh my gosh, that's

Oh yeah, I can't make it two steps without stopping and looking at something. It drives some people

you know I'm always an agate hunter. I'm a huge agate hunter, so every single section there are rocks, I'm stopping the flow of everything just to

for rocks.


Yeah. Yeah.

I love

There is, uh, I don't want to stereotype people too much, but I will say that if you go on a nature walk with an artist Oh, like do you go on a walk with your mom? Does she constantly like look at all the little things?

Yes. Totally.

so Some people are really really really into This idea that the fun of that stuff is look, finding the little details, observing all of the little things.

How does the light bounce off this one rock and hit the bark on the tree?

Yeah, or how to, I always love how sunbeams come down between tree, tree leaves. I always think that's

Yep. No. Uh, luckily I have, uh, uh, partner in, in my, my nature walks with Abby. Cause she likes doing the same thing.

Yeah, it's awesome. Oh, wow. Yeah.

Last weekend, so last weekend, not to put us on a tangent too much, but last weekend, uh, on Friday, it was Friday night is, you know, after school, maybe six o'clock and I was like, Abby, what would you want to do?

What should we do this weekend or like tonight? And she goes, Oh, we should, uh, we should go on a hike. I was like, Oh, good call. And, uh, she goes, Oh, you know what? Could we, could we go on a hike and watch the sunset? It's like, of course, that's an awesome idea. Let's do that. So we hopped in the car. We drove up to Taylor's Falls where the cliffs are. Um, and by the time we got there, it was like 7 30. Sunset was at, oh, we got there about seven sunset was at 7 30. So we like hustled this hiking trail up to the top of the cliff and we watched the sunset, which was nice, but. When the sun goes down, you're still like in twilight, right? So it's still like actually pretty pretty light out and I was like, oh, let's go to the next little lookout point So we wandered the trail to the next lookout point except it wasn't on top of the cliff It was actually down by the river


So we sat on a rock next to the river during twilight for like almost an hour and We watched, like, a couple boats go by, we watched the birds, we watched, you know, we could hear the frogs.

So we just sat there and observed and


the longer we sat there, the more stuff we saw.

Oh sure. That's awesome. I love it. You know what that reminds me of?

this idea that you become still and you're able to start observing more and more, I think is really

Yeah. Absolutely. Well Whatever you're practicing, you're growing in. So you're, you're practicing the power of observation and it's growing. So yeah, I, I agree with you. I was just gonna say, do you remember that long time ago there was a commercial on TV in the 70s or 80s and it was a little girl and her dad sitting on a hill watching the sun go down and the sunset disappeared underneath the hill and his, and the little girl leans against her dad and she says, Do it again, daddy.

Did you ever see that? Oh, I

I don't remember that one.

the sweetest, that was the sweetest commercial. I don't even remember the product that they were selling, but I just remember the feeling of that and it kind of reminded me as you described that. Yeah, I, I, I love, yeah, I love this idea of, of observation. I think it's really critical and it isn't just in stuff.

You know, we observe all sorts of things.

yeah, yeah, um, let me tell you what happened after that just to round out my little story because it'll drive me crazy if I

okay, you go, you got the

there and observed and right, like everything was, everything was emerging and then the stars are out and you know, all of this stuff is, is, uh, coming to life as, as the sun went down.

And we're like, all right, we should probably head out. It's like 10 o'clock at

Oh, no.

up from our little rock perch. I look back and I was like,


Holy crap. Is it dark? We were like, yeah, we were like, maybe we weren't far into the woods, but we were like, probably like a 15 minute hike in,

Oh, my gosh.

and I was like. Oh, we didn't bring flashlights. We didn't bring any, you know, like we had our phone. So luckily we had our phone. So we were using like the little flashlight on the phone.


But I was like, oh, this is a bad parenting Like,

Oh my

like you want your kids to have good experiences when, when

And common

little adventurous. I'm like, oh wait, I just,


this could turn into a very bad experience.

gosh. Oh, well, you made some fun memories anyway.

Totally. And actually like one week later, she's like, that was the best hike we've ever gone on

Oh, bless her heart.

it was, it's a little bit of the adventure,

Yeah, yeah,

And at night, at night you become very keenly aware of observing everything.

you do,

every little twig. That cracks underneath your foot, every little rustle in the

because your personal safety is in question,


Yeah. Heh

So I, I, I will tell you that. Um, you know, I, I love this topic because when we were topic, talking about the topic of observation, I think it's such a powerful topic in so many ways, like you're talking about sort of the physical observation.

And I will tell you that for me, I think of observation as one of my greatest skills. Um, not just in nature, not just in looking for things that are beautiful and that make me feel good, but also in reading people, um, in my own safety.

is kinda your job.

is my job. Yeah. And I you exactly. And, um, yeah, but a lot of people have this job and are not very good at observing,


those people probably don't stay in the business very long.

Or, or, or they have a part-time job so that they can eat


Um, but I think the, I think that the power of observation is so incredibly ingrained in me, and I was kind of thinking about this in preparation for our discussion. Cause you know, that's how I do my research. I just go, Oh, what are we talking about?

Let me think about this. Let me feel into this for five minutes. Okay, I'm ready. And you usually are, you know, much more well organized and planned. Yeah, you got your notes. Um, but for me,

did you,

here's what I realized. I realized that since I had such a crazy upbringing, I was never in the same consistent environment for very long.

And so as a result, it became of paramount importance that I could observe everything going on around me to keep me safe, to keep me safe. Um, and it, it started with people, right? I started by noticing people and I had a breeding ground for learning observation because I went to my grandparents church, you know, they were both ministers and, and for a number of years they, they co, they co, um, led a church and then most of their, uh, their careers they had separate churches.

So they were going different places every Sunday and so I would trade off where I went. But anyway, I could sit in the church pews and I could observe people's behavior, right? And, and it was like something that I did, um, out of boredom. Sometimes, sometimes I did it out of necessity. Sometimes I did it to gauge when I should do something or when I should not do something.

And um, and, and I did not realize how much of an observer I was until people started to comment on it. So I remember I dated this guy years ago and we were at his parents house and she, she, I had just used a Kleenex from the. From the Kleenex box that was in the kitchen and it was one of those puffs You know that they have lotion in it and I was like, oh what what in the world like this is a weird Kleenex Anyway, two minutes later His mother took her glasses off to clean them and grabbed one of the Kleenexes and as she was wiping them And then she looked I said, oh, yeah, those aren't those aren't very good Those aren't very good Kleenexes for cleaning your glasses.

And she said, Melissa, you are always so observant. Because the act of her taking off her glasses and cleaning her glasses was just part of all these things happening at that moment. We, you know, all these conversations were going on. A bunch of people were in the kitchen and, but I'm, I'm just like that.

Like I feel like I'm picking up everything like a 360 degree approach. I'm constantly observing how people are. Their facial expressions, their eyes, their body language, um, you know, how they act when they're uncomfortable, how their bodies change when they're sad, or when they're excited and enthusiastic.

Um, so I think the power of observation is very, very strong, and it hits us in a number of ways, whether we are aware of it or not. Mm

Yeah. The, um, the story about you being bored and sitting in the pews and

Yes. Yes. Yeah. Mm.

everybody, that, to me, that is one of the key missing elements of today's society,


sitting and observing.

Mm hmm.

Um, the thing that drives me up a wall is when you're in line at the store, imagine you're at the grocery store and everyone's got their carts lined up and you're maybe like three deep because it's a little busy. Almost everybody is looking at their phone. So what they're, what they're unfortunately missing


this downtime, this bored time. When they could be observing all sorts of like fun things that are happening around them. Instead they're being like forced fed like observe this now, observe this now, observe this

Right. Look at this crap on your

Instead of being able to like look around their environment and start taking that in for themselves. Mm

don't you remember we'd not too long ago, we told that story about the bus driver, the school bus driver that was having some medical emergency and one 11 year old boy ran up and saved him, pulled the bus over, um, and, and they were, remember that they were interviewing him and he was the only kid that

only kid on the bus that didn't have a phone.

Yeah. Cause he was observing everything. He was watching everything. My gosh, I never thought about this. I don't know how come I didn't, but you're saying this and it's like, the very first thing that I thought as you were describing this, lack of situational awareness and lack of self awareness is because we have stopped observing and we, it's, that's why.

That's why. Um, and we've replaced observation with phones and that sort of thing. But you know what? Think about it like this. Like if that's true, um, you know, people are talking about since the pandemic, people are rude now. Um, people don't treat each other with the same level of respect that they did.

People aren't as kind. I mean, I'm hearing a lot of that. I don't know if you are, but how much of it ties back. You have it?

not observing that.

That's because you're on your phone too much. Stop it on your phone. But but I guess what I'm curious is that here's my hypothesis with a question mark. Because we have lost our interest and energy to observe people, is this what is causing the disconnection in the human condition?

Mm. Mm

Is this what is causing that? Because you can't be empathetic to something you don't see,



Hmm. That's a really good quote.

You can't be empathetic to something you don't see. Um, I was walking on a trail a couple of weeks ago with my dogs. And there was a young man that was sitting on a bench that was built next to the trail. And he was bent over with his head between his knees. And he had his forearms covering his head. Not just his hands, but his forearms covering his head.

And I could feel. Um, the pain coming off of this kid.

Mm hmm. Mm. Mm hmm.

And I walked by and I wanted to stop because I was just in like, I, because at first I observed it and then I went into, oh man, this guy is in crisis, right? And, um, when I walked by, he showed no signs of even having an awareness that I just walked by.

And by the way, I had the two golden retrievers and they were, you know, everywhere. Just jumping, bouncing, rolling. Okay,

You're, you're making a ruckus

good Lord. Um, and so he, he did not acknowledge me and I, I felt like I should have said, do you need me to sit with you? Um, I felt this really strong urge to be protective of him. I didn't do anything because I felt. I just felt, I wasn't sure, I wasn't sure. And I could use the excuse of the dogs, because that was real too. If somebody is in crisis and then two huge golden retrievers come and, and cumber your spirit with their fur, that might, that might not be the best. But I really just wonder about

we should talk about that situation someday in more in depth because this idea that, um, you feel like an energy to go comfort somebody or go engage with someone in a certain way, um, that happens a lot. And then we rationalize all these reasons why to not do that. And every time I do that, I always regret

yes, I totally agree, I totally agree. And all of this at the front end of all of that whole experience was observation.


At the front end of all of

Yep. So, we're talking, we talked about just observing our external world.


You started talking about observing

mm hmm,

other people, which are also in our external world. But now you've talked about kind of observing other people's energy.

mm hmm, yep.

feel a little bit more into that.

I always love how you

and then of course the self awareness journey.


the self awareness journey is all about observing what's happening inside of us,

Mm hmm.

self, and, you know, I think we can take lessons from what makes us successful at observing outside of ourselves.

Mm hmm.

And apply that internal. So my example of sitting at the on the side of the river for an hour not moving and just watching more and more make itself apparent to us as we just sat there in boredom with nothing else to do but look out.

Um, we can do that internally too. I think one of the things that And it's, it's easy to do. It's, we, we kind of want to distract ourselves from that inward, that inward observation. Because a lot of times we don't like it.

Yeah, or, or, or we're scared

our brain all the time.

we're scared we're not going to like it and so we avoid it when it's actually not even true that it would be bad, really. I agree. I, and, and I don't think you can observe others unless you know how to deeply observe yourself. You can't see something in someone else that you don't also have.

And this is the thing about judgment, like when people want to judge other people's behaviors or actions around them. I always first say you cannot recognize something in someone else unless you too possess it. So if someone's behaving in a way that you don't like, it's often because you have that same thing and it really bugs you when you do it.

Um, and this is kind of that space that you're talking about. It's like observing yourself, understanding yourself, because that's how you see the same thing in other people is whether you're subconsciously or consciously doing it, that's what's different.


So I, I'm in alignment with that a hundred percent.

It is very much about being still enough to sense.

Mm hmm.

Being still

So what are some trick? So what are some things we can do to practice getting better at observation? We talked about a couple of them, but what do you think are some, some things you could do from like a day to day perspective to, to practice this?

You know, this is going to sound deep and maybe you're going to go, okay, Melissa, that's weird. Um,

I'm ready.

but for me. I think the best way to become better at observing, observation, because, you know, I'm always saying the difference between, between the space in your mind and being able to change is judgment, is the difference between judgment and observation.

I always say that in coaching. When we judge ourselves harshly, when we're looking for things to be wrong, we find things and then we make, make ourselves wrong about it or other people

Mm hm.

first part to being able to stop that. Is to just ask yourself the question or to make a comment when you catch yourself not in a space where you're being very Observational you're being hard or you're being short or clipped or you don't feel good.

Your emotions don't feel good Just stopping for a minute and say hmm. That's interesting


is it that I'm thinking about that's making me feel like this? Am I judging it or am I just observing?


let yourself off the hook. It's like, rather than making yourself wrong or guilt yourself for things, what if you just said, Oh, that's interesting.

That is how I feel right now, or that's what I'm, that's what I noticed, and that's not wrong. It's not wrong for me to notice that. I'm just observing it, and that's really good that I can see it that way. So almost just having a different conversation with yourself.

Yeah, what I, what I hear you say is, uh, lead with curiosity. Just be curious.

Be more curious. Yes. And that, yes. And to what you were talking

good observation.

yeah, exactly. I think that's a really, that's very well put and succinct as usual. Here's Melissa. Here's JJ. Here's 862 words. And then you say, yeah, what you're saying is, be curious. Okay, fine, it's two words. No, be more curious, it's three words.

heh, heh...

ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. That's okay, we're hitting both extroverts and introverts today. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. do you think?


That's such a good

Yeah. No, I think, I think it is. I think it is fundamentally about curiosity, like curiosity in, um, how the world works. Um, what's happening around you in your environment. Curious about other people. Um, you were talking a little bit about, um, if you stop observing people, You start losing empathy,



And other things. And, uh, I think it goes back to just being curious about other people. If you're curious about other people and then you start finding out things about them,

mm, yeah.

the empathy comes right back.

You know, can I

And you stop objectifying them, right? You stop becoming an inanimate object, and you realize, like, Oh no, this is, like, another person trying to live their life.

Yeah. And, and it also is what are you looking for? If you're searching for things that will amp you up and validate your feelings of discord or if you're kind of in a bad mood or if you're not feeling good inside, some people will look for things outside of themselves to validate that, you know, like substantiating evidence, so to speak.

Um. Um, one of the things that I love to do is I love to find people being right. I love to find

That's a funny phrase. Okay, why do you like doing that?

Okay, so here's a prime example. Years ago, I went to church at this place and there was a couple, her name was Dee and his name was Earl. They were an old couple. You can tell by the names maybe. And every single Sunday they sat in the exact same spot.

She was slightly taller than he was. And you could tell by their body language they'd been together for decades.


They just moved as a set, you know. And they sat in the exact same spot on the exact same side of each other. And every time that there was singing going on, they would stand up and she would put her arm around his shoulder.

And they sat, they stood like that. Every single time for

Hm. Mm

and um, and it just moved me because I thought this is, this is a couple that have these habits that they've built together. I'm observing these habits of strength within this couple. And one time I took my phone out and I took a picture of them from behind them when she had her arm around him and it was, it was kind of beautiful.

You know, Mitch is like, what are you doing, put your, you can't do that, stop taking pictures of people at church.

pictures in church. Mm.

But I have to tell you that soon after that, Earl passed away. And I had a copy of that photo made and I sent it to her in a card.

Oh, nice.

And um, I just think when we can observe people that aren't trying to make a scene, people that aren't doing anything other than just living their lives.

Um, that's the stuff that binds us together. That's what makes us feel love. You know,

There's a lot of beauty right there.

so much beauty in just being, and just to your point, and actually last week we did a pod on time, our relationship with time and death and those sorts of things. Okay. It's kind of the same thing. It's like, are you willing to slow your mind down enough in the day to day insignificant moments,


just to observe. What feels good.

Yep. Oh, that's...


That's funny. We literally just had a pod about how, like, uh... You maybe don't have enough time and seize the day and that. And now, and now what we're telling you to do is slow all that down and don't do that. Such good coaches over here.

Laughter No, but I, as you learn to be more observational it simply does require intention, like you have to be intentional about observing things. You can't, cause that's what a lot of people will do too, like, okay. How many times have we talked about this, like, political or social unrest, and somebody loses it, and then there's a bunch of people that just want to hop on the bandwagon, not even understanding it, not even really knowing it, but just grabbing on to the ring because there seems to be a ring in the moment, okay?

That, again, is lack of observation. People not observing what is until it is at a fevered pitch that is just matching their energy without any basis for understanding and going, going for it. So like, what would happen if we just were able to take a moment and really inspect out of curiosity hmm.

it's, to me, it's just like the nature walk. It's, like, we're not trying to run to the other end of the trail. What we need to do is slow down, take it step by step, be curious, look at all of the little things that are happening, um, and, uh, and take our time.


So, go, my, my suggestion is... Go take a nature walk with your best artist friend

And a flashlight.

them and don't run to the end.

And a flashlight.

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Meet your guides

JJ Parker

JJ Parker is a serial entrepreneur passionate about building creative strategy, efficient operations, and unique marketing perspectives. Parker got his start as a student at The Minneapolis Institute of Art, and soon after launched his first company Tightrope Media Systems (TRMS) with a high school buddy in 1997.

Melissa Albers

Melissa is passionate about developing people’s self-awareness and ability to positively interact with others. She focuses on the importance of building influence, and highlights the most important relationship we have is with self first. Ms. Albers speaks on leadership and self-awareness, and has shared the stage with John Maxwell (Leadership Author and Speaker), Lee Cockerell (Exec VP of Disney) and Les Brown (Motivational Speaker) to name a few.

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