Observance Imaginate

Build observation skills – Supercharge your imagination

12 Steps to Making Effective Observations


You’ll have noticed that being observant isn’t always easy.

It takes a fair bit of effort to make good and effective observations. I like the idea of not working very hard, however there is a bit of a conundrum in this. The more passive you are, the less you’ll notice. The less you notice the less you can meaningfully interact with the world around you and the more self absorbed you become. There’s a nice little quote by Lois Pastuer. “chance favors only the prepared mind.” How prepared is yours?

Read on to learn exactly how to prepare you mind using my 12 step process including some really encouraging neuroscience about practicing Observance.

Let me tell you a little secret about myself. I’m a naturally very passive person. I’m becoming much more tuned in now, but in my early years as an electrical apprentice I was known for my vague moments. My poor boss, John would turn to me and say “Having one of your vague days, are you?” Even when I was a little kid I was known for my passivity and easy going nature. Truth was I hardly ever knew what was going on around me. I just zoned out all the time. I still find myself living passively at times. Don’t get me wrong, I like it. It’s nice to sometimes zone out, but since intentionally practicing Observance and Imagination I am very aware and in control of when I am passive and when I switch my brain into overdrive.

Passive and Active ObservanceObservance as we’re looking at it requires you to switch your mind out of the passive phase and into overdrive. It actually does take some effort. Push ups take effort, Preparing for a speech takes effort. Practicing a musical instrument takes effort. Observance is no different. It’s a skill and as such I have some great Neuroscience to encourage you.

Be encouraged by Neuroscience

For years neuroscientists believed the brain was hardwired and didn’t change. You are who you are and can only do what you’ve been wired to do. The study Neuroplasticity has blown that idea out of the water. Experiments like this one by Alvaro Pascual-Leone and his students at Harvard Medical School show that parts of the brain actually grow to accommodate their new skills. A great book to read on Neuroplasticity is “The brain that changes itself” by Norman doidge.


Think of learning the piano. I’ve done this so I can attest to it. You start by bashing on the keys with pretty much your whole upper body. After some time you just use your arms, then just your lower arms, then your hands, then just your fingers, then you’re able to express grace in your playing. It’s a process but this is the direct result of Neuroplasticity, the brain rewiring itself to accommodate and excel at this new skill. The more you do, the better you become, seemingly without limit.

This exact same principle applies to observance. When you first start, the parts of your mind that are engaged are pretty inefficient. Distractions hijack our attention, mentally and physically, we struggle to remember the steps of observance, our focus drifts and we can get bored. In the same way that you have to work up to being able to do 50 push ups, you work up to great observance skills.


Daily practice.

Let’s go through it together:

The process of observance

Observance happens like this:

  1. Choose something to observe
  2. Make instantaneous observations using relevant senses. (Scanning)
  3. As you scan bring to the forefront of your mind any experiences or knowledge related to this thing directly or the function of this thing that you may have had in the past.
  4. Determine how long it will take to observe this thing sufficiently and whether it needs constant supervision or not.
  5. Gather any necessary tools or instruments needed for observation, eg: telescope, microphone, timer, pen and paper, etc.
  6. Make yourself comfortable so you’re not distracted from observing by physical discomfort.
  7. Begin observing. Start mindfully, allowing any sensory data to come in with no bias or judgement.
  8. Gradually over the course of a few minutes narrow your focus to the thing you’re observing. Be sure to maintain unbiased and non judgemental observance at this point. Treat this thing as if you’ve never seen it before.
  9. When you’re at the point where this thing has filled your awareness to the exclusion of everything else start allowing yourself to recognise elements of this thing and relate them to parts of your previous experience and knowledge. Do this gradually always coming back to the raw thing so you don’t lose focus on it as an independent unit. Take particular note on how it functions as a stand alone unit.
  10. After a sufficient amount of time with extreme focus on the individual thing, begin to widen your focus to its immediate surroundings. Ask questions like ‘What other things are directly affecting this thing?’, ‘What other things does this thing directly affect?’, ‘What role does this thing play in a larger system?’, Does this thing share any patterns with any other thing around it?’
  11. As you widen your focus, periodically return to a very narrow focus again then go back out. Repeat this pattern of widening and narrowing in a similar way to a breathing pattern.
  12. Each time you widen your focus, widen it a bit more until you get the the point where you’re visualising this thing in context with the universe itself. Continue asking questions about the relationship of this thing with the ever increasing system it’s playing a role in. Also continue bringing to mind any knowledge about this thing directly, anything that is similar or behaves in a similar way, and any knowledge about the system that this thing is a part of. You might get “A-ha” moments during this process. These are gold. Remember them and continue observing with them in mind. You will eventually be observing with a fairly large amount of related things in mind. This is good. It allows you to see this thing in the context of the rest of your previously observed world and in the context of a larger stretch of time.

After sufficient time observing, gradually allow your focus to soften so as to release this thing from your mind’s grip. Imagine you’re setting a bird free from a cage into the world again. Allow yourself some grateful thoughts on what you’ve observed and how it’s helped you become a stronger and more effective person.

Let me leave you with one more quote:

“It is important to realize that observation is much more than merely seeing something; it also involves a mental process. In all observations there are two elements : (a) the sense-perceptual element (usually visual) and (b) the mental, which, as we have seen, may be partly conscious and partly unconscious.”Cambridge University animal pathology professor W. I. B. Beveridge


My next post will be focused more on Imagination. I look forward to sharing with you some more and joining you in this journey of Observance and Imagination.



One comment on “12 Steps to Making Effective Observations

  1. Pingback: Can you ever be consciously aware of the present? Well … nope | Observance Imaginate

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This entry was posted on April 2, 2016 by in Observance.

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