The Art of Noticing No. 24: Change A Routine; Gas stations and strip clubs; new icebreaker; etc.
|Rob Walker||Jul 19, 2019|
The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday offers exercises, prompts, provocations, games and things you can actually do to build attention muscles, stave off distraction, pick up on what everybody else overlooked, and experience the joy of noticing. Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Knopf | All purpose link for readers in UK/Europe or US
This newsletter offers related news and ideas and noteworthy projects that have come along since I finished the book.
Very excited to talk to Tim Herrera of The New York Times' Smarter Living about The Art of Noticing. Read his terrific piece: "You're Not Paying Attention, but You Really Should Be."
Fun to be back, after a break of just over a decade, on Mitch Joel's Six Pixels of Separation podcast to catch up about the new book. Give it a listen here.
A kind mention of the book in this Thrive Global piece: "4 Simple Ways To Practice Mindfulness, Even If You're A Total Beginner."
1. Change A Routine
Speaking of Smarter Living (subscribe to the great newsletter here), here is one of my favorite pieces from that section: "What To Do When You're Bored with Your Routines." Writer Juli Fraga explains why our habits can become ruts (through "hedonic adaptation"), and why introducing some novelty into the way we perform the same old tasks is good for us. As one quoted academic says:
“Finding new ways to interact with familiar things can disrupt adaptation because it signals the brain to pay more attention to the experience.”
Among Fraga's specific suggestions is "Mix Up Your Commute," changing the way you always go or how you habitually pass that time. This reminds me of the Change Your Route prompt in The Art of Noticing. That came from Jim Coudal, and it's one I mention often in talks. The work commute happens to offer a clear example: You've figured out the best path from home to office and back, and that's the way you go. Makes sense. Efficient!
But sometimes the more familiar the path is, the less we see it. And that's why, when Coudal suggested changing your route, he meant it not just literally but metaphorically. As he put it:
"If you already know how to solve a problem using a tried and true method, avoid doing so. You never know what you'll find along an unfamiliar route."
2. Well Noticed: The Architecture of Adult Entertainment. French photographer François Prost's series “Gentlemen’s Club,” covered in CityLab.
3. "How Walking Became Pedestrian," an essay by Michael LaPointe, in The Atlantic, argues that in some contexts walking is becoming "just another goal-driven pursuit," endlessly romanticized for its creative benefits, and converted into something that's supposed to be productive, with a measurable payoff.
"What would it mean, for once," LaPointe asks, "simply to walk and say nothing about it?" Go take a walk and think it over.
4. Well Noticed: "An Elegy for the American Gas Station." Charming essay by Tony Rehagen in The Boston Globe. "The glowing canopy and light-box signs, the floating fluorescent oasis on the highway’s horizon, is disappearing."
5. Random Endorsement: Austin Kleon's "Pansy Luchadores." I love this series.
6. Icebreaker of the Week
Today's icebreaker comes to me via Tom Weis:
Tell me about a time when you changed your mind.
Tom mentioned this to me in conversation the other day and I knew I'd have to use it, but there's a bit of a back story. He teaches at RISD, and this came up in the course of a collaboration between RISD industrial design students and West Point cadets. Then-department head Charlie Cannon brought the two groups together with a set of five questions originally devised by Barry Frew. This is the last of Frew's five prompts — and my favorite. (The others are: Tell us your name; where you are from; about your family structure growing up; about your family structure now.) Charlie adds that the family-structure questions "encouraged people to share personal information without feeling invasive," and that taken together the responses helped encourage an "emotional candor" within the teams.
Having said all that, I think this last one works pretty well on its own. Thank you Tom and Charlie!
Send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or got it elsewhere) to email@example.com
Okay, that's it! As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals (and your icebreakers). Reply to this email or use firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading!
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