The Art of Noticing No. 5: Ask thoughtfully, listen like it really really matters — and follow up.

Skip ahead if you already know this: The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday (coming in May, but available for preorder: Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Knopf) is a book that presents a series of exercises and prompts and games and things you can actually do (or reflect upon) to build attention muscles or just get off your phone and enjoy noticing stuff that everyone else missed. The book is finished, but I keep coming across new and relevant ideas — either for prompts you can try, or interesting or inspirational projects or writing you can check out. That's what this newsletter is for.
Here goes:
1. Ask A Thoughtful Question. The other day, Braden Bell had a handy piece in The Washington Post listing “25 prompts to get teens talking about gratitude.” Teens and gratitude aside, I’m always interested in icebreaker-type questions (particularly ones I can use when I meet a new group of students). Several of these qualify. Here’s a good one from the list: “What is something you didn’t like but you are glad happened?” I’m going to use some variation of that.

Do you have a favorite icebreaker question? I’d love to hear it!

2. Listen Like A Hostage Negotiator. Of course the coolest icebreaker ever is useless if you don’t attend to the answer. For this short Wall Street Journal piece (which unfortunately may be behind a paywall), Masada Siegel interviewed a former hostage negotiator on the importance of fully engaged and patient listening.

“A hostage taker needs an opportunity to vent and let off steam… . Unless they unload their demands, they don’t have the capacity to hear and consider behavior change.”

Listening is an influential skill. The more you give others space to talk, the better you understand them and the more willing they are to listen themselves.

Try to listen like something, or everything, depends on it!

3. Follow Up. These two pieces reminded me of an item Tim Herrera wrote for the NYT’s Smarter Living newsletter a few months back, suggesting that one good way to “seem more likable” is to ask follow-up questions:

“A study published last year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology analyzed getting-to-know-you conversations between platonic conversation partners, along with face-to-face speed-dating conversations, and found that in both settings “people who ask more questions, particularly follow-up questions, are better liked by their conversation partners.” (It even led to an increase in second dates among the speed-daters.)”

"Likeability" aside: If you can’t think of a follow-up question, it’s often a sign that you weren’t really paying attention. You were just waiting for your turn to talk. (We all do that sometimes.)

4. Random Endorsement: I really dig the illustration work of Laura Didyk (a reader of this newsletter!); check out her Instagram. I’m particularly charmed by her series of 100 “monsters” — that’s “Emma” above. These form the basis of some card decks in her shop. Her new series in progress is 100 (fictional) portraits. Great stuff!

5. Vicarious Trespassing. Abandoned Southeast is such an excellent site, offering amazing documentation of, you know, abandoned places — spots you wish you could trespass and spend all day wandering around. The latest: Wild Waters water park, in Silver Springs Florida. Apart from being a vacation destination, it was often used as a film locale. That’s all in the past, but remnants remain. Read more and enjoy many images of Wild Waters' beautiful ruins here.

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. Reply to this email or use

Thanks for reading!


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