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What is observational learning (and how to make it work for you)

Learning can happen in many different forms, especially in the workplace. Observational learning is one of the best ways for employers and employees to learn how to do their job better, how to communicate effectively with one another, or how to be a model employee. People with different personalities will learn better under certain circumstances and being able to take advantage of observational learning can be quite beneficial.

With the use of hands-on experience, your employees will learn quickly and effectively. They will also learn how to apply their newly learned skills to every aspect of the workplace. The most successful companies in the world know how to not only use observational learning but to also take advantage of it.

What is Observational Learning?

Observational learning occurs when you see another person doing one thing and you later perform the same job elsewhere. There are four stages to the process: attention, retention, production, and motivation. You would be surprised at the sheer amount of observational learning you experience throughout your lifetime from when you are a child to when you are raising children of your own.

Examples of Observational Learning

1. Disciplining Employees
If you notice that some people in your team are exhibiting detrimental behavior that brings negativity into the workplace, make sure that you take the time to discipline them. Whether you pull them into your office to have a one-on-one discussion or if you write them up for their negative behavior, they must learn that what they are doing is unacceptable. It is equally important for their coworkers to see that you do not approve of the behavior and it will prevent them from also doing it.

2. Being a Great Leader
It is imperative that as the owner of a company or a high level manager it is important that you take the necessary steps to be a great leader. Your employees will want to model themselves after you as they will want the same success that you have. In order to make sure that they have a great example, you also have to be a great leader. Avoid interoffice relationships, avoid gossip, and be the primary example of a fair and noble manager. All of these traits are imperative to create a positive working environment that everyone can enjoy.

How to Use Observational Learning

Step 1: Shadowing
As humans we learn the best from our peers so if you’re looking to hire new people onto the team, have them shadow different employees for the entire day. At times, new applicants don’t actually know what the job entails until you’ve already hired them and putting them in the workplace environment will help them to understand what is required. Instead of hiring someone on blindly where you’ll lose money because of productivity, recruiting costs, and extensive training costs, allow them to immerse themselves in the workplace before they even started.

Step 2: On-the-Job Training
We’ve all had that one job where we had to sit at a computer and learn about the things that are required of us in the workplace but nothing compares to on-the-job training. When you have a new hire entering the workplace, assign them to a seasoned professional that knows the ins and outs of their duties. This way they will have hands-on learning and observational learning (by watching their mentor) combined which is highly effective for retaining the most information.

Step 3: Allowing Lower-Level Employees to Partake in Important Tasks
As time goes on, your lower-level employees will become an important part of your company through promotions. Instead of promoting them without any idea of what is expected of them, when they’re near a higher place in the office assign them to a mentor that can teach them the ropes. Bring them into board meetings, meetings with stockholders, and even executive meetings so they will have a better idea of how the strategic decisions in the company are made.

This is especially important for middle managers as them being able to fully understand why decisions are made will help them to motivate their team to make the right and best decisions possible.

Observational learning is one of the best ways for many people to learn and when you combine it with hands-on training, you will be developing new employees into professionals that will help to increase productivity within the workplace. By showing that you are a great leader and by giving your employees ample opportunities to refine and learn new skills by watching, you will surely be able to take advantage of everything that observational learning has to offer.

Whether you begin inviting lower-level employees to executive meetings so they can learn the inner workings of the business or if you have a struggling sales professional attend a sales meeting where they can learn off of their peers, observational learning is everywhere in the workplace.

The process of learning by watching others is called Observational learning. It is classified as a form of social learning, and instead of reinforcement the learning occurs through social role models like parent, teacher, sibling, or a friend.

In short, the kind of learning that occurs by observing someone else is called observational learning. Even though you were not familiar with the term, observational learning is something everyone practices naturally. This is the form of learning that doesn’t need teaching and just comes naturally.

For example:

  • A child learns to make and different facial expressions by observing his/her mother.
  • A child learns to walk through observation.
  • A newer employee is always punctual after seeing a colleague get fired for being late.

These are only some of the examples of observational learning that occurs in a daily basis. Observational learning starts occurring from the early stages of the life.

A child learns to interact with other people by observing their parents. The parents are not teaching these behaviors directly. But, the child nevertheless, imitates different actions by watching others. In psychology, this is exactly what observational learning means.

Human Observational Learning

Not all behaviors learned through observational learning are those needed for survival. Also, it isn’t a must that the model should be trying to teach the observer intentionally. There are different cases in which the observer observes, remembers, and imitates the actions even when the model might not have intended to teach the learner anything.

For example: A child may learn to smoke, fight, smack, swear and similar other inappropriate behaviors by observing poor role models.

What is observational learning (and how to make it work for you)

Albert Bandura claims that the observer could learn both positive and negative behaviors through observational learning. His theory also suggests that the individual’s cognition, environment and behavior all play a role in shaping up the mentality of the individual.

Individual behaviors have also been seen to be observed across a culture. This process, within observational learning, is referred as diffusion chain. The basic idea is that an individual learns a behavior by observing a model individual. Then, that individual serves as a model to other individuals who learn the behavior, and so on.

Example: A child in a class might pick up swearing from someone. Kids being kids, the behavior might be picked up by everyone in the class.

In ancient communities, where adults and children’s activities aren’t differentiated, children are allowed to be a part of adult world through early age. And, when their primary mode of learning is observational, they pick up habits demonstrated by the adult models. Also, culturally they learn the value of being a part of the particular communities, and this encourages them to make an effort to participate and contribute in the community.

Example: Take Indian tribal communities for instance. Through observational learning, children picked up activities like hunting, fishing and other communal activities at an early age.

What is observational learning (and how to make it work for you)

Also, cultural variation has also been seen to play a part in a manner information is processed and learned by an observer.

Example: Children in rural parts of India and children in the US are taught in different settings. Because of the difference in the setting and the way they are brought up, the way in which they possess information can be different. For instance, children in India might be more family oriented and have a different sense of judgment of actions. On the other hand, American children might be more individualistic and have different moral grounds for judging certain behaviors.

Observational learning is something that has also been practiced in the modern world intentionally with intent to teach and learn. Apprenticeship is an example that involves both observational learning and modeling. Apprentices spend time with their masters in order to gain the skills in the field through observation and evaluation of works of their fellow apprentices.

Example: Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo were all apprentices of their masters in the field, before they went on to become and experts themselves.

Observational Learning is not something that only occurs in humans. The phenomenon has also been widely assessed in animals. However, because observational learning is associated with high intelligence, not every living creature can learn through observation, even though they might stumble upon performing the same action accidentally.

I am sorry coaches for failing to write more often in these last past few months. I am reflecting as a coach, father, and a husband myself and I am learning a great deal about me as a human being; all good things, I need to make sure I am also learning and growing as a person, if I expect you all to do that same. I hope you all are doing well, today. First off, thank you for all of your hard work and dedication to your athletes, daily. You all dedicate so much of your spare time (often without pay) to impact the lives of our next sport athletes; the work often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. So, thank you for all of your hard and your commitment to building stronger people in order to build stronger communities.

This morning, my aim is to discuss the importance of observational learning in sport. Observational learning means to learn from a model (Schmidt, et. al., 2018) – this type of learning is a type of learning that targets what you see when you are learning a new skill in sport, i.e., perception. I am going to firstly discuss the importance of observational learning and its effectiveness in developing a new skill. Second, I provide scientific evidence for the benefit of observational learning in sport. Lastly, I suggest a few strategies on how to implement observational learning into your practice, in effort to maximize your practice effectiveness to develop long-term learning.

Observational learning is a method to teach a new skill to novice, i.e., no experience, learner (NL). NL’s are continually building and revising their mental file on how to complete the task a coach is instructing them to learn – brains are working in overdrive to make sure all the details to the skill are being stored away for later use. The visual part of the brain can quickly pick up fine details by watching their teammates perform the same task; the skill can either be a gross or fine motor skill. The design of the brain enables athletes to acquire motor skills just by watching a fellow teammates, how cool!

However, the teammate a NL is watching cannot be an expert learner (EL). The EL will not make many mistakes when performing a new task; the NL learns best when the model, i.e., teammate makes mistakes (Schmidt, et. al., 2018). A NL must navigate the choppy waters of interpreting why her teammate could not perform the skill correctly; this process promotes the type of learning an athlete needs in order to develop and maintain a skill over time; if the skill is note acquired in this way, the athlete will not use the skill at a later time.

In other words, the NL must watch a teammate that is also a NL to learn from her mistakes. The coach/instructor plays a critical role as well to implement observational learning, effectively. The coach must also provide information or details as the NL observes one other NL about how she can correct the mistake the model is making while she performs the skill. When no information on how the skill should be performed is given, the coach is not maximizing the effectiveness of observational learning with her NL.

  • What is observational learning (and how to make it work for you)

Let me summarize what I attempted to show so far:

-Observational learning is perceptual learning;

-Observational learning is maximized when using a NL to perform a skill to demonstrated to one other NL;

-EL’s are not effective model’s to demonstrate a new skill to a NL, research suggests

-And, brains must be confused in order for learning to occur so they will learn the best when they watch a teammate make mistakes performing a skill.

The evidence that supports observational learning is substantive. Researchers conducted an experiment where groups of individuals were presented a video game; they had to learn how to play the computer video game. However, these individuals had no prior practice on the task. Participants either watched an EL performing the same task for the first time (a learning model). What was the main outcome of the study? The study suggests that both groups learned the same amount; no advantage was found for the group who observed the NL rather than the EL perform the task. So, observational learning is not enough when learning a new task for NL (Schmidt, et. al., 2018). As I argued earlier, observational learning is effective only if a coach is explaining what mistakes are occurring, as the NL is observing the model.

To end this short entry, I want to provide some strategies on how to implement observational learning so it will be effective for you. I suggest the following:

  • Explain to your players the importance of watching the teammate in front of of you when she is performing a task – detail to them what types of things they should look for as they watch their teammate execute the task;
  • For one “negative” type of feedback you give a player, make sure to provide at least two or three things they did right as they executed the task
  • As you are watching film, prepare questions that you can ask your players as they watch their peers perform a task, e.g., “John, what do you see when Sam perform this task?”
  • Most importantly, be clear with your players what “mistakes” mean to you as the coach; mistakes are not negative but positive; these movement pattern show a player is attempting to perform the skill correctly; along the way, however, the athlete will go outside the “parameters” that is effective in order to execute the skill. Mental safety allows athletes to learn from their mistakes as they “revise” their memory file of what the skill looks like, to them.

Coaches, remember, your practice plan structure is unique to you and your context in which you are coaching. No one practice outline is going to be identical to any other coach’s outline. The main thing as you devise your practice outline is that we must remain athlete-centered; the kids’ well-being is priority. If the kids are not learning the skill, the athlete is often not to be blamed. Be willing to be self-aware of what are the things you are doing that is inhibiting the learning of your teammates; be brave to look inside yourself and change for the sake of your athlete’s well-being. Good luck!

What is observational learning (and how to make it work for you)

Observational drawing is exactly what it sounds like: drawing via observation. By simply looking at the subject and drawing what is presented to the eye, the art student gains solid perceptual skills and hand-eye coordination, as well as eliminating flawed preconceptions about the appearance of objects.

One popular exercise in observational drawing is contour drawing. Students performing this exercise are made to look at the subject and keep it constantly in view without looking down at the drawing in progress. It is intended to make sure that the student is relying on observation, rather than attempting to keep an image in memory. Over time, the student will get better at maintaining proportion without having to look at the drawing. This is especially useful when attempting to draw subjects that might be moving.

To be able to recognize lines, curves, edges, perspective, hues, values and to be able to translate them to paper are important in observational drawing. Perspective is the orientation of the subject relative to the viewer and hue is the color. Value refers to the spectrum of light and shade, ranging from white to black through a greyscale. Accurately rendering these qualities gives the drawing the illusion of dimension.

The process of learning by watching others is called Observational learning. Observational learning is classified as a form of social learning. Instead of other forms of learning like Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning, no reinforcement is required. Instead, social models such as a parent, teacher, sibling or a friend are required for observational learning.

It is an important part of socialization, and can take place at any point in life. But, it’s mostly common during childhood as children learn variety of behaviors and activities through observation of their peers, family members and other authority figures in their life. Observational learning is also referred to as vicarious reinforcement, modeling, and shaping.

For example: A child learns to interact with other people by observing their parents. The parents are not teaching these behaviors directly. But, the child nevertheless, imitates different actions by watching others. In psychology, this is exactly what observational learning means.

What is observational learning (and how to make it work for you)

How Observational Learning Works?

Albert Bandura is the psychologist most linked with the term Observational learning. Bandura, with his researchers, demonstrated that human beings are naturally capable of observational learning. In one research, it was seen that even children just days old can imitate facial expressions.

If you’ve ever dealt with infants, you have seen children trying to mimic funny expressions, which in psychology, is a part of observational learning.

Bandura’s famous experiment Bobo doll experiment clearly showed that aggressive and violent actions performed by an adult were easily imitated by the children present.

According to his findings, children were more inclined to replicate the actions of an adult if the adult went unpunished or received rewards for their violent actions. However, in the cases where adults were punished for their aggressive behavior, children were less likely to repeat the same behaviors.

Stages of Observational Learning

Attention

Attention is the key for observers, as without being attentive to their surrounding they won’t be able to replicate the behavior. Also, observers’ expectations and emotional arousal toward the particular action also plays a key role.

Retention/Memory

Simply observing a behavior is not enough. The observer should also be able to remember or rehearse the particular action both physically and mentally. This depends on the observer’s ability to structure and code information.

Motor/Initiation

After observation, the observer should also be able to reproduce the behavior both physically and intellectually.

Motivation

Motivation is another important aspect of learning. Without motivation, the individual is not able to produce learned behavior.

Three Dimensional change brought by observational learning in an individual’s behavior

  • Individual interprets the situation in a different way and might react on it.
  • Change is caused due to the direct experiences of the individual rather than being in-born.
  • The change is mostly permanent.

Factors That Influence Observational Learning

Bandura also came up with certain factors that are more likely to increase the chances of a behavior being imitated. They are:

  • Behaviors observed from people who are warm and nurturing towards the observer.
  • If the behavior is rewarded.
  • When imitating behaviors has been rewarding in the past.
  • Lack of confidence in one’s own abilities or knowledge.
  • When behaviors are executed by authority figures.
  • Like minded people of same age and sex.
  • Behaviors from people who are of higher social status, and whom we admire.
  • When the situation is confusing, unfamiliar or ambiguous, imitating others’ behavior seems like the safest bet.

Real World Applications for Observational Learning

The concept of observational learning is still quite inconclusive in some levels, especially because the general public isn’t as aware about the phenomenon as much as they should be.

One of the long-going arguments is that whether or not violence and aggressive behaviors in movies, TV programs and video games are harmful in a sense that behaviors seen might be imitated by children and adults alike. Bandura has already shown that children are likely to imitate aggressive behaviors seen on a film clip in his famous experiment.

The debate has been going on for years. It’s not like movies and games are ever going to get banned, but psychological research have indicated that watches violent actions in movies and games are likely to entice aggressive thoughts, behaviors and feelings in the observer. Also, researchers indicate that watching sexual behavior can also lead to imitation. Not everyone who watches violent contents in TV end up in prisons later in their life, but observational learning is in effect whether we like it or not.

Observational Learning as a Positive Force

Observational learning can and has been used as a positive force for the betterment of the world. TV programs are made targeting the audience in order to promote healthy behaviors across the world. Issues like pollution, family planning, transmission are also depicted through TV programs to increase awareness.

Observational learning is a powerful tool that has wide range of applications. Even though use of reinforcement, punishment and direct instruction is what comes to mind when we ponder on the concept of learning, huge deal of learning takes place subtly, even accidentally, just by watching the happenings around us. Other uses of observational learning are seen in education, counseling, work trainings and psychotherapy.

What is observational learning (and how to make it work for you)Definition

Observational learning, also called social learning theory, occurs when an observer’s behavior changes after viewing the behavior of a model. An observer’s behavior can be affected by the positive or negative consequences–called vicarious reinforcement or vicarious punishment– of a model’s behavior.

Discussion

There are several guiding principles behind observational learning, or social learning theory:

  • The observer will imitate the model’s behavior if the model possesses characteristics– things such as talent, intelligence, power, good looks, or popularity–that the observer finds attractive or desirable.
  • The observer will react to the way the model is treated and mimic the model’s behavior. When the model’s behavior is rewarded, the observer is more likely to reproduce the rewarded behavior. When the model is punished, an example of vicarious punishment, the observer is less likely to reproduce the same behavior.
  • A distinction exists between an observer’s “acquiring” a behavior and “performing” a behavior. Through observation, the observer can acquire the behavior without performing it. The observer may then later, in situations where there is an incentive to do so, display the behavior.
  • Learning by observation involves four separate processes: attention, retention, production and motivation.
  • Attention: Observers cannot learn unless they pay attention to what’s happening around them. This process is influenced by characteristics of the model, such as how much one likes or identifies with the model, and by characteristics of the observer, such as the observer’s expectations or level of emotional arousal.
  • Retention: Observers must not only recognize the observed behavior but also remember it at some later time. This process depends on the observer’s ability to code or structure the information in an easily remembered form or to mentally or physically rehearse the model’s actions.
  • Production: Observers must be physically and/intellectually capable of producing the act. In many cases the observer possesses the necessary responses. But sometimes, reproducing the model’s actions may involve skills the observer has not yet acquired. It is one thing to carefully watch a circus juggler, but it is quite another to go home and repeat those acts.
  • Motivation: In general, observers will perform the act only if they have some motivation or reason to do so. The presence of reinforcement or punishment, either to the model or directly to the observer, becomes most important in this process.
  • Attention and retention account for acquisition or learning of a model’s behavior; production and motivation control the performance.
  • Human development reflects the complex interaction of the person, the person’s behavior, and the environment. The relationship between these elements is called reciprocal determinism. A person’s cognitive abilities, physical characteristics, personality, beliefs, attitudes, and so on influence both his or her behavior and environment. These influences are reciprocal, however. A person’s behavior can affect his feelings about himself and his attitudes and beliefs about others. Likewise, much of what a person knows comes from environmental resources such as television, parents, and books. Environment also affects behavior: what a person observes can powerfully influence what he does. But a person’s behavior also contributes to his environment.

How Observational Learning Impacts Learning:

Curriculum– Students must get a chance to observe and model the behavior that leads to a positive reinforcement.

Instruction– Educators must encourage collaborative learning, since much of learning happens within important social and environmental contexts.

Assessment–A learned behavior often cannot be performed unless there is the right environment for it. Educators must provide the incentive and the supportive environment for the behavior to happen. Otherwise, assessment may not be accurate.

Reading

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

“The principle of observational learning insinuates that observing violence in media and video games could promote violent and aggressive behaviors” (Everaert, 2014). Observing violence on media leads to aggression arousal (Everaert, 2014). Individuals, particularly children, are more inclined towards imitating behaviors they observe. After internalizing the aggressive behaviors, they receive cognitive biases informing that aggression is socially acceptable (Feldman, 2019). Thus, this explains how such individuals end up demonstrating aggressive attitudes against their counterparts.

I believe that observing violent media contributes to aggressive attitudes. For instance, it is common to see children violently attacking their counterparts or animals using the moves they learn in films and video games. I have always been a fan of wrestling, and I believe that it has influenced my behavior. There was a time I slammed my younger sister on the floor with a move I learn in wrestling, not knowing that I almost broke her back. Essentially, this demonstrated the power of observational learning.

Observational learning differs from learning that emphasizes conditioning. Observational learning primarily focuses on observing or viewing. Learning through conditioning is relies on the introduction of stimuli. Individuals can learn to be aggressive through operant conditioning. For instance, individuals rewarded for aggressive behavior might become violent.

Everaert, E. (2014). Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment and violence in the media. Social Cosmos, 5(1), 74-80.

Feldman, R. S. (2019). Essentials of understanding psychology. (13th ed.). McGraw-Hill.

Robertson, L. A., McAnally, H. M., & Hancox, R. J. (2013). Childhood and adolescent television viewing and antisocial behavior in early adulthood. Pediatrics, 131(3), 439-446.

Savage, J. (2004). Does viewing violent media really cause criminal violence? A methodological review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 10(1), 99-128.

Discussion Number 2

Nature Vs. Nurture

I believe both nature and nurture have the strongest impact on development because they target essential factors. For instance, nature focuses on influences related to neurotransmission and genome sequencing during development. Basically, any biological or genetic frameworks become influenced. Nurture accounts for forces like peer pressure and social influences that also shape individual behavior and attitudes. The point derived in the explanation is that both aspects influence growth. The case of separated co-joined twins for science experiments proves the notion (Strombo, 2007). Despite their separation, nature and nurture played a significant role in their development. The void remains often established by biological predispositions, while mental health triggers a yearning to push the twins together. Feldman (2019) expresses the view perfectly by claiming that the interaction of nature and nurture creates particular growth patterns and results. In the case of identical twins, they both grow to be two different individuals united by their genetic predispositions.

A study conducted on nature and nurture variations revealed how impactful both aspects are in development. The researchers found that 49% of the population (twins) studies showed complex human traits related to genetics (Kandler & Zapko-Willmes, 2017). Another 17% showed a variation in individual traits based on environmental impacts. I can attest to the differences because I recognize some behaviors I share with my siblings. However, how I relate with people is distinct because I tend to be somewhat distant. I can attribute it to living in isolated places or growing up in small populated environments in my early childhood education. Most people have a similar narrative, as Elyse Schein explains. She could not understand her association with people and felt like something was amiss. Overall, nature and nurture concepts strongly impact development as they shape individual aspects of life.

References

Feldman, R. S. (2019). Essentials of understanding psychology. (13th ed.). McGraw-Hill.

Kandler, C., & Zapko-Willmes, A. (2017). Theoretical perspectives on the interplay of nature and nurture in personality development In Specht J (Ed.), Personality Development Across the Lifespan.

Observational Learning is takes place without any direct reward or punishment.It is simply a result of observing the behavior of other people.This important process is learning by observation. Good teachers take advantage of their students’ ability to learn by observation.Learning by observation involves a sequence of four steps that Albert Bandura (1986) calls attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation.

Four Stages of Observational Learning

Attention:

To learn from the behavior of other people, we must first pay attention to them and notice how they do things. Once of the reasons that television commercials use attractive actors is that we are likely to pay attention to them.

Retention:

After observing the model the person we learn from.We must store in memory a picture of the model carrying out that behavior. Remembering the model’s behavior is especially important because most behaviors learned through modeling aren’t put to use until some time later.

Reproduction:

Now we must take the mental image and convert it to actual behavior. In some cases, involving more complex responses, this step can be difficult. When one of the authors (Peter) was learning to play golf, he paid careful attention to pro golfer Tom Watson’s perfect swing and even retained the image in memory. Unfortunately, every time Peter tried to reproduce the image with his own behavior, the resulting swing didn’t look much like Tom Watson’s at all. Nonetheless, with practice people are able to produce—at least approximately many of the behaviors they observe.

Motivation:

People may acquire extensive information about all kinds of behaviors by observing other individuals. They will make use of this information, how- ever, only if they are motivated to produce the behavior themselves. Thus, Emilio, who has seen 143 cowboy movies, has a pretty fair idea of how to mount a horse. But he has absolutely no desire to try it himself.

In observational learning, two different things may be learned. One is a specific set of behaviors, such as a new dance step or the procedure for answering the phone in an office. Although such behaviors can also be taught by oral instruction or with a training manual, a good model is often worth a thousand words.

The second sort of thing that is learned by observation is whether a particular behavior is likely to be rewarded. A lawyer who is scheduled to try a case before a judge before whom the lawyer has never appeared is well advised to spend some time as a spectator in the back of the judge’s courtroom. If the lawyer discovers that the judge frequently sustains a particular sort of objection, the lawyer will be more likely to make such objections when the lawyer’s own case comes to trial. If, on the other hand, the lawyer learns that the judge reacts violently to such objections, the lawyer will avoid making them.

Thus, we learn by observation not only how to behave in a novel way but also what behaviors can be expected to lead to particular consequences. Many of our habits, values, skills, and beliefs are the products of observing others. For example, adolescents are more likely to start smoking if they have parents and friends who smoke. And children whose parents are heavy drinkers are more likely to become heavy drinkers themselves when they reach adulthood.

It’s easy to not pay attention to the world. We lower our eyes when we walk and avoid eye contact at the supermarket. For most of us, our default state tends to be ignoring what’s around us. But doing so makes us miss out on inspiration and fails to develop our curiosities. Here’s how to train yourself to pay a little more attention to the world around you.

We know that getting out and taking a walk can boost creativity and a little mindfulness can help with all sorts of things. But neither of those is useful if you’re still gazing at your navel. Being observant means watching people, situations, and events, then thinking critically about what you see. We miss a lot in the world while we’re busy shuffling between here and there. While there’s no way to quantify how that affects our well being, it’s clear the more you pay attention, the more often you’ll come up with new ideas. If nothing else, you’ll expand your worldview. First, you have to train yourself to pay attention again.

Study Explains How Walking Can Boost Your Creativity

It’s long been thought that when you need a creative boost, you should step out and take a walk.…

Train Yourself to Look for the Stuff that Matters to You

Our brains aren’t meant to see everything. We focus on specific things, then filter out everything else. This is great in most cases, because if we paid attention to everything, we’d miss what’s important. However, you can tune your brain to pay attention to new things with a bit of practice.

Whether you’re starting a new job, exploring a new hobby, or just trying to expand your skillset, you need to retrain your brain to pay attention to what’s important at that moment. This sounds simple, but it does take a bit of effort. Speaking with NPR , psychologist Dr. Daniel Simons explains:

What you can do. is, you can train people to look for particular kinds of things.

So script supervisors, the people who work on movie sets, know how to look for particular kinds of mistakes that might end up into a movie that would be noticed. And they look for specifically those – and they ignore the other stuff that’s never going to matter, or the stuff that’s never going to end up across a cut.

What they know, that most people don’t, is that their memory is lousy, that they can’t rely on their memory. And they know to take all sorts of notes and keep careful track of the things that are likely to matter.

It might sound counterintuitive that the best way to train yourself to observe more in the world is to learn what to ignore, but that’s the basic idea here. You can’t pay attention to everything, so decide what you want to look for to retrain your eye. When you do, you’ll naturally come up with more ideas for any given subject.

Challenge Yourself to Pay Attention to New Things

Keeping an eye out for “new” things is easier said than done. You can’t just say to yourself, “I’m going to observe the world with new eyes today” and expect it to happen. Instead, you might be better off giving yourself a series of challenges. These challenges can be anything, but it’s probably best to start with something that matters to you. Here are just a few ideas to get you started, compiled partially from this Quora thread and this Medium post .

  • Watch people in crowded areas: If the first thing you do when you sit down in a crowded place is pull out your phone, stop. Spend some time taking it all in and watching people. Look at how they act in crowded spaces, how they interact with others, and how they navigate the rush of it all.
  • Assign yourself a scavenger hunt: Pick something and look for it throughout your day. This could be anything, broken windows, security cameras, or a particular graffiti artist. Find it, take a picture, or note it. Look for more. When you’re done, try to figure out why that stuff is there.
  • Watch the local news (or read the local paper): It might not seem like it, but the local news is a great way to get to know your city, faults and all. Since they tend to talk about local issues, it’s also a good way to learn about what’s happening in your neighborhood. This in turn helps you pay attention to all kinds of new things.
  • Walk with an expert: Chances are, you have some friends with different careers and hobbies than you. Take a walk with them and they’ll teach you new things about the space around you. It might be local history, geology, or even typography.
  • Take a “soundwalk”: This one sounds a little silly, but teacher Marc Weidenbaum took students around on a soundwalk where they found origin points of sounds, explored the area in a new way, and trained their ear to listen for new things.
  • Take field notes: We’ve talked about this before , and the idea is pretty simple. Pick a place, sit down, and write or sketch out everything you see. This trains your brain to pay more attention and observe more of the world.
  • Take on a 365 Day Photo Challenge: If you’re not really sure where to start, a 365 day photo challenge place to experiment. The basic idea is that you take a photo a day for a full year, with different challenges each day to keep things interesting. It certainly trains you mind to look through a camera lens a little differently.

You can choose any challenge that suits your needs. If you’re an app developer, it’s about paying attention to what people need, if you’re a writer, it’s about paying attention to what people are doing, and so on. Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone, though. Just because you have no aspirations to be a designer doesn’t mean you can’t take a week to notice the typography on local buildings. The trick is to challenge yourself to look at your everyday in a new way.