Observe Your Surroundings
What is the first thing you think of when I say, “observe your surroundings”? I’m going to guess you thought about looking around and using your sense of sight to SEE what’s in your space. What if I told you your sight was already being influenced by another one of your senses?
That’s right, your sense of sight is secondary most of the time because you might hear something before you see it.
If you took an informal poll of your friends, most of them would rather lose their hearing instead of their vision. But your hearing capabilities evolved from its survival advantage. You hear things before you see them, especially at night or in the dark. Your hearing influences every other perception you have.
You’re surrounded by noises every day. But just like with sight, your ears can be listening to tons of sounds in your environment, without your brain really hearing them; your antennae are always up, but they don’t always send a signal to pay attention. Such signals only register in your conscious awareness when they’re particularly important (as in when you hear your name said at a noisy party), or when they break the usual pattern/tone/rhythm that your brain expects (like a scream, crash, explosion, or someone is talking in a strange or suspicious way).
You can tune into more sounds than you usually hear by “perking up” your ears, concentrating, and trying to distinguish and pull out noises you’re usually “ear-blind” to.
How can you practice hearing more than you usually do?
1. The next time you arrive to a meeting at a coffee shop early, instead of getting on your phone to check social media, try closing your eyes or looking down and see how many different sounds you can hear.
2. When you are in a social setting, see if you can pick out a specific voice or noise amongst all the other sounds around you.
3. If you hear a noise (and you’re in a safe setting), trying to guess what made the noise before turning to look and see what it was.
Moms have a tendency to really excel at these exercises because they’re used to hearing the cupboard door to the snacks open when it’s not supposed to or pick out their kid screaming “mom!” on a playground with other screaming kids, but anyone can improve their hearing skills.
Start by taking 5 minutes sometime today to stop and really listen to the noises going on around you. Who or what is making the sound? Is it a happy, sad or mad sound? Are any of the sounds something you should pay more attention to?
“And in English you have this wonderful difference between listening and hearing, and that you can hear without listening and you can listen and not hear.” -Daniel Barenboim