If you’re looking for a hobby or just feeling bored, try human observation.
When observing other people, I use my mind in certain ways. I not only observe but think.
My modus operandi is to look out from the living room window of my apartment.
This actually reminds me of the classic old movie “Rear Window.” The main character is a wheelchair-bound photographer who looks out at his neighbors using binoculars.
It gets suspenseful when he thinks he sees evidence of a murder.
I haven’t seen any evidence of murder from my window (and hope I never do). Fortunately, these days I think even “ordinary” things witnessed are often interesting.
One of the benefits of being more observant is being less self-conscious. I used to be very self-conscious because I wasn’t observant and was too wrapped up in myself. But now I happily notice stuff around me more, which also makes me more comfortable in my own skin.
As I said, I like to watch the world from my window, so you don’t necessarily have to go anywhere to practice being observant.
You can observe people from the comfort of home and become more socially confident at the same time.
Observing and Thinking
There’s a bus stop across the street from where I live. This means I can observe people standing there waiting.
And of course, I can also watch others who for whatever reason are just hanging around outside.
What do I think about when I observe people that helps me socially?
Well, since I can generally only see people and not hear them, eavesdropping on conversation isn’t possible.
So instead, one thing I pay particular attention to is body language. I come to understand social interaction better in that way.
Another thing is as I look out, I visualize.
Body Language Observations
A few days ago, I saw two people standing near a house across the street, chatting. They looked like they were familiar and comfortable with each other.
One man had his arms folded across his chest. Although this way of arranging the arms is considered closed and unfriendly, I didn’t see it that way in this particular case. I thought this man still looked amicable towards his fellow conversationalist.
I just might adopt the arms folded across the chest pose myself when standing and conversing with someone. I imagine it would make me feel in control and poised.
(I think whether one particular aspect of body language appears open and friendly or not depends on other aspects of nonverbal communication. If the man I saw was frowning, then having arms folded across the chest would certainly be unfriendly.)
The other man had his hands in his pockets. He also appeared relaxed, even though hands in pocket is generally considered insecure body language. But he didn’t look insecure to me, so there are exceptions to this rule.
I also think having hands in pocket would be okay for me–as long as my body language overall is relaxed rather than stiff.
Shortly after, I saw a group of people standing at the bus stop. They seemed brash and loud, though I couldn’t decipher what they said. I watched them and then used my mind to visualize standing there myself at the bus stop near this group of people. I imagined carrying myself with self-assurance next to them.
I then took a brief break and turned on the television set, but the television shows weren’t even as interesting as looking out the window.
So I went back to the window. I noticed the rowdy group of people were gone and in their place was an individual. Again, I imagined being there at the bus stop, standing near this other person, carrying myself in a self-assured way. I even imagined saying something about her shoes. We then had a brief (imaginary) interaction based on my initial comment.
It’s important to note that I felt no anxiety during my imaginary social interaction. Having no anxiety during an imaginary social episode means there will be little or no anxiety when having future real-life conversations.
I find it’s easier to visualize new social behaviors and interacting with others when I’m looking at real people rather than, say, closing my eyes and trying to imagine something that has absolutely no real foundation.
This technique of visualizing while looking at real people also works when out in the world. Earlier today, for example, I was on the bus and took the opportunity to observe another passenger while she was looking down at her cell phone. She wasn’t sitting next to me but at some distance, and I watched her (without staring). I thought about what I might say to her to start a conversation and imagined carrying on a brief conversation exchange.
It All Begins In the Head
Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” And imagination is a mental tool which, as I’ve described, can be effectively combined with observation.
I had said how it’s easier to use my imagination to visualize interacting if I’m looking at real people rather than closing my eyes and trying to imagine.
However, I also find that it’s easier to visualize, even when there’s no one actually around, if I keep my eyes open rather than closed. I imagine “phantom people.”
Unlike looking out the window, imagining “phantom people” works better for visualizing if I’m in a public place. For instance, if I’m sitting in a park and no one is actually nearby, I can create an imaginary person with whom I start a conversation with in my head.
I know some people like to close their eyes and do visualization “from scratch”, but I find it easier to visualize with my eyes open and seeing something in front of me, whether it be real people or real scenery.
I call visualizing conversations in the ways I’ve described “imaginary exposure therapy.” Exposure therapy is effective, whether the conversations are real or imagined.
Ordinary But Not Ho-Hum
So being observant can be used in several ways to improve social skills.
But besides this, being observant is wonderful in itself.
As I mentioned, I generally can’t hear people through the window when they’re talking outside, though that’s not always the case. I mean, if someone is being loud or shouting, then I can hear them.
The other day when I was looking out the window, I saw a man across the street get into a truck.
The man then yelled, “Get in the f**king car!”
I saw a big dog get into the back seat.
The man then turned around to look at the dog grumpily and drove off.
I know, I know, this guy could have been nicer to his dog, but I understand because sometimes I’m grumpy too towards my cat. But I’m still basically nice.
Anyway, I was amused by this mundane scene on the “viewing screen” of my window.
It goes to show that even “ordinary” happenings can be ENTERTAINING, sometimes as much as or even more so than movies.