Most of the time, when we are talking to someone, when we are watching a movie, or when we are listening to a presentation, our mind can wander. We may pick up some of the things that we were supposed to remember. We often forget a lot of things, and someone else, perhaps our friend or a colleague has far more insights about the same subject than we do. Why does this happen? What are they doing that you are not? One might say, ‘Oh, I wasn’t paying full attention.’ Yet sometimes, even when you are indeed listening intently or registering the changing slides with the utmost care, you may find your observations differ from those around you. Why is that?

Even though we think observation is merely the practice of looking at a thing or listening to a thing, it’s much more than that. The meaning of observation lies in complete awareness of self and constant utilization of all five senses, not just one or two. Observation skills are of utmost importance in any line of work. A good observer is a person who notices, registers, analyzes, and builds upon the stimulus to arrive at a sound conclusion. It takes an inquisitive, curious, and focused mind to be a good observer.

The first step anyone must take in order to develop good observation skills is increasing their awareness. What does it mean to be aware? Being aware simply means registering, to the fullest extent possible, the things happening around you. To achieve this, one must be at peace. If you are listening to a lecture, employ active listening. Do not just ‘hear’ things but try to figure out the connection between points the speaker is making and connecting those points to events or experiences in your own life to thoroughly understand them.

It is extremely important to pay attention to the smallest details. Our brain tends to hide a few things under the surface. Things it does not feel are relevant. Why? Just so you can process other things efficiently. One has to train one’s brain to remember and pay attention to the smallest of details. Most of the time, we tend to overlook them and it cuts down on our observational capabilities. Associate small details with big, important things so that you have the complete information on the subject stored in your think-box. Small details can save you a lot of trouble and through a few memory techniques, you will be able to remember everything that has importance in your daily life.

It helps to sharpen your observation skills if you train your memory. Improving memory is a vast subject and there are a lot of schools of thought. If you pay attention to the subject matter, associate a few hard-to-remember qualitative points with definite quantifiers, and exercise your memory (or quite literally ‘jog’ your memory) every night by making yourself answer a few questions about the things you have learned during the day, you can build your memory along with your observational skills. Remember, stronger your memory, sharper your observation.

As discussed earlier, observation is not just paying attention to listening or seeing as we believe it to be. By engaging all five senses, i.e., vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste, you can pinpoint a specific time in the recent past to retrieve the relevant information.