Stress Relief Strategy: Simply Noticing

by Doc Orman, M.D.


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This week, my goal was to highlight two very important stress relief principles: 

Stress Relief Principle #4:  Triggering

Stress Relief Principle #5:  Automaticity 

If you missed either of these two recent posts, just click on the links above and you’ll be able to review them. 

Today, for my final post of the week, I want to suggest a very simple, but also very powerful, strategy to you that will help you appreciate the roles both triggering and automaticity play in your daily life. 

This strategy is known as “simply noticing” and it’s been around for many, many years.  It’s actually been around for thousands of years and has been the basis for certain types of meditative practices all over the globe. 

What Is “Simply Noticing”? 

Simply Noticing is pretty much what it says—you simply take notice of something…WITHOUT TRYING TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT.  It’s this last part that makes this strategy so difficult for most people to use. 

Simply Noticing can be applied to many different aspects of life.  For example, you can be sitting on a porch and simply notice all the people or cars going by. Or, you can be lying on your back in a meadow and simply notice the sky, the clouds, any birds in the sky, etc.  If you are using this strategy to meditate, you just sit quietly in a comfortable position and notice all the thoughts that come into your mind or any feelings that arise in your body. You don’t try to stop them, or change them, or do anything else with them. You just simply notice them and then simply notice whatever thoughts or feelings might come next. 

The problem with using this strategy, in our goal-oriented culture today, is that most people find it very difficult to simply notice something…and stop at that.  Our habit is to notice things in order to fix them, or to use them for some type of gain, or to do anything else with whatever we notice other than simply noticing things and then moving on.  We seem to have this insatiable desire to do something with everything we notice, and that can be a problem when using this strategy as I will be encouraging you to do. 

Try Simply Noticing Your Triggering And Automaticity 

Take a few days and just simply notice how often your body gets triggered, from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall off to sleep.  Also, notice how often you fail to notice that you were actually triggered to respond in certain ways. 

Did you notice that your alarm clock was a trigger?  Did you notice what happened when you glanced out of your window?  Did you notice what happened when you looked at the headlines in your daily newspaper or online news source that you follow?  Did you hear any horns, sirens, or other jarring sound on your drive to work?  Did you encounter any other motorists who may have triggered you in any way? 

Try to pay attention, for just one or two days, to all the many triggers that impinge upon your body during a 24-hour time period.  And then see if you can also notice the responses that become triggered within you (i.e. your automaticity) as a result of some of those triggers.  

Do you notice any patterns in your responses to certain types of triggers?  Can you actually “see” your body getting triggered and the immediate automatic responses that follow…without your conscious intent? 

Just Notice…That’s All 

All I am asking you to do here is simply notice all the many triggers that impinge upon your body every day, and then just simply notice how your body automatically responds to them.  That’s all I’m asking you to do.  Nothing more. 

I’m not asking you to evaluate your automatic responses, or judge yourself either positively or negatively for having them. I’m also not asking you to try and do anything about your automatic responses, once you have taken notice of them. 

Just simply notice as many instances as you can…and then move on. 

How Does This Help With Dealing With Stress?  

This is not a strategy for getting rid of stress.  It’s a strategy for becoming more aware of how your body actually works. 

However, when it comes to dealing with stress in your life, this ability to notice your automaticity is extremely important.  You see, much of our stress is caused by internal conversations (thoughts) and action patterns (behavior tendencies) that get triggered within our bodies.  The more you are able to recognize these hidden causes, and the more you can appreciate their automatic qualities, the better off you will be when you do want to step in and try to do something to overcome them. 

But those stress-relieving strategies are not what I’m asking you to focus on right now.  I just want you to focus on all the many triggers that surround you every day and become more aware of how your body has been conditioned to respond to them in very automatic, predictable ways.  Your goal right now should only be to gain a better appreciation for the roles that both triggering and automaticity play in your life.  And in order to do this, all you have to do is practice the centuries-old art of just simply noticing.

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