Observing with gentle curiosity

Let’s imagine that, as part of your job or for a training course, you have to observe someone.

This person is a stranger to you, just someone who has agreed to be observed. Your brief is to watch this person, doing your best to let them know that they don’t have to change anything that they are doing. You are to note what they do, when they do it, and how. Your task is to gather as much information about this person as possible, without judging what they are doing or coming to any conclusions about what sort of a person this is.

This isn’t an easy thing to do.

And, with practice and persistence, you become better at putting your own subjective judgements to one side and you are able to observe this person with gentle curiosity. “Oh, so that’s how they do that, and that’s when they do this, and that’s what they do.” The information you gather will eventually enable you to have a good understanding of how that person functions; what seems to lead to certain behaviours, how they cope with situations that crop up in their life and when certain things happen or don’t for them. If the task allowed, you would now be in a very good position to discuss your findings with this person and offer them help and advice, should they want it. Even if the task doesn’t allow that, you will have come a lot closer to this one person, there is likely to exist mutual trust and respect between you. And you will have developed this relationship with gentle curiosity, not the jack-booted, finger-wagging approach that would have caused the other to shut down out of panic, rebelliousness or stubbornness or to be as good as possible while being observed.

Just imagine, if we do this with ourselves as the test subject.

Could we spend time observing ourselves with gentle curiosity, without judgement, without asking ourselves to change anything – just finding out what we do, when we do it and how?

We could agree to this scrutiny because we know it’s not going to be punitive; it’s going to help. If we have little to no information about our habits, our reactions and our thoughts and feelings, we can’t do anything to modify them if we want to. Observing with gentle curiosity (otherwise known as tuning-in) will help us to trust the process; we are not looking at ourselves in order to beat ourselves up, to criticise, to find fault, to nag ourselves into changing or into stopping behaviours and habits that we no longer wish to continue with. Instead, we are tuning-in and gathering information in order to come to a gentle conclusion that this behaviour may have helped us in the past, we can acknowledge that and even thank ourselves for looking after ourselves in the best way we knew how at that time – and things are different now and we want to move on and leave that behaviour behind.

At one time, diving into a family pack of crisps or a box of chocolate was a good way of coping with ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, as Shakespeare put it so eloquently.

In our gently curious observation of ourselves, we have seen ourselves do just that; cope. And now we can choose that not to do that anymore. If we want to and feel ready, we can cope without medicating ourselves with food. Of course, there may well be times when nothing but a family pack of chocolate fingers will do and our gentle self-observation will note those times and let them go without recrimination.

Sometimes that’s the best we can do, and that’s ok. The rest of the time tuning-in, gentle observation, is helping us move away from dissatisfying eating habits because we now know what they are.

If we don’t know, we can’t change, even if we really want to.

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