What are you noticing?

In 2007, I took a leap and checked an item off of my life’s bucket list: I entered a stand-up comedy competition.

To be clear, there was no audition. All you had to do to enter the contest was 1) have a working pulse and 2) write your name on a sign-up sheet. But I went for it. My friends all showed up to support me at the big show. And over the next four weeks, I actually managed to progress several rounds before the far more talented comedians went on to the finals.

I loved being on stage and making people laugh. But here’s what I didn’t love: spending all day every day asking, “Could that be funny?”

Stand-up comics are always looking for material. Is that funny? Could it be funny? How could I turn this thing I just thought or saw or experienced into something funny? That’s the job. It’s what a good comedian does. But I didn’t enjoy examining everything in my life through the lens of what was or might be funny. I found it exhausting. And it took away from my ability to notice and appreciate things that were more important to me.

Daily blogging inspired a similar behavior with a very different result.

Since beginning this blog ten years ago, at least once a day, I have to notice something that might be helpful or interesting enough to write about it. I can’t even begin to calculate how many hours I’ve spent over the last ten years noticing and consequently sharing information that intrigues me. Some days what I share is a lot more important or profound than other days. But the daily practice is one that’s made me a better observer, thinker, communicator, student, parent, and colleague. It’s why daily blogging is as selfish an act as it may also be a generous one. I get plenty out of this practice, too.

Lesson #3 of my final 31 posts: What you choose to notice every day influences your behavior.

We all have near limitless information streaming our way every day. But our brains have limited resources. We can’t take in everything around us and parcel out attention equally. We get to choose what we notice. And those choices have very real consequences. They can make us feel happier, more informed, more relaxed, more fortunate, etc., or they can make us resentful, over-invested in things that don’t matter, anxious, less fortunate, etc.

Not everyone has the luxury to ignore what might be difficult in their lives, especially if they’re experiencing real hardship. But we all get to make choices throughout the day about what’s worth paying attention to. And those choices have side effects. If you want to change the side effects, change what you’re choosing to notice.

It’s worth checking in regularly and asking yourself: (1) What am I choosing to notice every day, and (2) is that practice making my life better, or worse?