Do you notice yourself getting stuck in patterns, doing things out of habit, walking around with blinders on?

A few years ago I realized that I’d been figuratively and literally walking with my head down, nose to the proverbial grindstone and stuck in my routine. Right around New Years I was walking down my street and saw this beautiful painted Victorian I’d never noticed in the five years I lived in my neighborhood because I was always looking down. I decided that for the next year, my theme would be “look up.”

Pay attention.
Wander.
Notice the details.
Be present.

My mantra of “look up” was a touchstone, a reminder to catch myself in those moments when I wasn’t paying attention and letting life slip by.

  • Absentmindedly following the same path to work every day staring at the ground in front of me and my mind elsewhere.
  • Doing things on autopilot, and waking up not knowing how I got there.
  • Doing things out of habit or routine, stuck in old patterns
  • Feeling stale

By reminding myself to “look up” I suddenly was more engaged, alert, creative, and inspired. I began seeing quirks in my environment that I’d never noticed before: interesting architecture, cool plants, neat signs hanging in the windows, small shops tucked into corners. I began searching for novelty and infusing new life into my everyday existence: new recipes, new adventures, fresh perspectives. Even more surprising – I felt more joy.

I was lightened up, literally. The simple act of bringing my head up, I suddenly felt happier. When you’re looking down you’re hunched over, your body language depressed. You actually cut of the oxygen flow to your brain and don’t use the full capacity of your lungs. When you’re looking up, your posture is straight. You walk with buoyancy. You breathe in fresh air, and it circulates throughout your body. We’re meant to look up, not down.

That year trained me to catch myself when I was stuck in the grooves I’d created in my life, blind to the world around me. It’s been a few years since “look up” was my theme, and since it’s not top of mind I don’t think to “look up” as often as I used to. My trip to Paris re-trained me to look up.

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No city offers a better reminder to “look up” than Paris in the summer. The sky is unreal – a crisp blue with fluffy white clouds. The beautiful architecture. An iconic monument in the skyline.

Around each corner you find something lovely…

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A band playing on a corner.

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People dancing and picnicing.

The French culture also serves as a reminder to “look up”. To savor every meal, take pleasure in every moment. Rather than do things by rote, seek to find the most pleasurable way to do it. No other time in my life has each day and each decision been framed by what would make me happiest, bring me the most joy, as when I was in Paris. Often it was as simple as a kir at a cafe.

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The trip in and of itself was a reminder to look up. To observe where you are, remember that you’re alive, that every moment is a choice. Now that I’m back, I find myself “looking up” more often, noticing the world, and finding more joy.

Where in your life have you been looking down? What would you notice if you looked up? twitter_32

Take action now: This week, practice “looking up”. Here are ten ways to start:

  1. Literally look up as you walk. Take in your surroundings and notice the details. You’ll be surprised at the difference and shocked by how much you’ve been looking down.
  2. Take a new route.
  3. Find a new ingredient at the grocery store or farmers market and cook a meal with it.
  4. Look at the name of your server or cashier and say thank you using their name.
  5. Order your coffee or tea differently; try something new at a restaurant where you usually order the same thing.
  6. Notice colors throughout your day. Different hues of the sky; colors of paint. Even the red of a car’s brake lights.
  7. When you sit down in a cafe or restaurant, take a moment and look around you and notice all the people there and see what they’re doing. Notice the details.
  8. When you take a bite of food, see if you can figure out every ingredient and name every taste.
  9. Try a different soap or lotion in a new scent – just the act of picking out a new flavor will stimulate your senses.
  10. Lay in the grass and stare at the sky.

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