I’ve been watching a lot of the new Netflix series “Marvel’s Daredevil” lately. If you know anything about the show (based on the comic book series by Stan Lee and Bill Everett) you know that Daredevil Matt Murdock (played by Charlie Cox) is a blind vigilante who prowls the streets of New York in a black mask to protect the city he loves. In one scene, Matt stands at the open window of an abandoned building, listening to and identifying every strain of sound on the street below from the precise pitch of whining fire engines and police vehicles to snatches of conversation. He can tell whether or not someone’s telling the truth by listening to their heart rate, and midway through the series *SPOILER ALERT!* he tells his best friend Foggy Nelson that he first felt motivated to take on his Daredevil persona after he heard a girl crying in an apartment building several blocks away.
While it’s highly unlikely that even the most observant person can use their senses the way Matt Murdock does, Matt Murdock is a perfect example of what goes on in the observant person’s brain. Very often we associate observation with vision—with using our eyes to take in the world around us—but being observant is much more than seeing. It involves turning on our brains at full power and soaking in the world with every molecule of our bodies. Observant people notice everything from the most insignificant speck of dust to the woman on the bus who smells like she showers in her favorite perfume. This level of sensory awareness can be at once a blessing and a curse because noticing everything means having to concentrate more diligently to filter out background noise or unimportant details to prioritize information. Here are fifteen things only incredibly observant people can understand and that everyone else can learn from if you pay attention!
1. They practice deductive reasoning
Let’s use another famous example: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic consulting detective, the one and only Sherlock Holmes. Well-known for his powers of observation and deduction, Holmes famously tells his clients not to leave out a single detail when relating their problems to him, even the most seemingly insignificant trifle, for as he often says, there’s nothing so important as trifles. He can tell that Watson’s had a cold from the fact that he’s lost weight and his slippers are scorched from warming his feet before the fire, and in his very first case, A Study in Scarlet, he manages to catch a murderer by, among other things, identifying the tobacco ash left at the crime scene.
While observant people might not regularly use their skills to solve crimes, this just proves that attention to detail can make you more attuned to your surroundings. Observant people might be more likely to be considerate of others as a result. If they notice that a coworker comes into the office with mismatched shoes, for instance, they might deduce from this detail that the person left the house in a rush and maybe isn’t having the best morning, so it might not be the most convenient moment to bring up that looming project deadline.
2. They can tell when you’re lying
Observant people notice body language: posture, eye contact, facial expressions, and changes in breathing. It’s a common belief that when we lie, we don’t make eye contact with the person we’re lying to. You can’t hide anything from an observant person. Matt Murdock can tell when Foggy wants to say something but changes his mind just based on the change in his breathing. So if you have something to say to an observant person, just spit it out; they’ll drag it out of you eventually anyway and you’ll feel better for having gotten it off of your chest.
3. They practice mindfulness
All of us are probably guilty of checking our phones or playing Candy Crush while we wait for the subway or stand in line at the supermarket because we can’t stand boredom, but for observant people this is just an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Whenever they’re still, they use that time wisely to hone their senses, soaking in their surroundings, taking in the intricate beading on the shoes of the woman standing in front of them or the way the man seated across from them at the bus stop keeps nervously combing his fingers through his hair. Sometimes they even like to make up stories; maybe the guy is meeting a secret lover, or maybe he’s nervous about a job interview. These games keep the mind active and help observant people to remain grounded in the moment.
4. They’re great listeners
If you’re having trouble deciding whether or not to take that new job that requires a cross-country move or if you’re having problems in a relationship, observant people are great to have around. We all know that conversations aren’t just about talking, listening, and responding. We need to engage the entire body and mind, not just the ears and mouth. Since observant people tend to be better at grounding themselves in the moment, they likely have excellent focus and are therefore more likely to be fully engaged in a conversation. They’ll nod, make eye contact, and ask questions when appropriate to indicate that they’re fully engaged. Such active dialogue lends itself well to problem-solving because you can talk through the situation and examine it from different angles.
5. They have better organizational skills
This characteristic can sometimes be mistaken for obsessive-compulsiveness, and it’s just a natural side-effect of being attuned to one’s surroundings. Maybe you remember that old episode of “Full House”, after DJ and Steph accidentally punch a hole in Danny’s bedroom wall and try to move all of the furniture in the room to cover it. When he notices something is off, his first words are “Who moved the baking-soda in my underwear drawer?”
Since observant people notice everything, when something is out of place, it throws the universe out of balance, but part of the reason why they can remain so focused and productive in their everyday lives is because they have everything they need at their fingertips. No searching for paper-clips or turning their desk drawers upside-down to find a pen.
6. They have a strong sense of orientation
Since observant people always take in their surroundings, they’re excellent at spotting landmarks or points of orientation, especially in large or crowded environments. Always have an observant person with you when you go to the mall during the Christmas rush because they’ll be the most likely to remember where you parked your car, and they won’t be foolish enough to use non-stationary landmarks like the pea-green minivan plastered with political bumper stickers that might not be there by the time you finish shopping.
7. They’re incredibly analytical
The thing about being incredibly observant is that attention to detail goes hand in hand with analysis. Observant people, like Sherlock Holmes, notice everything because everything is important, at least to them.
Let’s say you’re chatting with your incredibly observant friend about your recent vacation and exclaim, “Me and my husband spent the weekend at this great hotel!” Don’t be surprised if the friend responds, “my husband and I, not me and my husband. You can’t use objective pronouns in the subject of a sentence.” This might seem picky (and, yeah, it is), but you’re going to want that person around when you need someone to proofread the report or legal document you’ve just written because you know they’ll catch every mistake you made, not to mention the ones you didn’t realize you made.
8. They’re fountains of factual information
If their tendency to correct grammar in casual conversations wasn’t enough of a hint, observant people can be know-it-alls sometimes. They’re so used to noticing everything and filing it away in their encyclopedic brains that they forget that not everyone does this. So if you express surprise when they tell you that a pumping human heart is powerful enough to squirt blood up to a distance of 30 feet and the observant person who edified you responds with “I thought everyone knew that,” don’t take it personally. Just placate them by reminding them that not everyone is as detail and fact-oriented as they are. They like knowing that there’s a niche in the universe for their talent even if they’re frustrated when nobody seems to possess their depth of knowledge. Next time you’re playing Trivia Crack, you’re going to want them around.
9. They have better survival skills
You’ve probably seen people talking on the phone, texting, applying makeup, or fiddling with their iPods while driving. You’ve probably done it yourself. According to an article in Psychology today over time, as we’ve evolved and begun to rely more on technology and less on our bodily instincts, we’ve become less observant. That “little voice” that’s telling you to pay attention or that something isn’t right is really your limbic system kicking into gear.
Not following this basic human instinct can lead to accidents and injuries. The AAA Foundation reports that approximately 80% of drivers feel unsafe on the roads because of distractions, and federal statistics indicate that distracted driving leads to 5000 deaths annually from car accidents. Observant people know that distractions interfere with focus and are therefore more likely to practice situational awareness, remaining alert in situations that can be potentially dangerous.
10. They love to people-watch
Observant people probably get told off for staring or being nosy when they’re in public, but people-watching serves two purposes; it keeps their minds actively engaged with their surroundings, and it offers creative inspiration. Since observant people’s senses are always tingling, they often find creativity, like writing or painting, to be a useful outlet.
According to Scott Kaufman, a psychologist at NYU, “Marcel Proust spent almost his whole life people-watching, and he wrote down his observations, and it eventually came out in his books.” One of my creative writing professors in college used to tell her students to go to Starbucks with a notebook and eavesdrop on people’s conversations because there are stories all around us if we know where to find them, and observant people are great at sniffing out stories.
11. They’re great judges of character
Observant people are always attentive to social dynamics, and because they can read body language extremely well, they can determine pretty easily how people treat one another. They can tell when couples are truly in love by the tone in which they talk to each other or how closely they sit to each other. They can deduce how close a pair of friends are by the tone of the Facebook posts and Twitter conversations between them.
A friend of mine once expressed concern about a mutual friend’s significant other by saying, “He didn’t say a word to anyone the entire time we were at dinner, and he never looked at you when you spoke to him. He’s bad news.” When they broke up, everyone said the person had a sixth sense. Not really. She was just paying attention. Try it some time.
12. They have more keenly-developed comprehension and critical thinking skills
Observant people were probably the ones who breezed through tests in school, were the fastest readers, and responded the most quickly to answers in class. This isn’t necessarily natural ability, but the result of developing their observational skills. One of the biggest benefits to being so observant is that, according to Social-Psychiatry.com, all of that brain exercise strengthens the neural pathways in the brain, resulting in better reading comprehension and reading speed.
This increases the ability to absorb and retain information, which is why observant people tend to have eidetic memories. When I was studying for my comprehensive exam as a Master’s student, I developed a reputation in my study group for being the quotation queen. Instead of looking up the page number of a book quotation, someone would read it to me from their notes, and I’d tell them what page it was on. It saved a lot of time.
13. They’re perfectionists
Sometimes the downside to being so detail-oriented is that letting things slide can be challenging. Observant people have to cross every t, dot every i, and proofread their emails five times, manually as well as with spell-checker. They have to practice their presentations fifteen times before they feel comfortable, but they’ll be the most productive people you can work with because they believe that there’s no point doing a job unless you’re going to do it right. This characteristic makes them great team leaders, trainers, and teachers because they can micro-manage and oversee what everyone is doing.
14. They appreciate the importance of repetition
Observant people can watch their favorite movies and read their favorite books over and over again and never get bored because they’ll always discover something new. Even if it’s as simple as noticing what color socks a character is wearing, that discovery adds a whole new dimension to the experience. Moreover, while observant people tend to absorb information more quickly, they’re also aware that something might slip under their radar undetected. This is why it’s always a good practice to read novels multiple times before writing a research paper about them and why rereading study or presentation notes multiple times is a smart habit to practice because the more you look at something the more deeply it becomes etched into your mind’s eye.
15. They have healthier relationships
This goes back to the importance of reading body language and relationship dynamics. Observant people can be more attuned to the rhythms of other people’s lives and bodies as well as their own and can thus pick up on mood changes and habits. They’ll be more likely to ask what’s bothering their partner if they notice a frowning expression or if a usually chatty friend has become uncharacteristically quiet or withdrawn. They’ll know that if you’re not a morning person that there’s no point trying to get a word out of you before you’ve had caffeine, and they’ll remember that the only thing that cheers you up when you’re feeling down is your favorite flavor of Ben and Jerry’s. There’s no magic to this. They just care about you enough to take the time to observe how they can cultivate the relationship.