*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of NETGALLEY arc The Art of Noticing: Rediscover What Really Matters To You by Rob Walker #Brainfluffbookreview #TheArtofNoticingbookreview


I have been struggling with stress and mild depression throughout this year. It’s badly affected my ability to sustain the relationships around me that matter, my physical health, my teaching and my writing. One of the more miserable aspects of this malaise is that I’m finding it very difficult to put in place anything that might help me out of this hole. I’ve fallen into patterns of behaviour that while initially helping me to flick into escape-mode, now over the longer term, are aggravating the situation – and through a sense of hopelessness, I am finding it difficult to wean myself away from them. So when I saw this book, I thought it might provide me with some ways to help myself at a practical, concrete level.

Distracted? Overwhelmed? Feel like your attention is constantly being pulled in different directions? Learn how to steal it back. Accessible and inspiring, this book features 131 surprising and innovative exercises to help you tune out white noise, get unstuck from your screen and manage daily distractions. Make small yet impactful changes and bring focus to the things and people that are most important to you.

And there’s the blurb – so the question is, are those 131 exercises really surprising and innovative? Can I envisage myself taking part in any of them, or a close alternative that would be a better fit for my own lifestyle and personality?

The answer to the first question is – yes. All the exercises are slightly off the wall and unusual, requiring a shift from everyday thinking – to the extent that some of them are used to help art students hone an alternative, original view of the world. Some of my favourites include the one inspired by writer Paul Lukas, who likes to discover the backstory of everyday objects in an activity he calls ‘inconspicuous consumption’, by asking ‘how did it get that way?’. I also like the exercise Brian Rea uses of making lists of immaterial things – such as the things he is worried about, memorable moments during a dinner party, the bars he visited when living in Stockholm. None of the above remotely appeal, but I’m attracted to the idea of making a list of the flowers blooming in my garden, along with the date when they first appeared, for instance. Another exercise I particularly like is making a glossary of unfamiliar vocabulary that exist within a specific expertise, by asking people for terms within their work life that don’t regularly come up in everyday usage.

There were a number of exercises that left me cold – one was to record a couple of minutes of activity on your smartphone and write a poem, or description of it, after viewing it repeatedly to ensure you absorb all the minutest details. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with it, it just didn’t appeal.

What I appreciate is that Walker has taken pains to spread these exercises across the widest spectrum of interests and sensory input. There are exercises that appeal to our visual senses – like the above, for instance. There are exercises involving sound-mapping the surrounding environment, with some ingenious variations; exercises involving drawing or painting; and using modern technology to make short films of the day objects you touch every day. In short, whoever you are and whatever your particular strengths and inclination, I think you’ll find something in this book that you could use or adapt. And that was something else I really like – there is no sense in which Walker is at all dogmatic about any of the suggested exercises. He frequently suggests variations and at the end of the book actively encourages his readers to find different ways to put this approach in place.

These exercises are all designed to help us reset ourselves within our environment, so that we focus on the immediacy of existing in the way we’ve done for millennia – the way we’re designed to do. I will be campaigning for the hard copy edition of this book for my upcoming birthday, as the ebook isn’t a particularly friendly medium for browsing and flipping back and forth. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to reconnect with their surroundings in any way.

16 responses »

  1. This sounds fascinating, and it sounds like some of the excercises were valuable. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been suffering from depression, I hope it’s only temporary and things turn around soon.

    • Thank you for your kind concern, Tammy. I hasten to add – we are talking MILD depression. While it means I’m feeling very sorry for myself – I’ve seen the harrowing effects of full-blown clinical depression and I am NOT claiming that I am struggling to that extent.

  2. It’s true that forcing ourselves to notice the small things around us, those things we sometimes are too busy or too distracted to see, can help us shift our perspective and offer us a new focus. I’m glad you are finding these inspirations useful to overcome your problems! 🙂

  3. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been feeling stressed out in recent months. This book sounds wonderful though and it’s one I will definitely buy at some point. I’ve spent the last two years looking at different ways of helping me cope with pain and it’s been eye-opening to me how much mindfulness has helped me. I think the difference is when you begin to feel you have some semblance of control over how you feel that things start to improve. I hope life settles down for you soon and that you start to feel better.

    • Thank you, Hayley for your kind good wishes. Yes – I can see how a sense of control would be helpful, particularly as I feel right now that my life has slid away from any kind of control…

  4. Yer depression might be mild, in yer words, but depression does suck no matter what form it be in. I hope that ye climb out of the hole sooner rather than later. This book does seem like an interesting concept. I like that it tries to be inclusive instead of saying there be only one correct answer towards self-help. Thanks for sharing. Air hugs! Arrrr!
    x The Captain

    • Thank you for your kind words and the air hugs, Cap – much appreciated! I’m hoping to feel better soon, too! And I was also impressed that this book offers such a wide spread of exercises.

  5. This sounds like a practical and helpful book, Sarah. I’m definitely interested. I hope life settles for you soon and that you are feeling more like yourself. I’m sending lots of good thoughts and hugs. ♥️

    • Yes – I’m definitely going to give some of the exercises a try… And many, many thanks for the good thoughts and hugs, Jennifer – much appreciated!

  6. Oh – so sorry that you’ve been feeling low, i know you said ‘mild’ but even so that’s a bit rotten and I feel for you. Stress is such a bugger isn’t it.
    It will be interesting to see how the exercises help.
    Lynn 😀

  7. Sorry to hear you have been struggling Sarah. Depression can be debilitating, so I am glad to hear it is only mild and you have found some activities that help a bit.

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