Via Jill Jepson at

1. Observe a stone.

I often make my students do this exercise, even though many of them detest it. (Because sometimes the exercise you hate is the one that is doing the most good).

Start with an ordinary stone. Not a fascinating geode, an unusual agate, or a beautiful crystal, just a boring rock. I look for a gray, oval rock about the size of a man’s thumb.

Put the rock on an plain surface in front of you.

Set a timer for 20 minutes. Yes, 20 minutes.

Observe the stone.

You will probably go through several stages as that 20 minutes creeps by. Stage 1: Okay, here I am observing a rock. Stage 2: Well I’ve observed all I can. There’s nothing more to notice. Stage 3: This is boring. This is hideously, unforgivingly boring. And pointless! I’m quitting right now. Do not give in to this stage! Say the course!

Finally, something remarkable will begin to happen. You will start to notice that the rock isn’t actually a plain gray stone. There are colors in it. Flecks of red. A bluish hue. Oranges and greens and yellows will appear. And the surface, once appearing so bland will become interesting—here’s a small crack, there a slight depression.

If you can make it until you “break through” to a deeper level of observation, you will be rewarded with an exciting experience.

2. Describe a penny.

Describe a common coin. If you’re from the U.S., a penny works best. Do not reach into your pocket and pull out a penny and list its characteristics. Instead, describe it completely from memory. Write a detailed description of each side.

Pennies are something every person in the U.S. has seen since we were little kids. Whatever coin you pick, it’s also no doubt one everyone is familiar with. What you’ll probably discover, however, is that when you try to describe it, you falter. You struggle to remember what, exactly is printed on the coin, how they are oriented, which way they are facing. In fact, it can be quite a jolt to realize how poorly you remember.

Once you have as full as description as you can, compare it to the actual item.

Take specific note of what you got right and what you didn’t. Do you see any patterns?

3. Describe the clothing of the people you’ve met that day.

At the end of the day, go back and think of each person you interacted with during the day. Now describe what they were wearing. Be as detailed as possible. If you do this simple exercise repeatedly, you will find your skill improving. You will get better at noticing and recalling.

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