Notice, Imagine, Feel
“Notice, Imagine, Feel” is a training tool from authentic relating, which separates an experience into:
- sensory observations (notice),
- mental interpretations (imagine), and
- emotions (feel).
I’ve found this tool to be very effective in training both myself and others, in what I consider a foundational skill of authentic relating: speaking my own truth. In authentic relating, we call this “owning your experience”.
Speaking my own truth has resulted in deeper connections, in dramatically shorter periods of time in both my personal and professional life, and with significantly less drama and misunderstanding.
Why practice Notice-Imagine-Feel (for yourself)?
Splitting your experience in these three steps of observation, interpretation and reaction, trains you to separate these three areas, and offers the opportunity to practice pausing between them.
By separating observation from interpretation, you give yourself room to see how other interpretations might also be possible.
By separating interpretation from emotions, you give yourself room to choose other emotions, or to be less attached to the emotion meaning something.
By choosing to pause between them, you practice mindful slowing down.
In a coach or trainer role, I credit the speed and the depth of my interactions to this slowing down. Often this seems magical.
Why practice Notice-Imagine-Feel (in relationship)?
By talking about the sensory observation, it is easier to find a shared experience between each other.
An example: A person tilting their head.
It is easier to agree that a person tilts their head sideways when talking, than it is to agree on what it means. It can also be highly informative to “see yourself through other eyes” and hear about things you cannot easily see yourself.
By talking about the mental interpretation, it is easier check if that interpretation actually is true for the other person. The agreed upon observation of the tilting of a person’s head, might be interpreted as curiosity by one, and condescending by the other. Talking about the interpretation helps understand where differences come from, and speak them.
By talking about the emotion, it is easier to separate the emotion from the story.
Instead of “you make me feel worthless”, I say “seeing you tilt your head, I imagine you think less of me, and I feel insecure*”.
(* That shift of “angry” to “insecure” happens very often as I am telling my truth more fully. And I find that also very, very valuable for myself. But that is for later.)
The “Noticing game”
The Noticing game is a fun way of training this skill. I’ve done this game many, many times and I love the depth of connection it brings in such a short time.
The game’s rules are simple:
- Pair up and chose a person A and B.
- Person A starts with “Being here with you, I am noticing/imagining/feeling …”.
- Person B answers with “Hearing that, I am noticing/imagining/feeling …”.
- Person A answers in the same way; “Hearing that, I am noticing/imagining/feeling …”.
- Repeat going back and forth for the given time (typically a few minutes).
Three steps: Notice, Imagine, Feel
Start this game with only “noticing” sensory observations. Then add “imagining” of mental interpretations. Then add “feeling” of emotions.
Notice: “objective” sensory observations
When using “notice”, you state only noticing of sensory observations: something you could see, hear, feel physically, …, of the other, you, or the world. It is easiest to stay with sensations that a camera could also capture (seeing, hearing), but you can extend that to tactile sensations, temperature etc.
“Being with you, I notice I see light reflecting in your eye.”,
“Hearing that, I notice I saw your eyes move around.”,
“Hearing that, I notice I hear you clear your throat.”, …
You might find how much richness there can be found in just noticing the observable, if you slow down. These “objective” observations also often are a great starting point of shared experiences, from which you can go deeper (“weave a shared reality” in authentic relating’s Circling language).
Imagine: mental interpretations
When using “imagine”, you state the interpretation you have might have about the other, yourself, the world. This interpretation might be the other person’s truth, heck it might not even turn out to be your truth, so it makes sense to state it with some uncertainty.
I like to use “image” more like a question mark at the end, then a period like I know.
“Being with you, I imagine the light blinds you.”,
“Hearing that, I imagine you think about the impact on me.”,
“Hearing that, I imagine you feel uncertain.”, …
I find a very useful alternative word for “imagine” to be “seem”, as in: “You/I/we seem …”.
Feel: share emotions
When using “feel”, you share emotions inside you. Just the emotion, it does not need to make sense or be related to what was just observed or imagined.
“Being with you, I feel restless.”,
“Hearing that, I feel reserved.”,
“Hearing that, I feel amused”, …
A practical hint: in English we use “feel” for both body-sense sensations (“I feel cold.”) and emotions (“I feel angry”). For this game, we’ll use “feel” solely for the emotions, i.e. “I feel sad”, to be clear.
Be careful when you hear yourself or someone else say “I feel like…”, as it often is a way to smuggle in an imagination as if it were an emotion.
Speaking your truth fully: I imagine you’ll benefit a lot from it
I invite you to make it a habit of checking whether you are speaking your truth fully, by asking yourself “can the other realistically deny that what I said is true?”
I found that “speaking your truth fully” to be simple in concept, though often not easy to do, and very much worth the effort. So I imagine will also be very valuable to you too!
With enthusiasm for this simple yet core practice,