Déjà vu, French for “already seen”, is that gut feeling you get when you experience something that you’ve already experienced. Some people think of déjà vu as an indication of precognition– the ability to see into the future, but research shows that it’s just the distinct impression of an expression being recalled.
If you think about it, it’s quite amazing that we don’t experience more déjà vu throughout our lives. If you’re reading this you’re most likely a person interested in improving your life, educating yourself and not simply living moment to moment; these all require habits. Habits require patience and consistency and consistency equals routines. Good routines need repetition. In order to improve we need to interact with the same people, ideas, methods and settings.
Want to get stronger? You need to go to the gym every day.
Want to get that new promotion? You need to work better and smarter.
All of this begs the question – why aren’t we experiencing déjà vu daily?
I can’t reliably answer that question but I can say there is a measure of adaptive ignorance in improving and learning. We often celebrate it as concentration, and don’t get me wrong, it’s needed, but like all things in life there is a fine line between the good and the bad, or too much and too little.
In Alexandra Horowitz’s book, On Looking, she talks about this adaptive ignorance:
“Attention is an intentional, unapologetic discriminator. It asks what is relevant right now, and gears us up to notice only that.”
In asking what is relevant now, we achieve our goals but also miss out on what is going on around us. Even by focusing on these words, you are ignoring a huge amount of information. Perhaps, it’s your Facebook messenger blinking, the sounds outside of the window or your stomach rumbling for more food. Part of a healthy functioning human brain is to be able to notice less than we are able to.
Psychologists used to refer to this as the “spotlight”, illuminating an idea or concept while everything else is left in the dark. But there is a lot more in the dark than just darkness.
What we don’t notice offers a world of insight. The world that we don’t see cannot shape our minds. Paying attention to the parts that we don’t usually consider helps us bring attention to the elements and ideas that usually elude us.
What we see as normal, is only normal for us, not for others. What you have become used to – your skills, abilities, knowledge, and experience – may present an awesomely new perspective for someone else.
It’s pretty easy to become overwhelmed by all those “other people” out there, who sometimes seem to be doing things we could never aspire to do. In a lot of ways we will never be as good as them but they may also never touch upon your unique talents.
As entrepreneur, author, and all-around-awesome human being Derek Sivers wrote, “Obvious to you is amazing to others”.
This is something I often fall back on when I’m feeling overwhelmed or start questioning myself. Not so much to get an ego-boost, but rather to look on what I already have with new eyes.
I have to look long, hard and patiently but when I do, I experience vujà de – the more helpful brother of déjà vu. Vujà day is loosely defined as experiencing something old with new eyes.
We don’t often experience vujà de and there is no secret formula for seeing something old with new eyes, but it can often mean the difference between being creative and continuously doing the same thing.
When I feel stuck I use two simple methods.
Often the simplest answers are in front of us, talking is one of those answers.
As difficult as it may be the best way to experience your life with new eyes and discover your abilities is to discuss it with others and simply ask them. Creativity requires breaking out of established patterns of thought and habit to look at life from a new perspective, a perspective that talking with other people can provide.
If we are open enough to it, when we ask others what they think, we are in essence borrowing their eyes for only a second. This can be really illuminating, mostly due to the fact that some of the things we have become accustomed to might be difficult for another person to understand.
As billionaire investor Day Dalio mentioned:
“there is a strong tendency to get used to and accept very bad things that would be shocking if seen with fresh eyes”
Just asking others what they think your strengths are and what ability they wish they had is a good start.
In French the word, Flâneur, means a “stroller”, “loafer” or “lounger”. In the 19th century men in Paris would put on their finest top hats, puffiest shirts and aimlessly walk around the city. While it might have been an act of pompous self-indulgence celebrating the abundance of leisure time, flânuering became an important symbol for scholars, artists and writers.
The idea of flâneuring is to “discover” the areas that you regularly travel. Reflecting on what you see, hear, smell, taste and feel with different motives than just simply “doing it”. When we are prepared to experience things differently and not just rush through it we open the doors to seeing with new eyes.
I’m not encouraging you to walk around aimlessly in a puffy shirt, but rather reflect on your work. Reflect on the things you do every day, the people you engage with, or the habits that you have been building. You can flâneur through your own life without ever leaving your home.
One easy way to do this is to ask yourself – Why am I doing this?
Asking this simple question is the best way to reflect on what you’re doing. I often find that the activities I’m engaging in are just the product of years of habit, habit that doesn’t align with what I want to be and do in my life. Most importantly, it can also help you discover those areas which may be obvious to you, but amazing for others.
The point of all of this is to get you out of your own head and see life from another perspective, to do this, even for just a second can provide some life-changing insight.
As Mr. Einstein said.
“‘A great thought begins by seeing something differently, with a shift of the mind’s eye.’
Drop a comment below and tell me if you think you get overly focused on your goals. What value do you think seeing life with new eyes has?