“I love to see those horseshoes,” my 5-year-old said on our usual walk around the neighborhood.
I stop to look around – is someone playing horseshoes in their front yard? No… Where are the horseshoes? I keep looking.
Finally, I ask her to show me. “Where are you seeing horseshoes, Sweetie? Will you show me?”
She points to a neighbor’s mailbox that, interestingly, has a chain of horseshoes trailing down the back of the mailbox to the ground below. Now I see – THERE are the horseshoes.
How many times have I walked our neighborhood, on this exact trajectory, and by this exact house, yet I have never noticed those horseshoes? It pains me to admit we have lived here for six years.
But the fresh eyes of a 5-year-old – absolutely. She notices everything. Especially novelties.
There is a concept in neuroscience called cognitive flexibility, which describes the human brain’s ability to “adapt cognitive processing strategies to face new and unexpected conditions” (Moore & Malinowsky, 2009, p. 177). Cognitive flexibility essentially describes our increased ability to respond to stimuli in a non-habitual way.
To see with fresh eyes.
Countless mindfulness studies have documented that mindfulness meditation practice increases our cognitive flexibility. By practicing being mindful, we increase our odds of responding to our surroundings – to interact with life itself – in novel ways.
How often are we blinded by our routines – our rote ways of doing things? Sure, we are creatures of habit, so habitually we walk down the same road, pass the same mailboxes, and our brains become accustomed to generalizing the experience to the extent that – we don’t notice novel stimuli. Like a string of horseshoes decorating a particular mailbox.
I am thankful for the natural mindfulness of children to show us the way. They teach us to appreciate the novelty that is all around us… if we just pay attention.
*Bonus: For a fun, heart-opening dance break, check out “Fresh Eyes” by Andy Grammer.
Moore, A., & Malinowski, P. (2009). Meditation, mindfulness and cognitive flexibility. Consciousness and Cognition, 18, 176-186.