In some parts of the world, people go into the forest to hunt mushrooms. The reasons why they do this are not important, but the way that they do it will serve as a guide for noticing.

The problem is that mushrooms are kind of brown and the forest floor is also kind of brown. Finding brown things against a background of brown things is not an easy task.

Finding the first mushroom is done by brute force search. However, after the first mushroom is found, the finder crouches down and looks at that mushroom for a while. This act of observing the mushroom from all angles is called "getting your eyes on."

The purpose of this move is twofold. First, it lets you figure out what shape/color the mushrooms are, which presumably make them easier to find. Second, it tells your brain that it should be on the lookout for these types of things.

Noticing is equivalent to "getting your eyes on" sensations in your body.

In terms of the skill-tree, I think that noticing is pretty low. It doesn't have very many direct applications, but it does make a lot of skills interface with your feelings better. For example, if you want to install a TAP related to "feeling confused", I think that being good at noticing helps a lot with that.


The first thing to do is to pick something that you want to notice. It doesn't have to be a feeling, but I'm going to call it a feeling for the rest of this post for convenience.

Recently, I wanted to notice when I was being defensive, so that will be the example I use for the rest of this post. In my case, there was already an English word that described the general sensation, but noticing can also be done on nameless things.

Next, we want to figure out the "triggers" of the feeling. Triggers can be situational factors that cause the feeling or actions/events caused by the feeling, but the best triggers are the phenomenology of the feeling. This is akin to finding the first mushroom, but in your own memories instead of in the world. Finding a good set of triggers will make this process a lot easier.

As is often the case, I generally get defensive when people criticise various things that I do. This causes my voice to raise and my skin to flush. My phenomenology of feeling defensive is this feeling of wanting to bite/snap/yelp at people. The image I have in my head is a small dog on a leash yipping at a perceived threat. I think that this was an unusually good description; in general, you can (and should) get away with much vaguer descriptions than this.

Next, form the intention to notice and mark. By mark, I mean picking some sort of physical gesture and committing to doing it the next time we feel that thing. Essentially, you want to install the TAP "feel <the thing> -> <do some action>". This TAP is useful because noticing that you're taking some action is easier than noticing a feeling, so if you can chain one into the other, noticing the feeling becomes easier. Forming this intention can be thought of as telling your brain that this feeling is an important feeling.

The action I chose was rubbing the fingers ofmy right hand together. Good actions are one's that generate a lot of nerve-stimulus, so they are easy to notice. Forming the intention is hard to describe, but it sort of involved imagining myself noticing defensiveness, thinking about defensiveness differently, etc.

Finally, actually notice and mark. When you experience the feeling after having found your set of triggers, it's helpful to check that those triggers are still accurate. If you discover more sensations associated with the feeling, then you can also form a more clear trigger set.

For me, realizing that defensiveness felt like dog-yipping-on-leash made the entire feeling dissolve. When I start to feel defensive, I recognize the feeling for what it is and am able to step away from it. This doesn't generally happen, but I do think that noticing can get rid of a lot of unpleasant meta-feelings. For example, having a noticing frame of mind concerning uncomfortable feelings can get rid of the "it feels bad to feel bad" meta uncomfortableness.


  1. Find a feeling to notice.
  2. Find the triggers of feeling.
  3. Form the intention to notice and mark.
  4. Notice and mark, adjusting triggers as necessary


Set a ten minute timer, wander off into the world, and notice all the reflections. Report in the comments what thoughts this process caused you to have.

New Comment
7 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

I just now discovered that this post exists! From my perspective this seems like a really clear and concise summary of the strategy. Thanks for writing it up. I'm delighted to have run into it. _


I think there have been a few posts about noticing by now, but as Mark says, I think The Noticing Skill is extremely valuable to get early on in the rationality skill tree. I think this is a good explanation for why it is important and how to go about learning it.

TODO: dig up some of the other "how to learn noticing" intro posts and see how some others compare to this one as a standalone introduction. I think this might potentially be the best one. At the very least I really like the mushroom metaphor at the beginning. (If I were assembling the Ideal Noticing Intro post from scratch I might include the mushroom example even if I changed the instructions on how to learn the rationality-relevant-skills)

Thanks for a useful post. Personally, I've been using a similar technique when studying: sometimes you think you get it, and then suddenly, when it clicks, you realize that you actually haven't before. Recognizing this feeling turned out to be crucial for developing deeper understanding of the subject.

Reporting on the exercise:

First the exercise itself caused me to have thoughts on what "reflection" actually is. Would a shiny metal metal roof, reflecting a lot more sunlight than its neighbours be "reflection"? In the end, I focused mostly on surfaces that reflect enough light to enable the identification of a non-light-emitting object that is being reflected (mostly windows). There were many of these, but the point of view influenced the outcome: if you walk a bit further, you may see a reflection on a surface you did not see before.

But what is more important for this exercise: after I stopped consciously noticing these and had a half an hour break, my mind was still prone to pick up reflections and pull these into my consciousness. In the end it subsided, but it seems plausible to me that you can train yourself to notice small specific things/feelings without too much of an effort.

rubbing my right hand together.

The fingers of?

Yes. Fixed.