I believe there is a practice we’re losing quicker than we realize, and it was a practice that meant our survival in those ‘early days.’  Today, I think it’s a practice that sets leaders, innovators, and even happier people apart from the crowd.  And it’s not some complex self help skill set that takes 200 pages to describe, or some ability won by only an elite few in the genetic lottery. The starting point is much simpler.

A major part of my choice to keep my flip phone and not enter into the smart phone realm comes from noticing how often people are replacing this lost art by looking down at their phones.  Reading articles, checking emails, sending text messages all forces an almost constant stare towards the ground.  Sure, people read books and the same thing happens, but the choice to read a book generally means you have more than a few moments. You’ve set an intention to focus on the story in that book for a while, not just read a line or two of a text message, or scroll through social media updates for ‘just a second.’

With a smart phone, the motion to look down can be brief.  How often do you see people pull up to a stoplight and check their phone? And what about right before someone walks through the door: to a meeting, a restaurant, home … any door really, and look down at their phone (just to make sure nothing has happened that just maybe needs their attention before getting inside)? Then there’s the texting while walking, even on a busy downtown street, which I’m sure must have some scary pedestrian accident statistics at this point.

Waiting in line for your coffee? Check your phone. Ordered a drink at the bar? Get that phone out, your friend’s not here yet. The ever so soft buzz rattles your pocket during a meeting? Slyly look down at the phone in your lap (Portlandia did a great job with that one). Getting into bed? Better just check before you turn it off for the night. Talking with your grandma? Thank goodness for the ability to scroll and chat (and walk) at the same time. Shopping at the grocery store, but wondering what your friends are going to eat for dinner? Sure, you’re standing in the middle of the aisle not leaving room for anyone to pass, but everything on that feed looks so dang appetizing! Another news alert? Don’t miss it! Your favorite politician has done something positive!

I’ll stop my inner-curmudgeon there, because that’s not my point. I too am tempted by all those luscious apps and lavish connections across cyber space and time. And I would be too tempted to stare down at them too often myself moment after moment. But what would all that looking down at the ground keep me from? What simple act will help you thrive instead?

I’m not asking you to join me in the flip phone revolution. Or to turn off every alert. Or to delete all those apps. My ask is much simpler:

Look around more.

Observe the incredible, beautiful, eventful world happening in real space and time, right now, in this moment. Listen. Smell. Feel the air while you’re walking. Really taste that coffee you’re drinking. Hear deeply the words and the emotions your friends and colleagues are conveying. Notice the opportunities to make someone’s day better. Enjoy those stunning big puffy clouds when you walk out of the house, not that never ending news alert. Hear your kids playing as you walk in the door, not the chime of another update.

Our ancestors of not-so-long ago had to use every last ounce of their observational skills to stay alive. And I’m not arguing that there aren’t important things we need to observe and pay attention to on our devices. We need acute observation there as well. But if we’re looking down habitually, craning our neck into those screens at every possible lull, I’m certain we’re going to miss that thing … the person sitting next to us, the next break through idea, life … that matters most.