A few years ago, I had an epiphany. I realized that I was spending so much time stuck in my head that I’d drifted away from my body.
As I rushed through my days, I was feeling disconnected from the world and other people, and also from myself.
I didn’t want the moments of my life to slip away, unnoticed.
When I looked for a way to get out of my head and into the world, for me, the answer was obvious: through my five senses. I could shake off my foggy preoccupation by rediscovering the world by seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching.
By being more mindful of the sensations I encountered, I could elevate the familiar experiences that were already part of my daily routines.
I did so many things to connect with my senses! In fact, I wrote a whole book about it: Life in Five Senses.
If you’re feeling stuck in your head, here are some practical, manageable suggestions of activities to try, right now.
How to get out of your head using your sense of sight
- Wear something in a bright color
- Look closely at the room you’re in—in a mirror
- Spot the three-dimensional image hiding in a “magic eye” autosterogram
- Copy out a short poem or passage by using different colors for different words
- Visit a grocery store or drug store, and look closely at the packaging. What logos are most imaginative? Do certain colors dominate for particular items—pain relievers, dental products, organic?
- Search for a particular color: your favorite color, the Pantone “Color of the Year,” an unusual hue
- Look around with the eyes of a journalist — journalists notice things in a different way
- Look around with the eyes of a tourist
- Walk around your house with the thought, “Guests are visiting for the weekend”
- Look through an art book and decide which object is your favorite
- Turn your phone to grayscale
- Return to a familiar place you haven’t visited in a long time—your former neighborhood, school, grocery store
- Look at some favorite photos from your childhood and try to figure out what year they were taken
- Change your smartphone’s home-screen so it displays someone or something that makes you happy
- Find a colored marker or crayon and draw a quick sketch
- Look online to find photos of places you’ve lived or worked in the past
How to get out of your head using your sense of smell
- Smell some vanilla
- Reflect: what was the smell of your grandparents’ kitchen?
- Identify the source of a bad smell in your surroundings, and eliminate it
- Go to your spice rack, open a jar without checking the label, and take a big sniff. Can you identify it?
- Smell something with a strong odor with one nostril, then the other, to compare how each nostril registers a slightly different smell
- Take a deep whiff of five items in your fridge
How to get out of your head using your sense of hearing
- Blow a tune on a harmonica or kazoo
- Choose a new ringtone or alarm tone for your smartphone
- Visit the “The Nostalgia Machine” website and listen to some of the top songs from a significant year
- Whistle a tune
- Choose a favorite song, sit down, close your eyes, and listen without distraction
- Go outside and count how many different types of noises you hear
- Play an instrument—whether that’s a piano, guitar, whistle, wind chimes, xylophone, music box
- Listen to the mysterious Shepard tone
How to get out of your head using your sense of taste
- Sample some ketchup and note all five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, umami
- Have a “shower orange” – eat a cold orange in a hot shower
- Identify one of your favorite foods from childhood and make a plan to eat it again
- Brush your teeth and pay close attention to the feel of the toothbrush and the taste of the toothpaste
- Add a pinch of salt to a bitter-tasting food or beverage to note how salt reduces the bitterness
How to get out of your head using your sense of touch
- Walk barefoot on a stone or tile floor
- Register the heat of your coffee or tea radiating through the mug
- Hold an ice cube in your mouth
- Rub your fingers against velvet
- Open your fridge’s freezer and feel the cold air hit your face
- Touch a plant with an interesting texture: cactus, African violet, aloe, lamb’s ear, moss, jade plant
- From your clothes, identify one uncomfortable item—something that’s too scratchy, too tight, too loose, or too stiff, and decide whether you want to keep it
- Light a match
- Pet a cat or dog
- Rub corn starch between your fingers for the squeaky feeling
- Hug a friend or family member
- Make a paper airplane, fortune-teller or origami figure
- Run your hands across tree bark
- Do one thing to make the environment of your car more pleasant
- Crumple, smooth, and shape a piece of tin foil
Why we should get out of our head and into the world
Exploring our five senses allows us to connect more deeply with the world, with other people, and ourselves.
If you’d like to learn more about the five senses and how they work together, read “Making Sense of the World, Several Senses at a Time.”
Through our five senses, we can knit body and mind together for a greater sense of energy, playfulness, and connection—more vitality.
- The present feels more vivid, because we experience each moment with more intensity and mindfulness
- We also feel more deeply connected to our past and to our memories
- We deepen relationships; sharing an experience of the body is a great way to connect
- Creativity gets sparked as we reach out to connect with the world
- We feel both calmer and more energetic
- We have more moments of fun, play, and delight
- With our five senses, we give ourselves healthy treats, in contrast to the numbing of food, TV, or social media
Our physical experience always colors our mental and emotional experience. By connecting with our outer life, through our five senses we revitalize our inner life.