“The sound of hot water pouring”


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So, this happened …

When someone asked if I can lick my elbow, I didn’t even try. It felt like a challenge with a catch, and I didn’t want to be the butt of his joke. Also, I don’t do those quizzes in Linkedin that pose vaguely-worded ambiguous maths challenges, telling me that “99% of people will get this wrong”. And I’ve never done an online quiz that promises to work out which character in the Harry Potter universe that I am most alike.

But somehow, when I saw this challenge, I was instantly curious. There was nothing click-baity about the question, but it did leave me wondering.

The challenge was: “If someone poured water behind you, would you be able to hear whether it was hot water or cold water being poured?”

I couldn’t imagine how temperature could affect the sound. It’s just pouring water. Surely I would have noticed the difference over the years, if there had been one? And yet, I couldn’t let go of the curious possibility that there might be a difference!

I so badly wanted to rush home and try it out. Which is ridiculous for someone who doesn’t even care whether he’s one of those people who can lick his own elbow.

When I got home I immediately went to the kitchen to boil the kettle. I probably didn’t even wash my hands first. Ahhh, those halcyon pre-Covid times!

   Jug of cold water from the fridge. Check.

   Kettle of hot water. Check.

   Two mugs. Check.

As soon as I poured the hot water into the mug, I could hear it was hot. Although I hadn’t been able to enunciate earlier what the difference might sound like, as soon as I heard it, I just knew. (And even now, as I’m writing this, I still don’t know how to put it into words!)

I didn’t even need to pour the cold water to compare them, but I did it anyway. And I could hear that it was cold. Without a doubt. Cold.

Never before in my life had I consciously compared the sounds of cold and hot water pouring, but somehow my brain had ‘absorbed’ that information over years of pouring things.

I knew something, without knowing that I knew it. More than that, I knew something that I was convinced I didn’t know.

Which begs the question: How much more do you know, without realizing it? Maybe you should trust yourself a little more?

And when you do decide to build on this strength, don’t let anyone pour cold water on your enthusiasm!

Simple Definition

The sound of hot water pouring: This experiment reminds us that there is a lot that we know, that we didn’t even realize we knew. Our subconscious experiences create a massive pool of knowledge that we can (and should) tap into.

Summarizing what it means

How many times have you made a conscious decision to do something (or think something), while at the same time your subconscious was screaming out to you that it’s a bad idea?

The truth is, we do know things that we don’t even realize that we know. What if we trusted ourselves to tap into that knowledge? What if we knew when we could believe our instincts? Wouldn’t that make us so much more powerful?

I’m not talking here about psychic abilities or mind-reading, nor am I referring to tapping into to some universal shared consciousness. Nope.

Instead, the concept of “The sound of hot water pouring” is about how we subconsciously build up knowledge, which we should be able to consciously tap into.

Firstly, we need to acknowledge that our subconscious does notice things that our conscious mind doesn’t. Secondly, when our subconscious is trying to flag something to us, we should listen. Thirdly, we should aim to be able to go about consciously digging around in our subconscious to find information. Fourthly, we should act on what we’re noticing.

There are some traps we might fall into, as we learn to trust ourselves more by tapping into this knowledge, which will also be discussed below.

Discussing what it means

Firstly, acknowledge that your subconscious notices things

I’ve done the “Sound of hot water pouring” experiment, and now I’m 100% sure that I’m picking up stuff all the time, albeit subconsciously.

You might already accept this, in which case this chapter is a great reminder. Or you might not have realized it before, but now – either through my experience (or yours, if you quickly go boil the kettle) – it’s enough for you to finally accept that it’s true.

So we take this as “easy-to-prove”, and move to the next step.

Secondly, listen to your subconscious (you know more than you realize)

Have you ever been typing, had a niggling feeling when you finish a paragraph, and then when you looked closely you saw one or two typos in your text? You didn’t know there was a typo, but your subconscious seemed to know. You could have just kept typing until the feeling disappeared, but instead, you stopped and checked. This isn’t life-changing, but it’s a reminder to keep your mind open.

Or perhaps there was a time when you (or someone you know) felt … wrong … inside your body. It wasn’t particularly painful or bothersome, and it was a feeling you could have ignored. But instead you went to the doctor only to discover that there really was something that needed attention, which you’d caught early.

Or more commonly, you might have entered into a relationship which failed miserably. When you look back, there were so many orange and red flags, that you should have known it wouldn’t work out, but you ignored them. And as it turned out, that was the wrong thing to do.

Our feelings aren’t always right, but unless you’re trying to notice, you’re going to miss a lot.

Each time something swims into your conscious awareness, take a moment to flag it as “The sound of hot water pouring”. This way you know immediately what you’re dealing with, and you can start to process your thoughts more carefully.

WARNING: Hashtagging reduces overwhelm!  (When your mind uses labels, it has an effective way of classifying thoughts and feelings. When you know what you’re dealing with, life is simpler and clearer.)

Thirdly, go consciously digging around your subconscious

Since you know that your mind does accumulate knowledge without your conscious engagement, and since you don’t always notice the signs that are being thrown up, you can start to proactively take time to be more aware, to look for the clues that are available.

After all, if they were obvious enough for your subconscious to notice, if you had simply been trying, then your conscious would have noticed too. (For example, it was only when I made a point of listening to the sound of hot water pouring, did I realize how unique it was.)

There are two places you should be looking …

  • Notice how you feel about something. Yes, I said ‘feel’. Again, nothing about psychic perceptions, but rather just your mind trying to tell you that your subconscious has noticed something that your conscious hasn’t yet.
  • Look for flags that can give you a steer. In a relationship situation, are there flags that you’re missing? Is he nice to you but a dick to the waiters? Is she a little more interested in what you have than what you care about? If you’re interviewing someone for a job and it’s going well, try look for clues about whether they are actually just really well practiced in interviews, but actually might be poor performers in their jobs.

You don’t need to wait for clues to be thrown at you … you should make an effort to look for things you might consciously have missed.

And the more you do this, the more these clues will move out of your subconscious (where they can be missed) to your conscious (where you can act on them). And taking appropriate action, of course, is the goal.

Fourthly, act on what you’re noticing

I’m not saying you should stop dating someone when there is an orange flag – people do have bad days. But if there are red flags, don’t miss them, and don’t gloss over them.

If something doesn’t feel right during an interview, ask more questions. In recent years when I’ve been hiring people, I’ve noted an increasing number of applicants who are well practiced at doing great interviews – they come across really well. My conscious can’t wait to hire them! But then my subconscious notices (and I soon consciously picked up on that) that their answers were coming a little too quickly. So I started asking out-of-the-box questions, or asked them to explain something complicated (that I knew not to be true) – and I watched their facade crumble. I could finally see them for who they really were. (Not that they were bad people – it’s wonderful they made the effort to get good at interviews. But I needed people who are good at their jobs, not just good at interviews.)

If you have lingering doubts, don’t ignore them. Schedule another interview. Or ask a colleague to interview them. (If you feel shy to ask for another, or you’re worried you’ll offend them by asking, you really need to read #[The Pepsi & Pie Deal].)

Sometimes, you will get things wrong

The ‘flag’ that your subconscious is apparently pushing you to notice and act on, might just be indigestion. The feeling that your date is totally wrong for you, might actually just be excited nervousness on your behalf. The sense that this person might not fit into your team, could just be that they are different to the usual crowd – and yet diversity is actually a good thing.

Of course, the more you practice listening, the better you will get at telling the difference between false feelings and genuine clues that need action.

You will never know completely. But that’s also true, even if you totally ignore the knowledge that your subconscious is accumulating, relying instead just on your logical brain. Errors happen anyway, the goal is to bring together as much information as possible.

Pessimism doesn’t count (this makes statisticians happy)

Some people are pessimistic, and they always expect things to go wrong. And indeed, sometimes things do go wrong. This means every time there is a fail, they will have correctly predicted it. And they will be proud how right they are.

But what they usually miss is that when things actually work out, they dismiss the evidence that they were wrong. So it’s easy for people like this to falsely believe that they have good instincts, when in fact that’s far from the truth.

Statisticians differentiate between “false positives” and “false negatives” – both are about being wrong, they’re just wrong about different things. (You say true when it’s false, or you say false when it’s true.)

A pessimist will correctly predict 100% of all bad events, but they will predict 0% of all good events. That’s a pretty rubbish result.

So just be careful that when you learn to trust your feelings and your ability to notice clues, that you do so in an unbiased way. In spite of what they insist, pessimists are not just “being realistic”!

Get the most out of life!

Open yourself to having another source of input. Otherwise you risk being someone who always laughs at #[Umbrellas in the sun], when a little more attention could have been the difference between a good decision, and a total fail.

Making it personal

Get out your #HashtagYourLife journal (and if you don’t have one, then now is the right time to begin one). Whether it’s a paper notebook, a password-protected Word file, or a Notion page,  let’s climb in.

Today, just take a moment to answer a few simple questions:

  • When was the last time you can remember getting a ‘feeling’ about something, and it turned out to be right?
  • When last did you have a feeling about something, and you were actually wrong?
  • Your subconscious is always noticing things. But for for you specifically, which of these is your biggest area where you’re missing out:
    • Are you not noticing the clues that you’re being given?
    • Are you not taking the time to consciously look for things you’ve missed?
    • Are you not acting on the clues, even when you become consciously aware of them?
  • Do you commit to yourself that the next time this happens, you’ll flag the moment as “The sound of hot water pouring”, and make that your first step towards getting more out of life?
  • Quick … think of another chapter of #HashtagYourLife that you’ve read, which – for some reason – you can still remember quite clearly.
    • Why does it keep popping into your mind? Was it just that the story really connected with you? Or is there more to it?
    • Now try determine if there is a reason that you so enjoyed (or remembered) the chapter. Maybe there is a clue there for you that it’s a chapter you should read again, and take a little more time than before to work through the lesson, and to make the teachings more personal to you.

Go on. Do this exercise properly. You know it feels right.

Related stories

#[Umbrella in the sun]

#[The Pepsi & Pie deal]

#[Luxury Bridges]

#[Eating blue cheese with apple ice-cream]

#[The Prince who can’t spell]

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