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How To Improve Attention & Focus

Added on July 10, 2012

A Mindful Brain is one that has good Attentional Control.

Sounds like something we all could use. But the fact is that our minds naturally jump from one thing to another, like a monkey swinging from branch to branch (hence the term Monkey Mind).

And our society even encourages it: we all have to be able to multi-task or we’re not good enough. Finish that report, answer that email, respond to the phone call, cook dinner and hug your kids – all at the same time.  Our children follow suit and do their homework whilst listening to music, watching TV and chatting on Facebook, all at once.  Is it any wonder that our schools struggle with an ADHD epidemic? How can our children focus when we haven’t taught them how, and most of us don’t get it either?

The human brain loves to give attention to any distraction. And each time it does, it’s rewarded with a release of dopamine, which makes us feel good. We have evolved to pay attention to new stimuli because during our evolution, an individual who ignored a distraction such as a low growl in the bushes, may not survive to pass on his/her genes. But most our lives today are not spent in survival mode and it’s usually safe to ignore distractions.

How then do we train our minds to ignore those distractions and focus our attention? In the same way as we learn any new skill – by repetition. During Mindfulness Meditation we actively train the mind to let go of distractions (no matter how enticing they appear to be) and give focused attention to the breath. And we do this over and over again, till new neural pathways are formed that make attention and focus easier.

In 1890 the psychologist William James wrote: “The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment, character, and will…. An education which should include this faculty would be the education par excellence.”

Was he describing Mindfulness Meditation?

About Judith Lissing

Judith Lissing is a Clinical Hypnotherapist and Wellness Coach, with 15 years experience in teaching stress management and meditation. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree with Honours in Immunology and a Masters degree in Public Health, both from the University of NSW. She is also an Associate Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of NSW since 1999. Judith is trained in Wellness Coaching with Wellcoaches U.S. and holds a Diploma in Hypnotherapy. Prior to coaching professionally, Judith held a statewide management role with NSW Health working with all levels of staff across the health sector.

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