Attention – Why is it so important?
Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager
― Susan Sontag
Attention is the most basic, fundamental ability that you already have. Your ability to focus your attention and concentrate, is a powerful skill to master and improve upon. This blog post shows you a strategy for enhancing your focus and attention by changing the way that you think. Bloggers often struggle with motivation, lose focus and become distracted. Procrastination makes it difficult to get started on a project.
The internet provides bloggers with endless distractions. Everything from you-tube to Facebook has the potential to distract you from writing that blog post.
It is now much harder to develop Zen-like focus, especially if you own a smart phone. This lack of focused attention can drive you crazy. The inability to concentrate wakes up and triggers your old friend – your monkey mind. Your monkey mind is agitated, thinks negatively and is normally in a bad mood! It doesn’t do concentration. Read my blog post on Taming your inner monkey.
Growth mindset vrs monkey mindset
The monkey mind lacks focus and strives for comfort and protection. You can recognise your own monkey mind’s thought processes because they are always heavily influenced by negative events that happened in the past. The monkey mind uses a closed mindset rather than a growth mindset. In other words, it doesn’t like change and uses fear as a way of keeping you safe.
Fear is just ‘false emotion appearing real’. Unfortunately thinking with the monkey mind seems like the comfortable option. This is an illusion that the mind has created.
A closed mindset is like having tunnel vision, being blocked off to new possibilities. In the longer term, thinking in this way becomes very predictable and boring. A growth mindset on the other hand is synonymous with positive change. Stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something different forces you to grow.
Learning something new makes you more receptive and confident as a person. A growth mindset makes you more resilient and adaptable to change.
Attention shapes your brain – the science behind it
Attention has a direct biological impact on how well your brain works. Everything that you are aware of is shaping your brain. This includes everything that you perceive through your senses: sight, smell, sound, taste and touch as well as your conscious and unconscious thoughts. Basically the brain is always adapting to it’s surroundings in relation to it’s structure and how well it works.
As the brain changes throughout your life, the mind changes in response to it. The opposite is also true, information that flows through your mind is literally shaping your brain. The concept of neuroplasticity means that you can use your mind to change your brain. Neuroplasticity is the brains ability to make new neural connections and rewire in response to new learning.
Attention and learning
For example, say you learn a new language, the brain begins to rewire and store new information. As you continue to learn the language with practice, the brain builds new neural connections which become stronger. It doesn’t matter whether you are learning to swim, drive a car or paint, this new learning builds new neural networks in your brain. When you practice this new learning regularly, this gives your brain plasticity: the ability to change and adapt to this new learning.
Hebbian theory explains in terms of neuroscience how the brain adapts to learning a new activity: “neurones (nerve cells) that fire together- wire together”. The more you practice a new learning activity, the connections between the neurones become stronger. Neuroplasticity means with practice the new neural networks become thicker, and as a result the new learning becomes easier as the brain builds these new connections. This is how you rewire your brain, by learning new habits and building new neural networks.
Rewiring your brain
Your awareness in the present moment is shaping your brain. The brain is changing all the time. Neuroplasticity is a general term meaning the brain’s ability to adapt, learn and re-organise itself throughout your life. It is important to realise that new learning can be positive or negative. For example, becoming angry on a daily basis could also be a type of learning. This is an unhelpful strategy, but anything that is learned over and over builds new connections. Learning to play the violin is an excellent example of new learning that can create positive change.
Procrastination often affects you when you start doing a new task. You might think that you lack motivation because you just can’t get started. Getting over this mental resistance can be challenging. It is so easy to find distractions and lose interest in what you are trying to achieve. I find by focusing my full attention on this new learning for twenty minutes at a time, helps cut through the mental resistance. I used to do this at university when faced with a new module. It becomes easier every time you go back to it.
I think learning a skill is like strengthening a muscle group in the gym. When you start to exercise these new muscles, they become sore. But if you workout and strengthen these muscles gradually over a few weeks, the exercises become easier. In order to improve at any skill you have to practice. With regular practice you can become stronger and better at anything. However, If you don’t exercise that muscle group for a while, the muscles will become weaker.
Take action: How to improve your attention
1. Meditate daily
Meditation is the skill of focusing your attention on one thing. In order to improve your focused attention, it is useful to practise meditation on a daily basis. By doing this, you can enhance your ability to focus your attention. Meditation is a great stress reliever and makes you feel great!
Even if you meditate every day for a short period of time, this will increase your ability to focus.
2. Cut down on internet browsing
Cut down on internet browsing and focus on working towards your goals. Frequent browsing of the internet is addictive because it gives you that dopamine hit! Reducing the time you spend online will make you more productive and improve your ability to focus your attention where it is needed.
Try disconnecting from the internet when you are writing a blog post. I use Byword to write blog posts and temporarily disconnect from the internet. This prevents distractions and will help you to stay focused. It is also a good idea to turn off your mobile phone in situations where it will distract you.
3. Stay on track
It is very important to stay on track and do things that are relevant to achieving your big goal or vision. It is important to keep moving forward because when you aren’t making progress, you lose sight of what you are trying to achieve.
You have to stay focused on tasks related to your goals. You can break down your big goal or vision into smaller mini goals or tasks. Be proactive in learning new skills that will help you along the way. The key to success is staying on track and remaining focused on what you are doing in the moment.
4. Don’t take on too many projects at once
When you take on too many projects, you may struggle to produce your best work. Be realistic about what you can do and this will help you stay motivated. It is important to do tasks that will help you achieve the best results. This will give you the energy and enthusiasm that will help you stay focused.
5. Keep it simple!
I find that making a conscious effort to do one thing at a time improves my ability to focus. Mindfulness is a great way to master the skill of attention. It teaches you to appreciate doing simple tasks with complete awareness. Every daily task can be done with conscious awareness. It is simple but powerful! Everything from walking to breathing can be done mindfully.
Mindfulness can compliment your daily meditation practice by bringing more awareness into your life. It is a fantastic tool that helps you to recognise negative emotions: fear, anger, resentment etc and protects you from manifesting them in your life. Mindfulness allows you to develop wisdom and greater insight into your own problems and suffering. It is better to live a life full of simplicity than a life full of chaos.
Also published on Medium.