• Mindful Mondays: How Can Mindfulness Help Us Focus on What Matters Most To Us?


    Our modern world is filled with many distractions, making it hard for us to identify and focus on what really matters.


    This is true when trying to prioritize and complete our daily tasks, as well as when trying to determine, set, and accomplish our long-term plans and goals. This is true for adults and children, but it can be especially daunting for kids. 

     

    Our students are faced with an increasing number of choices as they get older, and by the end of high school many are expected to make decisions that can impact the rest of their lives. But making good choices is difficult to do in a world filled with technological distractions. Mindfulness can offer children (as well as the adults in their lives) a strategy to help them pause and orient toward those things worthy of their attention. 

     


    Part of what mindfulness can do is help us identify what distracts us.


    Practice can help us notice the internal and external distractions that sometimes make it nearly impossible to focus on the task at hand—whether it’s writing an e-mail or trying to sit and meditate. Daniel Goleman, in his book Focus, explains that there are two main distractions: sensory and emotional. He describes that our brain can be adept at fighting off sensory distractions, such as when our brain ignores the blank spaces on a page we’re reading or the noises in a busy coffee shop when we’re texting a friend. 

     

    But our brain can also be overtasked by the burden of sifting through all these sensory distractions. We can all probably recall an instance when we or our kids had a hard time focusing because of too much noise in the classroom, or because we were distracted by the flashing, vibrating, or beeping alerts on our devices. Most of us probably go out of our way to find a quiet place when we need to reflect, meditate, or work on an intricate task. Some of us may even avoid going to busy malls or noisy cafeterias, where the sounds, smells, and sights prove to be too much stimulus for our nervous system to handle.

     

    Goleman warns that “the biggest challenge for even the most focused…comes from the emotional turmoil of our lives…intruding into [our] thoughts.” He explains that this happens for good reason: “to get us to think through what to do about what’s upsetting us. The dividing line between fruitless rumination and productive reflection lies in whether or not we come up with some tentative solution or insight and then can let those distressing thoughts go—or if, on the other hand, we just keep obsessing over the same loop of worry.” In other words, in addition to fighting off the external sensory distractions around us, we’re also having to filter intrusive ruminations. This can be extremely difficult to do. 

     

    Mindfulness helps us bring kind and curious awareness to what distracts. And then, through practice, we can choose to let those thoughts go or act in the moment, if appropriate. We can learn to anchor our attention to the moment, which can be extremely valuable when we are lost in thought and worry. Rumination and worry are normal parts of our lives, but, when we can’t face them with equanimity or can’t let go of them, they can get in the way of seeing a way forward and of completing our tasks and goals.


    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    ABOUT ARGOS GONZÁLEZ:

    Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com


    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!

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  • Mindful Mondays: How Can Mindfulness Support Our Ability To Focus In A Distracting World?


    Paying attention and focusing can be extremely difficult for everybody.


    Children are often asked to focus and pay attention, but they’re not always explicitly told how to do it or given opportunities to practice. Adults are often expected to multitask and juggle many responsibilities, and yet these behaviors are costing us productivity and increasing our stress. Fast Company magazine suggests not multitasking in order to increase our ability to focus. It cites A.J. Marsden, assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College, who claims that “multitasking decreases concentration by as much as 20% to 40%. Brain activation is reduced up to 53% when we are asked to perform dual tasks versus being able to devote our attention to just one task.” Yet most of us are probably in the habit of doing several things at the same time.

     

    While we are trying to juggle numerous responsibilities, we’re also being exposed to competing sources of stimulus. Jon Kabat-Zinn, in Coming to our Senses, explains that we’re often “perpetually preoccupied, lost in our mind, absorbed in our thoughts, obsessed with the past or the future, consumed with our plans and our desires, diverted by our need to be entertained, driven by our expectations, fears…. And therefore we are amazingly out of touch.” 

     

    We are out of touch with our bodies, with our surroundings, and perhaps even the task at hand. People often drive home without remembering if they stopped at all the stop signs, or they find themselves in a middle of a conversation they have lost track of, or, in the case of students, they may be unable to answer a question after having their names called [MS3] repeatedly. This is because we often don’t even realize that we’ve lost focus. 

     

    Because we are constantly bombarded with stimuli and information that our minds need to sift through, it is crucial that we bring awareness to what’s distracting us and how it’s impacting us. For example, while phones and other technologies allow us to easily interact with each other (increasingly via a screen), they also can cause a lot of stress. All our devices are having an impact on our attention span and our ability to focus.

     


    Attention span is typically defined as the amount of concentrated time spent on a task without becoming distracted.


    So how much time is that for the average adult? A study of Canadian media consumption set out to answer this question. Time magazine reports that “researchers in Canada surveyed 2,000 participants and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms (EEGs)…. [They] found that since the year 2000 (or about when the mobile revolution began) the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds.” According to the article, that’s one second less than the attention span of a goldfish! But what’s more concerning is that the study linked the changes in our brain to the new technologies it’s being exposed to.

     

    The study also “confirmed generational differences for mobile use; for example, 77% of people aged 18 to 24 responded ‘yes’ when asked, ‘When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone,’ compared with only 10% of those over the age of 65.” In other words, our children’s lifestyle habits and choices are being influenced by technology use, which impacts the way our kids focus and pay attention. Read the NPR article “Heavy Screen Time Rewires Young Brains, for Better and Worse” for arguments on how the ways our children’s brains are changing might be helping and hurting them.

     

    What’s clear is that we have to develop the skill of paying attention and focusing. Mindfulness can support us in doing this in two ways: It can help us notice when we’ve lost focus and have become distracted, and it can help us then place our attention where we want. These are two distinct skills that have to be developed concurrently. 

     


    To help our kids manage distraction, we can support them in anchoring their attention through mindfulness activities.


    Willoughby Britton and Ariell Sydnor, in their chapter “Neurobiological Models of Meditation Practices: Implications for Applications with Youth” in Teaching Mindfulness Skills to Kids and Teens, describe several approaches to support students’ mental health.

     

    One of these is focused attention (FA) practice. It “involves intentionally directing and sustaining attention on a chosen object or anchor of attention (e.g., the breath, a visual object, a sound) while ‘deselecting’ other stimuli…. The meditator’s goal is to remain anchored, monitor the mind’s wandering, and return attention to the object when the mind has wandered.” These practices can help us and our kids practice focusing and train our brains to be able to manage distraction by first noticing we’re distracted and then bringing our focus back to where we want it to be sustained. Anchoring our attention to our sense experience is a simple and effective way to help us and our students focus. 


    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    ABOUT ARGOS GONZÁLEZ:

    Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com. 


    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!

    Read More


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