“Where your attention goes, your brain follows. Attention is your brain’s boss.” This is the thesis of neuroscientist Amishi Jha’s Ted Talk. She investigates if attention is an effective boss.
Attention is powerful, yet also fragile. It’s powerful if we can direct it to the task; it’s fragile because it can become distracted easily. Distraction generally occurs when the mind “time travels” to the past or future. We’ve all heard of the importance of focusing on the present moment. Past and future thinking distract our attention from the present. This type of thinking is exasperated by stress. With stress, we’re not only thinking about the past; we’re also ruminating, reliving, and regretting it. We’re not only thinking about the future; we’re also catastrophizing and worrying about it.
Instead of allowing our attention to focus on the past or future, we focus it in the present. We do this with mindfulness practices. Just like physical training, mindfulness practices strengthen attention. We recognize how fragile attention is because we become aware of how quickly it gets distracted. Noticing these distractions allow us to redirect attention to the present. Mindfulness practices help us pay attention to our attention.
Developing awareness makes attention powerful enough to be an effective boss of the brain and the mind. By intentionally deciding where we focus our attention…our brain will follow. The only thing we need to do is pay attention to our attention.