Daniel Golman: Attention is a muscle that must be trained

A new book by Daniel Golman, which is released only in English, is called "Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence" ("Focus: the Hidden mechanism of excellence").

In his article for the American magazine the Mindful Holman says what a huge role it plays in our lives attention and how to develop it, when everything around is intended to constantly distract us from multinazionali at work to social networking and television.

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To watch John Berger — a full-time detective in a major new York Department stores in Upper West side — when it works, it's like watching yourself attention in action. Dressed in a nondescript black suit and a white shirt with a red tie, with a walkie-talkie in hand, he watches the visitors marooned on the first floor, constantly glancing from one person to another. It can be called the "eyes" of this store.

This is an extremely difficult task. On the floor in each moment more than 50 people moving from one stall with jewelry to another, considering the Valentino scarves and handbags through Prada. And while they slide views on things, John's driving of sight of them.

He waltzes among buyers for a few seconds stops at the counter with the wallets and looks around the hall, then rapidly moves to its position at the entrance, then almost imperceptibly slip into the corner where the wall projection allows him to examine the suspicious trio, which attracted his attention.

What's he looking for? "How move their eyes or body, — explains John. — They differ from those who planned the theft." He is also looking for buyers who for some reason are crowded together, or singles, looking around. "I've been doing this, just see the signs that point to the thief," says Berger.

To discover these signs, he focuses his attention on each of 50 buyers, and at this point completely ignores the 49 others and everything that surrounds them — a true example of concentration in a sea of various objects, distracting.

Kind of panoramic awareness of what is happening, coupled with constant vigilance — do not appear rare, but distinctive signal of danger — requires use a variety of attention:

  • sustainable,
  • fast-switching,
  • orientating.

Each of these kinds of attention introduces a completely unique neuronal network of the brain, and each is an important tool of our mind.

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The ability of John to scan the space in search of attention slightest alarm is one of the aspects of attention that needs serious scientific study. The first research that allows a person to remain alert, began during the Second world war, when the military had to figure out how to teach the operators of radar stay alert for many hours on duty. It turned out that most operators transmit signals in the end of his shift, when their attention weakens.

Modern studies of attention go far beyond the study of vigilance, since it our management skills, attention determines how well or how poorly we will cope with any task. If they are broken, we are unlikely to succeed; if the attention is trained, we will achieve excellence.

From the neurobiological point of view, such fine quality, as the attention, is embedded in countless mental functions. Here is just a short list:

  • understanding,
  • memory,
  • training,
  • sensations from the senses and awareness of why we feel it,
  • understanding other people's feelings,
  • the ability to easily interact with others.

And when we discover the impact of this invisible factor on our performance, we come to see the benefits of attention training and begin to better understand how to do it.

Usually we notice only the fruits of our attention: ideas, good or bad, bright moments of a smile or the fragrance of morning coffee without noticing the beam of awareness behind them. Thus, attention is a valuable, but not too visible and therefore undervalued quality, that modern cognitive science studies in all its many manifestations, which includes concentration, selective attention, open awareness, and the ability of the mind to turn the attention inside the body and to monitor internal mental function.

On these basic mechanisms of our mental life is built all our vital powers. One of them is self-awareness that allows us to develop the art of management. Another — empathy basic quality on which to build all human relationships. It is also the basic Foundation of emotional intelligence.

When we begin to relate with the outside world, we attune with complex external systems which determine and limit our inner world. This external focus of attention is confronted with the implicit challenge of the need to adapt to these important systems. And our brain is not adapted for solving such problems, and as a result we begin to lose yourself.

However, awareness of the systemic contexts can allow us to grasp the principles of operation of the system as a whole — from organizational and economic systems to global processes that support life on our planet.If we want to live our life well, we need to live and vnimatelny mind, capable of holding three types of focus:

  • internal,
  • external,
  • aimed at others.

For example to leaders can achieve outstanding results, they need all of these three types of focus. Internal focus allows us to attune with your intuition and core values. The focus of attention, directed towards others, hones our communication with other people. And external focus of attention helps us to make their way in the big world.


  • lost touch with their inner world and focus only on external factor will not be able to control himself;
  • the one who blind towards other people be ignorant;
  • and indifferent to the influence of large systems within which he is forced to act repeatedly to attacks on "the sore spot".

But the balance between these three types of focus can be useful not only for leaders. In English, the word "attention" — attention — comes from the Latin attendere, meaning "to rush" (a controversial thesis, since in Latin there are verbs more than adjectives. this hotel, which means "to stretch", but no verb attendere, which is in Italian and means "to wait" and "pay attention" — approx. TRANS.). Attention is what connects us with the external world shapes and determines our experience.

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Cognitive narodenia Michael Posner and Mary Rothbart write that

"attention provides the mechanisms that underlie our experience of the external world and our ability voluntarily to control their own thoughts and feelings".

Ann Treisman, one of the elders in the field of research focus, notes that it is how we expand and direct our attention determines what we see.


Moments of human interaction on the verge of extinction


We take a ferry to a small island for walking. A small girl, barely reaching his mother's waist, hugging her and held tight in his arms. However, the mother fails to conform to these hugs, but seem to not even notice them — all her attention is completely absorbed by the iPad.

A few minutes later I sit in a taxi-van in the company of nine students, who also go out for the weekend. They barely have time to take their places, as evening twilight minivan is highlighted by the shimmer of their iPhones and tablets. From time to time they exchange a rambling remarks, never ceasing to scroll through the updates in Facebook or to send SMS. But for the most part, in a taxi all the way is silence.

Indifference mother of a little girl and a silence in which you go to rest nine students — are symptoms of how technology increasingly hold our attention and disrupt our relations with other people. Today it has become the norm. At the beginning of this decade (in 2010 year), the average teenager is recovering in the month of about 3417 text, which is two times more than two or three years before. The average American teenager today sends and receives more than 100 messages a day, about 10 SMS every hour. I even saw a guy who was able to answer SMS while riding on the bike.

The children of today, for the first time in human history, growing up in a new reality — the reality when they interact with machines much more than with human beings. This is troubling for several reasons.

First of all, neural circuits of the brain responsible for social and emotional ties develop in the process of every meeting and every conversation throughout the day. And it is the quality of these interactions determines the activity of these circuits; the less time a child spends dealing with human beings and the more — staring at the blinding screen, the worse you develop these contours.

Over-reliance on gadgets could prove devastating — because only during meetings with real people, we learn to "read" nonverbal cues. The new crop of inhabitants of the digital world can be extremely savvy at the keyboard, but they become quite clumsy when it comes to understanding the behavior of other people in direct communication and in real time. Especially when those other people don't understand and are scared of the behavior in which their companion suddenly in the middle of phrases begins to respond to a text.

My friend who is a College student confessed that the life in the virtual world of tweets, status updates and posting photos of the lunch can be quite lonely and isolated. He sees that his classmates are losing basic communication skills, not to mention the fact that to have long intimate conversations that were once marked the student years of many generations.

According to him, "no concert, no party or birthday can't deliver a genuine pleasure, if he will not record what is happening" to those with whom he is associated in a virtual world could appreciate, as he's having fun, and like it was cool.

The second important reason for concern stems from the fact that it is the ability to maintain attention — cognitive training of this muscle allows us to follow the development of the plot or to see their entire task from beginning to end, learn and create. In some ways, those endless hours that young people spend on their digital devices, can help them develop some specific skills focus. But there are many questions and concerns about how those same hours may affect the failure of basic mental functions.

One of the teachers told me that for decades, all the students in the eighth grade I read "Mythology" by Edith Hamilton. And always her students loved this book. But five years ago something changed. "I have noticed that more children are not enthusiastic about reading. Even my best students didn't really get involved in this book, — said the teacher. They began to tell me that they were too difficult to read. That sentence was too long and complicated. They have spent a lot of time reading a single page".

This school teacher thought, is not what is happening in the classroom due to the fact that most of the time they send and receive short, abrupt message. One of her students admitted that over the past year he has spent about 2000 hours playing computer games. "You can't teach children the rules of placing commas when you are competing with World of WarCraft," she concludes in a conversation with me.

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The impoverishment of attention


But adults pay the price for worsening of their attention. Promotional representative of a major broadcasting company complains that "a few years ago, I could take a five-minute presentation for an advertising Agency. Today I was supposed to meet in fifteen minutes, because otherwise they'll start checking their phones: are there any missed calls or messages."

College Professor, teaching the history of cinematography, told me that he is currently reading a biography of one of his idols, the legendary French filmmaker Francois Truffaut. "But I can't read more than two pages, says the Professor. — I was so tempted to check my email — there are no new messages. I think I'm losing the ability to permanently keep at anything for attention".

The sociologist Erving Goffman, a skilled observer of social interactions, this inability to resist the urge to check email or Facebook instead to keep the attention on the person with whom we communicate in the moment, meaningful title "far away". When we are "away", we demonstrate to our source, "and are not interested in what is happening in the moment here and now."

In 2005, the organizers of the third conference, All Things D(igital) were forced to turn off wi-fi in the main hall for presentations, because judging by the flickering laptops nobody in the audience didn't pay attention to what is happening on stage. The participants were "away", in a state that one of them described as "continuous partial attention", a sort of mental blur, triggered by the overload from the huge number of sources of information — speakers on stage, other people in the audience, the work that they were doing on their laptops.

Today, as part of dealing with this "partial attention" in many companies in Silicon valley there is an unspoken rule: at all meetings and meetings are forbidden to use computers, phones and all other digital devices.

One of the top managers in a large publishing house recognized that if she didn't constantly checks his cell for the presence of a new SMS, "she there is the nervous feeling as if she missed something. I know it's wrong to check all the time your phone when you're talking to someone, but it's an addiction".

In the result, they made an agreement: barely once home, they hide their mobile in a drawer. "Because if the phone is in front of me, I just can't resist; I just need to check it out. But now when the phone is hidden, my husband and I finally began really spending time with each other here and now. We started to talk."

The focus of our attention is continuously exposed to attacks from all sorts of distractions, both external and internal. And the question is, what is the price we pay for his carelessness? Top Manager in one of the financial corporations says: "When I notice that during important meetings my attention was again distracted, I ask myself the question — what possibilities I have just missed?".

One of my fellow physicians told me that his patients are treating themselves with pills from the attention deficit disorder and narcolepsy, because otherwise they cannot do the job. According to one lawyer, "if I hadn't drank those pills, I would have not been able to read my contracts from beginning to end."

And if the patient really had to prove that he needs these drugs, many clinicians treat them as ordinary additives to improve performance. According to statistics, more and more teenagers feigns attention deficit disorder to obtain a prescription. Chemistry has become for many the shortest and the only way to strengthen your mindfulness.

The huge onslaught of incoming data leads to sloppy trying to optimize them: like sorting emails by title, skimming messages and memos, and skip most of the voice messages.

The economist Herbert Simon, who received for his work the Nobel prize, predicted all this back in 1977, describing the coming of the information age. He warned that "information consumes the attention of those whom it is intended. And so the wealth of information creates a poverty of attention."


Meditation and attention


The good news regarding attention coming from neurogenic laboratories and classrooms — the research points to various possibilities of training of this vital muscle of our mind. Attention really works like a muscle: if you don't use it, it atrophies; if you train it, it grows.

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Various practice attention training:

  • memory,
  • steady focus,
  • one-pointed meditation focusing on any subject,
  • intelligent use of technologies of computer games —

can help develop and hone the muscle of your attention, and even restore your thirsty for focused attention the brain.

The practice of mindfulness is one of the most important tools, which are now used for amplification and the development of attention. At the moment there are a lot of poor, average and outstanding scientific research of mindfulness practices, which resulted in a mixture of dubious and truly brilliant methodological approaches, some of which can become the gold standard in studies of this kind.

So I turned to my old friend Richard Davidson — founder and Chairman of the "Center for health studies of the mind" in Basmanovskoye center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and asked him to describe the obvious advantages to our attention which gives us the regular practice of mindfulness.

"The practice of mindfulness enhances the performance of classical neural networks of attention, which is located in the fronto-parietal area of the brain and is responsible for the distribution of our attention, explains Davidson. The main neural circuits that are associated with the underlying manifestations of our attention: the ability to change focus from one subject to another and then, at will, to keep the focus on the new subject."

Another important improvement, which is indicated by Davidson due to the strengthening of selective attention. Selective attention allows us to focus on what's really important without being distracted by the background events around — for example, at the moment, thanks to your ability to you continue to read these lines and understand the meaning of written, instead of distracted by the sounds around you or just go to another site. What selective attention is the essence of cognitive control.

Although at the moment I know only a few really good studies on the effects of mindfulness practices on children, Professor Marc Greenberg of the state University of Pensylvannia dealing with human development, argues that "there is lots of credible evidence that adult meditation care has an impact on the neuronal network associated with attention". Greenberg has been researching the impact of this practice on children and adolescents, and although he is very careful in his statements, he said that "the results are encouraging."

One of the benefits that the practice of mindfulness gives students is that it increases their ability to better understand what they teach. Wandering mind leaves holes in our understanding.

The skill of meta-awareness or meta-care may, in turn, serve as an antidote to the wandering mind. Meta-mindfulness is attention to attention, is the ability to notice when we are distracted and no longer abrasem attention on something that was supposed to pay. And when we noticed it, we can return the focus to the original object.

Psychiatrist Daniel Siegel, University of California, Los Angeles calls this the excitation of neurons, which helps us to tune in to the perception of our inner processes and other people, "resonant circuit". And believes that the practice of mindfulness greatly enhances the performance of this circuit. The practice of mindfulness strengthens connections between the prefrontal Executive area and amygdala, particularly those of communication, through which you can control emotional impulses.


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Enhanced Executive function widens the gap between impulse and action, partly thanks to the emergence of meta-awareness: ability to observe our own mental processes, and not to be preoccupied by them. And because of this we have the space for choice, which we didn't have before: we can control the problematic impulses that took us over.published  


Translation © Anastasia Gosteva


P. S. And remember, just changing your mind — together we change the world! ©

Source: vnimatelnost.com/2013/12/02/%D0%B4%D1%8D%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B5%D0%BB-%D0%B3%D0%BE%D1%83%D0%BB%D0%BC%D0%B0%D0%BD-%D0%B2%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%BC%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B5-%D1%8D%D1%82%D0%BE-%D0%BC%D1%83%D1%81%D0%BA%D1%83%D0%BB-%D0%BA/


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