What Captures Your Attention Controls Your Life

Neurobiology has been very clear in recent findings- giving something full attention is the best way to change, understand or deepen the experience of that something. And repeated focus is the key to successfully changing the very pathways of our brains. This can be very helpful when dealing with depression or substance abuse, for example.

An interesting article in the Harvard Business Review gives a more accessible overview of what monks and nuns (of many religions) have known for millennia: Focusing regularly changes your brain- and your life. Excerpt:

“A few years ago, DisneyWorld executives were wondering what most captured the attention of toddlers and infants at their theme park and hotels in Orlando, Florida. So they hired me and a cultural anthropologist to observe them as they passed by all the costumed cast members, animated creatures, twirling rides, sweet-smelling snacks, and colorful toys. But after a couple of hours of close observation, we realized that what most captured the young children’s attention wasn’t Disney-conjured magic. Instead it was their parents’ cell phones, especially when the parents were using them.

Those kids clearly understood what held their parents’ attention — and they wanted it too. Cell phones were enticing action centers of their world as they observed it. When parents were using their phones, they were not paying complete attention to their children.

Giving undivided attention is the first and most basic ingredient in any relationship. It is impossible to communicate, much less bond, with someone who can’t or won’t focus on you. At the same time, we often fail to realize how what we focus on comes to control our thoughts, our actions, and indeed, our very lives.

Whatever we focus upon actually wires our neurons. For example, pessimistic people see setbacks and unhappy events as Personal (It’s worst for me), Pervasive (Everything is now worse) andPermanent (It will always be this way) according to Learned Optimism author Marty Seligman. Yet, with practice, he found that we can learn to focus more attention on the positive possibilities in situations to craft a redemptive narrative of our life story. Consciously changing what you pay attention to can rewire your brain from a negative orientation to a positive one. “Attention shapes the brain,” as Rick Hanson says in Buddha’s Brain.”

Read the rest here.