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Focused Attention is an Endangered Species

Dr. Daniel Goleman | 6:04


What's surprising, at least to scientists is that the benefits from meditation show up right from the beginning. You can do, for example, mindfulness, that's pretty popular meditation. If you do mindfulness practice 10 minutes, a day, or 10 minutes three times over the course of a day, something remarkable happens to your attention. And that's the fact that has to do with the fact that we're all multitasking these days, you know, people on average, look at their email about 50 times a day, they look at their Facebook 20 Some times a day. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. 

There's Instagram, there's your phone calls, there's whatever it is you have to do. And what this means for attention is that we're challenged that focused attention is an endangered species. However, we need that focus to get work done well. 

So it's a real problem. And meditation that turns out, even at the beginning has some of the answer goes like this, when you're really intensely focused on that one thing you have to do or you want to do, the paper you're writing or the project you're working on, then you think, Oh, I better check my email. And then that leads to your Facebook. And that leads to the phone call these we call this multitasking, the brain actually does not do. 

Multitasking doesn't do several things at once, in parallel, rather, it works in serial, and it switches very rapidly from one thing to the next. Then when you go back to that project, or that whatever it was, you're so focused on, but your concentration had been at a very high level before you started doing the other things.

Now, it's much lower, it takes a while to ramp up to that same level, unless and this is so interesting, unless you've done that 10 minutes of mindfulness, focused on your breath, for example, just watched it in and out. I noticed when your mind wandered brought it back. That's the basic move in meditation. And if you do that, it turns out just 10 minutes of practice nullifies that loss of concentration. And this works. For example, for people who might do mindfulness in the morning, it will wane during the course of the day. 

But if you do 10 more minutes at lunch, 10 more minutes at a break in the mid afternoon, it helps you through the day stay concentrated. So that is a very palpable concrete payoff from daily meditation that works for beginners. There are many others too, for example, in terms of handling stress, I mean, we're all stressed out these days. And beginners in mindfulness or other meditations, it turns out right from the get go, have a better reaction to stress. What that means is that, and we see this in brain function, the area of the brain, which reacts to stress called the amygdala, it's the trigger point for the fight or flight or freeze response. It's what makes us angry all of a sudden or anxious, all of a sudden, the amygdala is quieter. It's calmer in the face of stress. And this lets us be calmer in the face of stress. And this is another benefit that we see right from the beginning. 

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