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Mindful : December 2013
performance And it’s not just leaders who benefit from a balance in this triple focus. Attention, from the Latin attendere, to reach toward, connects us with the world, shaping and defining our experience. “Atten- tion,” cognitive neuroscientists Michael Posner and Mary Rothbart write, provides the mechanisms “ that underlie our awareness of the world and the voluntar y regulation of our thoughts a nd feelings.” Anne Treisman, a dea n of this research area, notes that how we deploy our attention is what actually determines what we see. The Endangered Human Moment The little girl’s head only came up to her mother’s waist as she hugged her mom and held on fiercely as they rode a ferry to a vacation island. The mother, though, didn’t respond to her or even seem to notice; she was absorbed in her iPad all the while. There was a reprise a few minutes later, as I was getting into a shared taxi van with nine sorority sisters who that night were journeying to a weekend getaway. Within a minute of taking their seats in the dark van, dim lights flicked on as every one of the sis- ters checked an iPhone or tablet. Desultory conver- sations sputtered along while they texted or scrolled through Facebook. But mostly there was silence. The indifference of that mother, and the silence among the sisters, are symptoms of how technology captures our attention and disrupts our connec- tions. Today it’s the norm. In the early years of this decade, teens’ text messages monthly count soared to 3,417, double the numbers just a few yea rs earlier. The average American teen gets and sends more than a hundred texts a day, about 10 every waking hour. I’ve seen a kid texting while he rode his bike. Today’s children are growing up in a new reality, one where they are attuning more to machines and less to people than has ever been true in human history. That ’s troubling for several reasons. For one, the social and emotional circuitry of a child’s brain learns from contact and conversation with every- one in encounters over the course of a day. These interactions mold brain circuitry; the fewer hours spent with people—and the more spent staring at a digitized screen—portends deficits. Digital engagement comes at a cost in face time with real people—the medium where we learn to “read” nonverbal messages. The new crop of natives in this digital world may be adroit at the keyboard, but they ca n be all thumbs when it comes to reading behavior face-to-face, in real time—particularly in sensing the dismay of others when they stop to read a text in the middle of talking to them. A college student obser ves the loneliness and isolation that goes along with living in a virtu- al world of tweets, status updates, and “posting pictures of my dinner.” He notes that his classmates Focus Your Mind Meditation does a lot more than just improve our abili- ty to focus, but concentrating and stabilizing the mind is the foundation for the insights that can come along with meditation. If the lens through which you perceive your experience is shaky—out of focus—it’s hard to sustain at tention on what really mat ters in life. Here are three 5-minute exercises that will help you explore the experience of a focused mind. 1 What’s in front of you Take a relaxed seated position. Locate something in your field of vision and star t putting your focus on it. As thoughts carr y you away—including thoughts about the object itself—return to placing your bare attention on it. Now, let your gaze be looser. Still take in the object but also a little more of what’s around it. Then tighten your focus on the object again. Notice the pow- er you have to choose what to center your at tention on. 2 Peripheral vision This is a technique used by emergency workers to counteract tunnel vision. Sit quietly. Pay attention not to what’s in front of you but to the peripher y of your vision: the sides, up, and down. As your attention nat- urally and inevitably comes back to the center, gently bring it back to the periphery. Repeat this a few times, for about 5 minutes. 3 Something to contemplate Focus is not purely a visual phenomenon. It is tremen- dously beneficial to bring your focus to the thoughts and emotions that arise in your mind and body. Star t by choosing a person you admire and contemplate their good qualities for a few minutes. If your mind strays, return to focusing on their good qualities. Then choose one quality and appreciate it for a little while. Notice whether this focusing results in good feelings in you. You can try this with negative qualities as well. By the Mindful team Try these three simple exercises to familiarize yourself with the power of a focused mind. 56 mindful December 2013