The Focused Mind
The brain is constantly at work. Even when we’re doing nothing, it doesn’t just stop. When presented with something of interest within our external environment, like a magician performing a magic trick or breath-taking scenery, the brain is instantly engaged, becoming focused. The brain is typically happy when it is focused, but what happens if we find nothing in our external environments appealing or meaningful enough anymore? In these cases, we become prone to anxiety, depression, and stress.
According to Dr. Amid Sood, the author of the Handbook of Happiness, our brain continuously switches between two modes: the focused, and the unfocused/distracted mode. Let’s explore what happens in both of these modes.
The brain’s focused mode is the fulcrum of happiness; it is attuned to the world, and typically processes productive and adaptive thoughts. Examples of everyday activities that keep our mind in this mode include reading a book, spending time with your loved ones, playing squash or any other sport, and meditating. In the brain’s unfocused mode, the mind wanders and typically processes neutral and negative thoughts, which can lead to unhappiness. Some phenomena that indicate a wandering or unfocused brain are: getting distracted easily, being frequently forgetful, daydreaming, and having racing thoughts.
According to research, we spend 50% of our time in the unfocused mode. This, of course, is a worrisome matter, as the more time we spend in this mode, the greater the likelihood of us becoming unhappy. So what are some ways by which we can go about training our minds to spend more time in the focused mode? One crucial way is to practice joyful attention. Joyful attention encourages us to pay attention to novelty in our external environments; by encouraging ourselves to search for (and focus on) novelty in our environments, we don’t become as bored with what we see and our mind doesn’t wander as much. But how does one practice joyful attention? Here are two exercises that you can engage in to facilitate moments of joyful attention throughout your day:
Practicing Gratitude as Soon as you Rise. As soon as we wake up, our mind immediately starts to wander. Practicing gratitude first thing in the morning can help us become present, focused, calm, and intentional. You can start practicing gratitude by closing your eyes and listing the things you are grateful for in life. Alternatively, you can also think about the five most important people in your lives, and send them silent gratitude.
Savour Each Moment. Given how busy and fast-paced our lives are, it is quite easy to forget to slow down to take in and savour the joyful moments of everyday life. A useful habit is to notice and pay closer attention to our environment. Start to notice and appreciate the people, activities, and places surrounding you. Pay attention to the scenery on your commute; watch the sun set; look at the fluffy clouds in the sky; spend time with your family and friends, engage in a hobby, or listen to the birds chirp early in the morning.
It takes a lot of will power, patience, and energy to train your attention. But in the end, doing so will enhance your overall wellbeing and help you lead a happier life.
Conyers, M., & Wilson, D. (2015). Positively smarter: Science and strategies for increasing happiness, achievement, and well-being. John Wiley & Sons.
Sood, A. (2015). Handbook for happiness: A 4-step plan for resilient living. Da Capo Press
Farah Premji, MSc., specializes in the areas of self care and confidence, as well as many others. For more information on Farah and her work, click here to link to her full bio page.