Mindfulness Works With Focus

Mindfulness Works With Focus

As I mentioned in last weeks podcast, is mindfulness enough, the latest trend in leadership development is mindfulness training being driven by the latest apps and media distribution.

Do the trainings, books, workshops really help participants become more aware with resilience, compassion, clarity and focus? —qualities that seem to be the foundation of what makes a great leader.

There have been many research papers published on the benefits of mindfulness; but without much consistency with regard to providing a systematic procedure that is reliable and repeatable. In addition, there are not many studies specifically designed for leadership training and development. With this said, this does not negate the use of mindfulness for everyone including executives; but we must ask ourselves, do we need something more to build our life to our fullest potential? Our approach to meditation trainings that we have found most successful is founded with training the mind to be able to focus in the present moment, but also be able to move our awareness where we choose to place it on our own command. Being able to train our minds to remain calm, clear with sustainable focus is the recipe for living a vital and healthy life. We experience Well-being not Ill-being. Because we know that the energy of our mind is the essence of life.

If we want to train our mind to be present in the moment, this is a good goal.  But did you ever ask “why is this so important”?  We know that when we look ahead at what if, we create a possibility for anxiety to arise. If we look back, we tigger past regrets and sorrows depression manifests.  So being mindful, training our awareness to be in the present moment is useful.  But we must learn to seal our senses and focus the mind to reach our destination.

Our sensory mind activity is endless. The senses are employed by the mind to experience the outside world. Whenever we are outward oriented it is our senses that have dragged us out of our inward zone. Being mindful of this is a good start, but we must learn to seal our senses and focus our mind moving inward. If we don’t, our senses will be dragging us around forever. Take taste for example. It is one thing to be mindful of a luscious piece of pie and be mindful eating it, even though you know that it might not be good for your current health condition. But, you must go one step further and place your focus on perhaps your health and the possibility of it being detrimental say if you are trying to work with type 2 diabetes. Our sensory mind will spin us out of focus and send us heading in the direction opposite of where we need to go. If we put our mindfulness or awareness into focus we can clearly move out of the situation and move in the intended direction.

Focus Defined

focus (n.)

1640s, “point of convergence,” from Latin focus “hearth, fireplace” (also, figuratively, “home, family”), which is of unknown origin which according to entymology of the word.

It has been said that the word has been used in post-classical times for “fire” itself;
taken by Kepler an astronomer and mathematician during the 17th century scientific revolution (1604) in a mathematical sense for “point of convergence,” perhaps on analogy of the burning point of a lens (the purely optical sense of the word may have existed before Kepler, but it is not recorded).

The word focus was Introduced into English 1650s by Hobbes. Sense transfer to “center of activity or energy” is first recorded 1796. (extracted from etymonline.com)

Synonyms for focus include: center, heart, core, nucleus REF: focus’s. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved January 17, 2018 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/focus-s

Focus likened to Fire

From a Scientific perspective it is the fire principle that is of interest. Fire is the element that transforms matter into energy and in a more subtle sense will into action. Fire is the only element that requires that we tend to it. Right? Fire goes out if we don’t tend to it, unlike, earth, water or air for that matter. Our mind works on this principle. If we tend to being in the present moment —focused— we keep the fire stoked. Focus brings energy together and is what is needed to intensify our vital energy currents. On the other hand, when we are out of focus, most likely disturbed and distracted, our fire diminishes which is reflected in our vital energy. When we allow our mind to go astray — our internal GPS needs to be rebooted— this takes abundant energy to bring it back to home base. Again, looking at the principle of fire—focus—as we stop tending to a fire, its brilliance diminishes and can even go out depending on the length of time our mind is scattered. If we master this concept, we will not only have total access to our own health and vitality, but will have the map to reach our destination.

Training the Mind to Focus

Training the mind to focus requires skill and precision. The same ingredients needed for conducting a scientific expert. What we focus on is reflected in our mind field which leaves an impression on our brain. The great news is that we can train our mind to focus and create new brain pathways to support how we manage ourselves. When we master our skill in self-management then we are fit, yes fit like in fitness, to manage and lead others. Every person needs to cultivate the skill of focusing inward to develop the self awareness which feeds superb communication and relationship building.

Having the ability to put your attention where you want, when you want and for how long you want is focus and requires systematic training. A skill in the current climate that certainly needs attention, since the average attention span ranges from 8-12 seconds.

How Focus Works

Multitasking may help us check off more things on our to-do lists. But it also makes us more prone to error, more likely to overlook important information and cues, and less likely to learn by retaining our experience in working memory. This translates to stress, a decreased ability to problem solve and a loss of creativity. And to top it off we may even become lazy due to sloppiness.

Over the past decade, advances in brain science through neuroimaging has revealed information on how the brain operates. Studies show us how the brain focuses and how distractions hijack parts of our brain. Being that our current environment drives us to distraction, we see that this situation is lessening our human brain potential. On the other hand, there is positive news. You can train your mind through focusing your awareness to ignore distractions, making you more focused, creative, and productive. The result is a vital brain.

Here are three ways you can start to improve your focus.

1. Remain Calm

My motto is “Remain Calm” —consciously aware living in the moment —no matter what.    One of the strengths of good self-awareness is to be able to recognize when the mind goes wandering and be able to bring it back to home base at will.   When we tune into our own being—our real self—brain signalling changes, than if we are thinking and analyzing.  The information that we access is far beyond the reach of everyday sensory input.  This is why those that have self-awareness have the skill to respond rather than react to challenging circumstances.

What you can practice?

Try to bring your attention to your breath at the space between the two nostrils. Regulating the breath will regulate the mind/body complex within a few breaths. If this does not work, remove yourself from the issue at hand, take a walk, focus on breath while walking and come back to the situation.

2. Maintain Positive Emotions

When our emotions go out of control, we experience physical and mental imbalance. In fact, pessimism narrows our focus, shrinks our mind field. Emotions are processed by the amygdala, part of the limbic system of the brain. They are one of two almond-shaped groups of nuclei located deep and medially within the temporal lobes of the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans. Research shows the amygdala perform a primary role in the processing of memory, decision-making, and emotions. With reference to emotions, the amygdala react powerfully to negative emotions, which are regarded as signals of a perceived threat. Functional brain imaging has shown that activation of the amygdala by negative emotions interferes with the brain’s ability to solve problems or do other cognitive work. Positive emotions and thoughts do the opposite—they expand the brain and improve the brain’s executive function, and so help open the door to creative and strategic thinking.

A simple way to shift into positive mode is to ask yourself, “If everything worked out perfectly in my life, what would I be doing in 10 years?” Take a moment and respond to this in your daily journal. Dr. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist from the University of Wisconsin, has found your brain’s left prefrontal area lights up when your mind thinks of positive possibilities.

What you can practice?

Start your day on positive topics with some humor. The positive emotions this generates can improve not only your brain function but everyone’s brain function, leading to better home and work environment.

3. Learn to Meditate

Meditation brings your awareness into focus with a systematic process that brings you from outside to inside. Learn to regulate the body, breath, senses and mind and you’ll discover that training the mind to focus is not that difficult. However, it requires practice. You would never expect to learn to play a musical instrument without practice, so why would you expect to work with the instrument, called mind, without practice?

Meditation trains our mind to stay focused and helps with what scientists call our braking system—that which keeps wrong things from popping into your mind. Scientists believe that the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) that lies just behind each of your temples helps block distractions—maybe yes, and maybe no. But what we do know is that over time, when you train your mind to focus, you are able to witness the thoughts and images that cause distractions. Over time with a systematic practice, thoughts and images and whatever else temps you to drift off, surfaces less and less. So brain plasticity allows the neural firings in the distraction areas of your brain for example, the limbic area, to slow down and be overridden by the prefrontal cortex region.

What you can practice?

To strengthen your brain pathways supporting focus and attention, learn to meditate for 10 minutes per day. Just 10 minutes per day, consistently, will have profound effects on your mood, emotions and ability to focus.

Putting It All Together

For those who don’t want to end up similarly compartmentalized, the message is clear. A focused person is not the person concentrating on their most valued possession or most important career priorities, the most brilliant inventor, or the one who has the best achievements in corporate culture. A person who has the skill of focus has the ability to command the full range of their own awareness by understanding their inner feelings, controlling their emotional impulses, being conscious of the self as opposed to self conscious and by understanding what others need from them. They can weed out distractions and also allow their minds to expand widely, free of happenings of the future and regrets of the past. They flow with ease as opposed to grasping and becoming rigid.

The goal is to train your mind as an instrument that when focused will produce the same brilliant vibration as the stradivarius, the world’s finest violin.

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