Our attention spans aren’t what they used to be. Technology and social media have literally re-wired our brains and made it more difficult to focus on any given task. We also have more entertainment options than ever before, which can play tricks on our dopamine regulators. Jumping from one content source to the next, or from one real-life conversation to the next, gives us the feeling that we’re experiencing new and exciting things constantly, even if what we’re seeking is temporary or ultimately unmemorable.
You probably have taken note of the effect technology has on your own focus and have reminded yourself from time to time to just “slow down.” Without the right mental training, however, you may find such a task extremely frustrating because despite your best efforts, the world just won’t slow down around you.
Meditation removes your ego from the equation and helps you cede control. In turn, you can start to win back some of the focus that the digital world wants to take away from you. Practiced meditators have demonstrated a greater ability to stay focused on one stimulus at a time. Not only that, but studies have shown mindful brains to be better able to notice small details in the things they’re looking at, suggesting that they’re less prone to outside distractions sharing time in their minds.
Part of the reason why meditation is so good at focusing the mind is that it doesn’t ask you to consciously discard or ignore thoughts that come into your head. It may seem counterintuitive, but simply allowing the randomness of your brain to have its say (especially during a meditation session) allows you to more effortlessly regain your focus on the here and now. We’re used to judging those so-called task-unrelated thoughts, and that’s truly the source of distraction. Thoughts can and should come and go freely in the subconscious mind – meditation helps keep them there where they can’t get in the way.
Focus is something you can actively train your brain to improve upon in a guided or solo meditation session. Techniques such as body scans get you in the practice of “checking in” with specific parts of your own body as well as the physical sensation of your breath. There’s no expectation in doing this that you’ll be able to lock in on your forehead, for example, for minutes at a time – but you’ll soon find that you’re able to recognize distractions without indulging them.
The world is plenty good at feeding us shiny objects that snap us out of our realities. It can feel daunting to stem the tide, especially when the fear of missing out is so real. But meditation opens up the world that’s happening right now, one in which we can think clearer, perform better and feel less anxious about if we know how to pay attention to it.