By Brittany Gebben

How do we stay focused and aware of the present situation when there are so many internal and external stressors or distractions pulling our mind elsewhere (on top of all the other data our brains are taking in)?

Everyone has their own personal distractors tugging at their attention.  For me, as a working mother, my mind is filled with both a family and professional calendar of tasks, appointments or meetings, deadlines and more.  We encounter so much information that our brains aren’t capable of processing it all and many times, our mind is preoccupied, and our attention is pulled away from the present.  Attention is sort of the “leader” of our brain.  Where our attention goes, the rest follows. There’s too much going on in our outside environment to stay focused.  Now, even more than before, devices are pulling our attention away or filling our brains with more information to process. Trivial things like friends’ social media status’, a message you received, news you saw online, etc all taking space in our minds and competing with the important things.  Often, we’re unaware of all the information we’re taking in or that our brains are subconsciously on information overload– but we’re mentally exhausted.

Stress, both internal and external, obviously has a powerful impact on attention.  Our mind can be preoccupied and stressed about other things that it can cause us to miss out on the present situation.  For example, have you ever arrived at your destination after driving in the car, only to find you can barely recall the scenery or held a conversation with someone and later realized you missed out on a lot of the details?

So how do we navigate through the information oerload and keep our attention “on task” so we’re mindfully present?  How do we pay attention to the present situation with awareness?  Here are a few techniques to train our brain to stay attention or be more mindful:

  • Look at an image and describe the image… stay focused and move your mind to a smaller part of the image and describe that specific part in detail, being aware of the specifics and not just the whole scene
  • Practice active listening.  Interacting and asking questions about what’s being communicate then later recalling details of the conversation
  • Deep breathing and pay attention to your breaths
  • Meditation

Personally, this is something I know I need to continually work on so that I don’t miss out on the present by internal and external distractions pulling my attention away.  Think of mindfulness not just as a concept, but as a continual practice.