Paying Attention to Attention: How to Train Yourself to Stop Your Wandering Mind

According to Medical Daily, there are a lot of contributing factors to our attention, including genetics, the environment, previous experiences, and last but not least, our will.

Namely, a recent study done at Princeton University points out that where there is will, there is a way and it was found that students who constantly paid attention to their levels of attention had the best performance at focusing tasks.

Wandering Thoughts: A Good or a Bad Thing?

Although at times wandering thoughts allow the brain to rest and calm down or to come across some new, creative ideas, they can also reduce the productivity and lead to accidents, especially if they happen a lot. The study’s authors believe that too much wandering off is just a lack of attention to our levels of attention.

The team put forward the hypothesis that these types of thought “lapses” happen because we do not monitor our attention from moment to moment. These wanderings can happen all of sudden and they are usually detected too late, i.e. after the chain events that lead to behavioral errors have already started.

They believe that training our sustained attention is an excellent method to provide a more sensitive feedback signal which can help sense the upcoming lapse earlier and avert it.

What Did the Researchers Do?

During the research, the brain activity of student participants was monitored while they were performing repetitive tasks requiring focus. Every time they detected an activity in the brain of the student showing reduced attention, the following task was even more difficult than the previous one, which required from them to focus additionally. This consequently bettered their performance as they were taught to check their attention so they make sure it is properly maintained.

What Can We Conclude from These Findings?

As seen on Medical Daily, “feedback from our brain” can help minimize the laps in attention and enhance our concentration. The research is a proof that the brain possesses attentional plasticity or a capacity to better the focus when it is checked on.  When they were done with their training, the participants were able to make a difference between two states, i.e. attention lapse vs. concentration and this helped them to maintain optimal focus.

But, since we are human beings not robots, it is quite normal, from time to time, to slip out and find ourselves starring out of the window for a minute or so. These attention lapses can be also good for the brain, if moderate, to help it relax and give it some space.