More and more scientific research tells us that we need to try to more present. This means keeping your focus off the past and the future. How does meditation help improve that focus?
Many people with a form of anxiety characterized by over-worrying find that they spend an excessive amount of time pondering either the future or the past. Research published in the journal Science suggests that doing so worsens our mood. Does this very human tendency to get caught up in thoughts about the past and future affect you?
See how focused your mind really is
Try an experiment: over the next hour, set a timer to go off every ten minutes. When it does, immediately ask yourself whether yours was a focused mind; what was it doing at the exact moment the timer went off? Were you ruminating about the past? Were you lost in thought about how you hope the future will be? Or were you totally focused on what you were doing?
How to practice meditation for focus
Getting better at focusing, i.e., not getting lost in thought, takes practice. Training your focus on a specific object or task is a great way to accomplish this. Whether you’re reading an article, eating a meal, or jogging down the street, look for moments when your mind has become distracted from what you’re doing. This can be very challenging. Perhaps the best way to hone this skill is meditation.
In meditation is like doing cardio for your brain’s ability to focus attention. How does it work? When we meditate we practice noticing when our attention has wandered. The more we meditate, the better we get at this skill during meditation and in the rest of our day. We become able to notice ourselves becoming distracted very quickly after it happens, which enables us to refocus on the task at hand, whether that be focusing on our breath or reading a book.
Concentration vs. mindfulness
The resultant improvements in concentration are helpful. They are accompanied, many report, by an increase in mindfulness. Mindfulness is a relaxed awareness characterized by our being present with whatever we’re doing at that moment. (See our complete guide to mindfulness). Daniel Goleman, the scholar in the video above, has described concentration and mindfulness as the two primary changes that meditation produces.
So now you know what to do. The next time you’re caught up in thoughts about the future or the past, and it’s stressing you out, do some meditation or mindfulness practice. Practice improving your focus. You’ll be glad you did!
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