In addition, we have a ‘negativity bias’ in our brains which is continually scanning for bad news and putting a pessimistic spin on our life events. This means that we can easily be concentrating on the unwanted aspects of our experience: the pain, the suffering, the judgements and the complaints. So again, being highly mindful of the spotlight of our focus is an essential life skill to keep us happy and healthy. As Daniel Goleman puts it in the quote above, our focus is something we must train, like any muscle in our body that we want to develop. We can either control it…or it controls us!
- Practice deploying your attention on what you want. This vital ability underlies everything you could ever want. I find it helps to, daily, write down what I want to keep my attention on, so that it remains forefront in my awareness. Without that reminder, my mind easily takes me onto a focus on what I don’t want. I find it helpful to phrase my reflection as a question that I ask daily. Asking “how can I…?” gives me the opportunity to be creative about my train of focus. For example, “how can I improve my health?”, ‘how can I improve my focus?”, or “how can I improve this relationship?”
- Focused concentration is easily trained. One of the critical skills that every mindfulness student learns is that when the mind wanders, we just gently guide it back onto our chosen area of awareness. Practising single-mindedly keeping your centre of attention in one place, and returning to that place every time your mind leaves it, is the tool for training concentration. You don’t have to be in a Buddhist monastery to do this. You can choose your breath, an area of your body, the sounds around you or something you can see as your core of attention, anytime, anywhere. The vital ingredient is practice!
- End rumination and embrace solutions. During challenging times, we are prone to rumination. It feels like we cannot help it. Just like a cow chewing its cud, we chew it over, swallow the thoughts, regurgitate them and then chew them over again. Not attractive! Instead train yourself to think about, and ideally write down possible solutions. And the way forward. Then keep the answers at the core of your awareness and act on the ideas you receive.
- Have a daily mindfulness or meditation practice. The more proficient you are at focusing your mind through regular practice, the easier it is to focus on the good and the solutions in your everyday life. It, too, gives you the ability to quickly recognise when you are deliberating on the negative, and it gives you the inner muscles to move the nub of your attention elsewhere.