Not all meditation techniques are the same. Some can actually help you improve your ability to focus and pay attention! If you are learning to meditate, you may find the Focused-Attention form of meditation an easier way to start a consistent practice of meditation.
Traditional meditation encourages you to focus on clearing your mind, creating an empty vessel in your head. Focused-Attention Meditation instead requires you to focus on something specific. You can select an object, an event, a mantra, or anything that involves your senses. An intense focus on this one thought is required for a sustained time. This focus on one particular idea can teach you to dismiss your ever-present internal dialogue, allowing you to quiet your mind and focus.
Learning Attention Regulation Through Meditation
While you are practicing Focused-Attention meditation, you are also practicing and learning attention regulation skills. The three most obvious attention regulation skills you learn through this type of meditation include:
- The ability to disengage from distraction. Focused-Attention meditation teaches you through practice to shift your attention when you notice things are diverting your focus. You can learn to ignore distractions from emotions, sensations, thoughts, and even people.
- The ability to refocus on what is important to you. By selecting a single thought to focus on, you learn to appreciate the depth that these ideas hold and to be able to sustain your attention more fully on a single object.
- Focused-Attention meditation also teaches you metacognitive awareness to recognize when your brain is distracted, to acknowledge the distraction, then return to your area of focus, without effort.
As you are learning these skills, you will notice over time that it becomes easier to sustain attention where you intend. You might also notice a more intense meditative state as you continue to practice. When you first start this type of practice, you will likely notice you have to intently practice to keep your attention focused, which is developing the three skills discussed above. Over time, it will become easier to stay engaged with and focused on the chosen anchor.
There is evidence to suggest that this type of meditative practice also enhances one’s ability to think both divergently, which enhances creativity (Meditate to Create, Colzato, et. al), and that Focused-Attention meditation can enhance one’s capacity for learning (The Influence of Focused-Attention Meditation States on the Cognitive Control of Sequence Learning, Chan, et al.).
When you can focus on a chosen anchor, you create the type of concentration that calms and relaxes your mind. This is why it is important to select an anchor that is neutral or produces positive feelings.
Focused-Attention vs. Open Monitoring Meditation
Whereas focused attention techniques require trained thought on an anchor, such as an object, a mantra, or even your own breath, open monitoring meditation builds upon those attention skills gained through this type of meditation to take it a step further. When in open monitoring practice, you allow your attention to be directed toward thoughts or emotions that arise, but you simply learn to take inventory, not to react, and to let the thought simply pass on without indulging in further thought. This requires practice, as our brains naturally want to see a thought through to its conclusion. Open monitoring is dependent upon the skills you learn through Focused-Attention meditation.
Learning to meditate can not only help you deal with the stress in your life and learn to relax, but it can also teach you valuable learning and thinking skills that you can apply in other areas of your life. Start small and build upon early successes to start re-training your brain today.
Share your preferred meditation technique in the comments below!