Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Dayby Amishi P. Jha
The modern attention span is seriously lacking, and most of us struggle to concentrate. This problem primarily comes down to evolution. There is some evolutionary benefit to a wandering mind, but in modern society, our minds wander far too much, damaging our ability to concentrate and stay productive.
In Peak Mind, you will learn simple mindfulness exercises that help you regain your focus. By practicing these exercises for only 12 minutes a day, you’ll completely transform your productivity and drastically improve your ability to pay attention to tasks. Beyond that, you will also learn connection practices that help you improve your well-being and your relationships with others by directing your attention in a compassionate way.
Core Practice: Find Your Flashlight
“The mind was determined, it seems, to roam. To figure out why, we needed to consider that, as destructive and problematic as we knew mind-wandering was, it could also be seen, paradoxically, as an asset.”
Mind-wandering is one of the biggest hurdles to concentration. When you are trying to focus on a specific task, and you find your mind moving to different thoughts, it’s difficult to stay productive. Before, this function used to help us be more aware of our surroundings and potential dangers.
Unfortunately, in the modern world where predators are not attacking us, mind-wandering gets in the way of good concentration. The good news is that it is possible to regain control of your attention—that is, by finding your “flashlight.” This means making yourself aware when your attention has wandered away from the task so you can bring it back. There is a simple exercise to help you do that.
Actions to take
Core Practice: Watch Your Whiteboard
“As you train yourself to monitor what’s happening in the present moment, you’ll default less and less to long, unproductive, and off-task bouts of mental time travel.”
Most people are unaware when their mind has wandered for quite a long time. It’s easy to get caught up in thought loops that divert your attention from the task at hand. And it’s not until you’ve gone around that loop ten times that you realize you’re out of focus. However, if you practice noticing when your mind wanders and labeling the distraction, you will start to be aware of it sooner.
Eventually, you can spot mind-wandering immediately and then refocus your attention straight away. The “watch your whiteboard” practice is an extension of the “find your flashlight” technique. It helps you get better at noticing when you lose focus.
Actions to take
Core Practice: Body Scan
“Our memories are strongly tied to our senses. So, one way to boost our chances of remembering the things we care about is to use mindfulness training to root ourselves in the body.”
The process of storing memories relies heavily on our attention at the time. There are three stages to storing long-term memory: rehearsal, elaboration, and consolidation.
Rehearsal is when we notice the details of the memory. For example, when somebody tells you their name or a piece of information, you run it over in your mind. You also notice feelings and sensations associated with the event.
The next stage, elaboration, involves relating that information to existing memories. This allows us to store them more effectively. For example, if somebody tells you that an octopus has three hearts, you automatically tether that information to the image of an octopus that you already have. If you enjoy a day out with a friend, you tether those positive feelings to all of your other memories about them.
The final stage is consolidation. As the first two stages happen, your brain creates new neural pathways and stores that information. However, this process can be derailed when your attention wanders. It’s especially important that you are rooted in your body so you can experience the sensory details. The “body scan" exercise will train you to be more present and aware of your body, which helps with overall concentration as well as forming memories.
Actions to take
Core Practice: River of Thought
“The attentional force multiplier you need to acquire is your capacity to be meta-aware, to notice.”
Meta-awareness means being aware of the movements of your own mind. To do this, you need to perform an open monitoring of the mind. This means simply sitting back and watching where your mind goes. Here, you’ll notice thoughts and feelings coming and going without reacting to them. Not only will this boost your concentration and improve your awareness of your own mind, but it will also help with managing stress and difficult emotions. By improving your open monitoring skills, you find it much easier to let go of feelings and acknowledge that they are not part of you; they simply come and go. The "river of thought” practice will help you boost your meta-awareness through open monitoring of the mind. Unlike the ‘watch your whiteboard’ practice, you are not labeling anything; you are simply noticing it.
Actions to take
Core Practice: Connection Practice
“The purpose here is to cultivate your ability to connect and offer goodwill toward others—and yourself. “
Learning to hone your attention on tasks and keep it there helps us boost productivity. However, understanding how to give your full attention to others compassionately is perhaps the most important lesson to learn.
By using your attention skills to direct compassion towards yourself and others, you can improve your well-being and strengthen your connection with the people around you. The “connection" practice is designed to help you do that.
Actions to take
Core Training for the Brain
“Over time, as you establish a consistent practice of five or more days per week, week after week, these new ways of paying attention increasingly become the default.”
Consistently following the practices outlined here allows you to rewire your brain and change the way that you focus on things. Ultimately, you will find it so much easier to remain present, concentrate well, and be productive. It also strengthens the compassion you feel for yourself and others and improves your relationships. In order to benefit from these exercises, you should follow a program that incorporates all of them. The four-week program builds each week to add more exercises. By the end, you will be on your way to building a peak mind.