In today’s episode, we cover focus and attention with Dr. Amishi Jha. Dr. Amishi Jha received her Ph.D. from the University of California–Davis, is a professor of psychology at the University of Miami, and is the Cofounder and Director of Contemplative Neuroscience for the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative.
It seems like our attention spans are getting shorter every year, but are they really, what can we do to improve our ability to focus, and how do we deal with the countless entities always clawing for our attention everywhere we look?
What to Listen For
- Introduction and Dr. Amishi’s origin story – 9:00
- How does meditation better equip us to deal with everything that is fighting for our attention in daily life?
- What is attention and why should we care? – 19:24
- What are the three components of attention and how do mindfulness practices influence our ability to pay attention?
- What mindfulness exercise can you start doing now to begin seeing the benefits of meditation?
- Are our attention spans actually getting shorter?
- How do we use our brain to combat our own lack of attention or focus?
- The Finder Flashlight Practice for developing focus – 31:20
- What can you do to help your children learn to pay attention and focus?
- What advantages do people with ADD/ADHD have that people without it don’t have?
- Improving focus while living under a lot of stress – 48:50
- What 12-minute exercise can you do on a daily basis to boost your ability to focus, even in high stress, high demand situations and environments?
Our ability to focus on something for an extended period of time is one of the significant differences between humans and other animals. However, like other animals we can easily be distracted and lose that focus. So what can we do in today’s world where everything in our daily lives is fighting for our attention? We can start by meditating (or implementing a similarly effective mindfulness practice) that can help us cultivate a sense of awareness that isn’t so reactive and easily distracted.
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Resources from this Episode
- Dr. Amishi’s website
- Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day
- How to Tame Your Wandering Mind (TED Talk by Dr. Amishi)
- Dr. Amishi on Twitter
Speaker 1: Welcome back to the art of charm podcast. A show designed to help you communicate with power and become unstoppable on your path from hidden genius to influential leader. We know
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Speaker 1: Thank you for tuning in let's kick off today's interview. We are so excited to have Dr. Ameesha with us. Dr. Shaw is a professor of psychology at the university of Miami. She serves as the director of contemplate of neuroscience for the mindfulness research and practice initiative, where she researches mindfulness techniques to optimize focus, even under high stress. She's the author of peak mind find your focus, own your attention, invest 12 minutes a day, which just came out and we're so excited to chat about welcome to the show Dr. And Mishi.
Speaker 2: And we would love to hear your origin story and how you became interested in finding your focus with mindfulness.
Speaker 3: Good question. Great to be here and to be together. My professional training is as a neuroscientist. So, you know, through undergrad and grad school, my real passion and intellectual interest was in the topic of attention. And that's pretty much what I studied. And at some point, not, not a surprising point. When I became a new mom, a new professor was building my lab, husband and grad school. Just sort of like the full catastrophe of life kind of caught up with me and I've had this real crisis of attention and it became this sort of ironic experience of nothing in my professional life. And even more research that I could could find in literature could guide me to help in feeling like I had lost access to my own focus. And I was feeling pretty lost at that point. Like I study attention, I know this field, like why is there nothing I can do to help myself and actually found out about mindfulness meditation in particular through one of my dear colleagues, a respected neuroscientist Richard Davidson, and you know, it was almost one of those things I knew I was sort of in a down kind of mindset.
Speaker 3: I was feeling very overwhelmed and I wouldn't say I called it stress. I just felt like I couldn't shake being distracted all the time. Anyway. So he he's at a, this was when I was at the university of Pennsylvania. So he's, he was giving a talk and he's a emotion researcher. So he shows these beautiful images on the screen of two brains, basically two functional MRI images. One is of a negative brain, basically somebody's induced to be in a negative mood. And then next to it, a positive brain, meaning somebody induced in a positive mood and his, his point was just look, the brain activation patterns are different. These are different brains. And at the end of his lecture, I raise my hand and it was really like everybody had been done kind of asking their basic questions. And I raised my hand I'm at the back of the room.
Speaker 3: I'm like, how do you get that brain to look like that brain? Like, how do I get the, you know, how to get the negative one to look like the positive one? And he just almost, I thought kind of in a flippant way, said something that made my jaw drop. He said meditation. And I was like, what, what? We don't use that word here. You know? I mean, it was like as offensive as being with astrophysicists and talking about astrology, like, it was just like, you don't, you don't talk about that stuff, dude, what are you talking about? But then we ended up talking later on and he mentioned some of the work they were doing now, of course, Richard Davidson heads, a major center known for mindfulness. But at that point he was really early days. It was early two thousands. And it got me curious enough that I'd overcome my own biases to go check it out. And once I started practicing, I realized, oh my goodness, this is that thing I've been looking for. This is a way for me to train my mind from the inside. And I just got so curious. I'm like, we've got to bring this to the lab and research it. Maybe we can add tools for other people that are stressed and need to perform at a high level. So, sorry, that's a long answer, but that's how I entered the whole topic.
Speaker 2: Well, I don't think there's any time in history that more people have fought for our attention. And with that, w we, we realize how limited we are with that attention and how important it is, where we focus it and how we use it in our own lives and be so indiscriminate and just handing it out to whoever asks for it.
Speaker 3: Absolutely. I couldn't agree with you more and you know, we see it. We know that we're in the, we are the commodity and the attention economy. Um, we are the product, our mind, our attention is the product that many, many people are profiting from. And we're up against some pretty intense algorithms that we can't just will our way past. So that's that that's a real crisis, but I would, I would just caution that this isn't really our fault. There's nothing wrong with our brain. In fact, the reason there can be algorithms that can predict exactly what we will do is because our attention is working so reliably, so perfectly on cue that, you know, it's like, of course, if I see my name and a shiny red button, I'm going to click on it. Like, why wouldn't I, right. That's just what I've sort of, my evolution has designed me to do that. So I think that's also important to keep in mind. So we don't end up in this sort of self-blame mode of like, I just can't keep my attention focused.
Speaker 1: Well, I think many of us have probably at this point, dabbled with mindfulness or meditation, and we hear this time and time again from our audience that I tried, it it's tough to stick to it didn't work for me. And because of it, you know, a lot of people dismiss it, but we'd love to just unpack the science because I think that's, what's often missing from the conversation as you had your own biases around it. Many people think of it as new agey or Wu, and the science is actually caught up in a lot of ways to, to really talk about the powerful aspect of being more mindful. And will you describe as the peak mind? So how do you define the peak mind if we could start there?
Speaker 3: Yeah. You know, just to make clear, because a lot of times when I, even, when I hear people say that I have this kind of image in my mind of some woman on a mountain top, you know, her arms like up in the air, like I did it, you know, like I'm a successories in, in the flesh. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm not talking about really peak experiences or extraordinary moments in time. I'm really talking about peak as having full access to our attentional resources so that no matter the challenges or circumstances, we're, we're fully there to best benefit what we do next. And that to me is even more valuable than having, you know, a mountain top moment, because that means that I can trust myself to really maneuver through no matter what. And by the way, that doesn't just mean that I'm happy and even successful in every moment.
Speaker 3: It means knowing that when the sadness arises or when the challenge is there, I can maneuver through, I can make a different decision. You know, for example, if I know I'm quite upset, maybe don't press send on that email or, or, you know, or even if I, if I have a reactive moment and snap at somebody to apologize more quickly. So all of these are what I mean by a peak mind. And, you know, I love what you said regarding mindfulness that it's had its moment. There's, it's almost, almost like a buzzword, which to me is just kind of amazing. Cause when I started this work, people thought I was nuts. Nobody would ever care about mindfulness. Why are you bothering studying it? What are you going to study the brain basis of this thing? And now it's kind of incredible the beyond, you know, your, your show here, which I know a lot of people listen to and there, and it's like, almost like you're talking about this topic again.
Speaker 3: You know, it's just like this very common thing are the reason I think people have challenges with it is what they think they're going to get from practicing. So maybe we could talk about that a little bit, because I think the problem is if you start out putting a lot of pressure on this ancient practice and bring it to our modern world, that you know, I'm going to do this thing and it's like a magic bullet and I'll instantly feel blissed out and everything will be, I don't know, rainbows and unicorns or something like that, right? Like that's just not, that's just not the case with anything. But the other thing is you're fundamentally getting connected to the nature of your mind and your mind was built to be distractible. It just was. So the fact that you mind wander a thousand times is actually normal and has nothing to do with whether you're successful or not. At this thing we can unpack, which is mindfulness, meditation,
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Speaker 1: If implementing concepts from this show has enhanced your life. Imagine what a comprehensive mentorship in the X factor accelerator could do for you, unlock your own X-Factor and become extraordinary. Apply today at unlock your X-Factor dot com. Pause right now and head over to unlock your X factor.com to apply. Well. I think many of us have encountered ADHD and maybe even being diagnosed with it, or have friends who are taking the drugs to combat it. And even if you don't have it, you may have dabbled with those to get that focus. We hear about students now taking these drugs to get that focus, to study to cram, but we don't often hear about controlling the other inputs to that form. The distraction. So many of us are overwhelmed by distraction. We talk about the devices that notifications, TV shows everything else that we have on our plate.
Speaker 1: And it seems like stress is at an all time high, but we tend to look for drugs or easier outs to get that focus back, to get that limitless, super power back. Mindfulness is the opposite. It's much like working a muscle where if you set a goal of 45 minutes or an hour to work out and you've never worked out in your life, you're really going to struggle to do that full hour. And you're probably not going to want to continue tomorrow. And I've found every time that we've talked about meditation, we have our fans and our followers who say, well, I can't do 30 minutes. I can't do 20 minutes every single day. It's just too hard. It's too challenging. I'd rather find a shortcut or something easier to do. And the book talks about a much smaller minimum effective dose that I think many of us, if we just started smaller and really just focused on the initial benefits, instead of, as you say, shooting for the sunshine, the rainbows, the unicorns, and this practice of an hour long every single day, we might actually start to see some of the benefits of regaining that focus and attention instead of the struggles that we're currently having.
Speaker 1: So I know that the book is loaded with exercises and opportunities for you to start to sharpen these skills. But if someone in our audience has tried this before and it hasn't clicked or worked for them, what would you say is a core exercise? That would be an easy way for them to start to see some of these scientific benefits that you discuss.
Speaker 2: Let me interrupt right there for one second. I think what would also help set this up is to get a better different definition of what attention is because you broke it down into three different parts. And I know for myself, I never saw it in that way. And when we, when you started talking about meditation and how it helps with each one of those, it gave me a lot more clarity. So help our audience out there with that before we get into the meditation.
Speaker 3: Sounds great. There's so much good stuff. So many questions I'm already in great content. So let's unpack it. I think that you're you're right, Jenny, let's just start maybe with the basics, like attention one-on-one and then we'll jump into a Jay, your question regarding what, uh, what can we do like right now, the first thing to say is that our capacity to pay attention is the success story of our brains evolution. And the reason we have attention is because the brain suffered from a really big problem, really fundamental problem, which is there's far more stuff out there than you could possibly fully analyze. So now in a complex word, I mean, and that was like our ancient ancestors, right? Like we're talking about just very primitive, but even they had too much stuff to deal with. So the evolution of this brain system was the solution to that challenge.
Speaker 3: And essentially attention is about privileging a subset of information. So we can sample our environment bit by bit. We don't have to take it all in at once, but maybe I can interrogate some portion of it and get more information and that'll help me maneuver and survive, et cetera. So just to keep that in mind and also to kind of start, and we can actually get into this a little bit more, like, what is the nature of this system, this multifaceted system. And I'll, I'll be happy to talk about kind of the three main parts that we've discovered. It's highly distractible and that's by design too. You know, if you, if you could, if you can imagine, if you had excellent focus again, as our ancient ancestors, you're at some watering hole, you're like, I'm thirsty. I'm going to drink water. You know, sooner off you're going to be eaten because you're gonna be so fixated on the water.
Speaker 3: You're not going to notice the predator nearby, et cetera. And by the way, if you can't plan or reflect in the modern world, you're not going to make it very far. So the capacity for the mind to wander is a good thing. And the data suggests about 50% of our waking moments. Our mind is not on our task at hand. So that's just the baseline. That's like normal circumstances. And so I just hope that that gives people some comfort, uh, that to start with that is not you alone. All of us have this feature of our mind. It actually makes sense that we have it. And by the way, there are ways we can actually work with it even better than we have been. So the way that I like to think about the system, that's really designed to privilege some information over other information is to figure out how the brain privileges information.
Speaker 3: The first way we could think about is what it is that we should pay attention to, right? Like the, the thing on which I should be getting information. And right now, for example, I'm looking at you on my computer screen. That should be the most important sensory input I get. If I looked over at the side of my room, you'd be like, what's up with that, right? That's the wrong thing to do. So what it is matters, the other thing that matters is sort of now time, I should select for information that's occurring in this moment versus tied to my past or future. And then the third way we could think about even selecting information is, is based on our goals. What's the most important thing, right? So the content, the timing, the goals, these are all ways that our brain has to think about selecting information.
Speaker 3: And it ends up that there's are, there are brain systems, distinct brain systems that do each of those three things. So the very first system we, uh, that has to do with this capacity to select what we call the brain's orienting system. I like to think of the metaphor of a flashlight. So if you're in a darkened room or a darkened path, you're walking around, outside somewhere and you want to see where you're going. A flashlight is a super handy tool because wherever it is that it's pointing, you're going to get privileged information about the path that you're, that you're walking on and everything else is going to be blanked out. Really. And that's a good thing. You don't need to see everything in your environment. You just really need to make sure what's in front of you matters the parallel between the actual brain system of orienting and the flashlight is actually multiple.
Speaker 3: It can be very laser focused. It can be broad. It can be directed to the external environment or even the internal environment. So if I said, you know, what is the sensation right now that you are feeling on the bottoms of your feet? You can direct the flashlight internally and check it out. And I'm positive. Nobody was probably thinking about that bright before I said it, but seamlessly, easily, we do that. So the flashlight is a really handy metaphor for this selecting thing. And I'll just mention the other two briefly, and we can unpack them a little bit more later, but the opposite of this kind of narrowing, selecting privileging, what information is in front of us is broadening and being receptive. And that a metaphor I use is a floodlight, you know, frankly, the exact opposite. And this is formally called the brain's alerting system.
Speaker 3: And it really is. It's like I was thinking of like, when I'm driving down the road and I see a flashing yellow light, you know, like it's flashing usually near some kind of construction zone or weird traffic pattern, but what does it cue us to do pay attention? Does it tell us exactly what to pay attention to? You know, but it's like be broad, be receptive, observe what's happening and be ready to act if you need to very, very different mode in that case being narrow and privileging, some information could really cost us, right? We might miss the child running into the street or the weird, uh, turn that arrives on to our, our lane or whatever it is. So I hope that makes sense. That narrow broad, and then the third system, which is really regarding this goals piece is something called the executive system.
Speaker 3: Sometimes I refer to it as a, as a juggler cause it's about kind of keeping all the balls in the air, just like the executive of a company. It's not about doing each individual task, but it's ensuring that our goals and our behavior align and that's the sort of manager. And so when we think of attention as, as all of these different ways, then we can start talking about, well, how are you going to train it? How are you going to benefit it? Because all of these are vulnerable to stress. They're vulnerable to distractability, they're vulnerable to the meanderings of the mind as well.
Speaker 1: If we look at the science of late, it certainly feels to us that we've had this discussion, that attention spans and distractability is getting higher attention spans are getting shorter, much of the content. We consume, the things that we choose to spend our time engaging with shorter and shorter bite size nuggets. Is that what you are seeing in the lab and what science is showing as we introduce technology into our lives to overwhelm these systems? No,
Speaker 3: That's kind of a surprising answer, but our attention spans are not shorter. They're not, that's not the scale of which evolution works. By the way, you know, 15 years of having a smartphone, your brain's not going to completely be different. The reason it feels like our attention spans are shorter is because again, attention is working totally. Normally as it should be. So let's, let's think about why we even say that, right? So going back to that flashlight, where on that dark and path, we're walking, we're guiding ourselves all of a sudden you're rustling behind you. What are you gonna do? You're gonna flip that flashlight back there. And you're going to point to figure out what the heck's going on. Right? You were alarmed. You might be a threat. So the capacity of this brain orienting system to be directed as is, we've already talked about, yes, you can hold that flashlight and point it, but it also gets pulled and yanked around.
Speaker 3: And what are the kinds of things that yank it around threatening things, fear, inducing things, novelty, you might even say in the broad category of like sex, drugs, and rock and roll, like everything alluring that might have something to do with our survival advantage. We are going to want to pay attention to that in an unending unceasing fashion. That's what our social media content actually is. And by the way, who's the number one person we like to pay attention to ourselves. So, you know, if, if you now look at your social media feed, look at the kinds of things you click on. Then when you're in your doom scrolling mode or just your zombie scrolling mode, think what is it that Tik TOK is showing me video. After video, after video, it's going to be something in this category. So it's not that there's anything wrong with our attention. The bigger issue is we're not in control anymore. We are allowing that automatic system, the one that gets pulled by certain content to drive our actions. That means we've got to approach this differently. We can't battle against it. It's our biology, but we can use these two other systems to actually better serve ourselves because the flashlight is just getting yanked all over the place.
Speaker 2: Well, there's a lot of good and a lot of bad [inaudible].
Speaker 1: We were hoping that we would say yes, science is showing that our attention spans are getting shorter so we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. But of course, if you think about the way that the systems work, it makes complete sense that technology is just harnessing more distraction, but it's not having a biological impact on us. That's a convenient excuse for you just being distracted by these devices. So how can we Marshall those other two systems? Because now that we know our attention is valued by Facebook, it's valued by these companies and made them unicorns and billionaires. How can we start to take it back and create and use that flashlight in that attention in a meaningful way for ourselves instead of being overly distracted.
Speaker 2: And this is exactly why I wanted this definition and these three pieces to be, to be brought out for everyone to understand, because it plays a long with us feeling that our attention spans have gotten shorter because the floodlight is picking up so much that is going on around us, which that becomes our conclusion. Oh, I guess my attention span is cutting shorter. So
Speaker 3: Perfect. So now let's talk about what we can do about it, right? Cause that's what was what Asia you were asking me a moment ago. And the first thing is to realize, I don't know where my attention is often, right? As I said, the nut, the starting point number was 50% of the time. Our attention is not at the, on the task at hand. And that means not just external distractability, let's say we, we do figure out a way to hide out in some forest retreat where we have no technology. That number is not going to go down much. We're still going to be about 50% distracted. And it's really funny when you actually look back. Cause I was getting very curious, like how long has had people felt this way, that their mind is just all over the place, you know, is this a modern problem really?
Speaker 3: But it's not, you know, there's this, there's funny stories about like medieval monks talking about, you know, their, their wanting to be good monastics, but they're just, they keep thinking about lunch when they're supposed to be praying and, and, and they like break all up that break the relationships with their families. And just like, they're just trying to figure out a way to get the mind to just stay put and they, it can't. And even when you think back to sort of the ancient roots of, um, from the wisdom traditions of things like mindfulness meditation, they came out of that sense of the human mind suffering. So this is not a modern conundrum. It's a Mo it's got more modern challenges, but this is a very long-term set of challenges. So I think that, that gives me a little bit more real, you know, my, my I've obviously shifted I'm I'm, I'm gone from being a skeptic to now really a curious, uh, investigator of these topics, but it gives me a lot of respect for what these wisdom traditions, 5,000 years old plus we're trying to do.
Speaker 3: They were trying to help us with a really fundamental problem. And now if we go to some of the practices, I think it, for me as a neuroscientist is like thrilling because in some ways they figured out, oh my gosh, they kind of knew all this stuff. You know, they didn't have the brain science, but they kind of knew what they were doing because it fits perfectly into this three system view. So let's think of a, one of the practices I describe in the book, I call the finder flashlight practice. And again, I'm borrowing from the framework I laid out from modern neuroscience, but it actually is something that more fundamentally is part of every mindfulness program. That's probably been around for thousands of years, mindfulness of breathing. And so maybe I'll just describe what the practice is and end in the book. I'll just, I describe how we want to work up to about 12 minutes a day.
Speaker 3: And that's based on our work with soldiers and elite athletes and special operations forces, et cetera. But let's not even go there. Let's just say, we're going to do this for like, I don't know, 30 seconds right now and just get the basics down of what the practice and what the exercise is. So does that sound good? Yeah. Yes. So the first request, when you want to sit down to do this practice, and I do recommend that as you're starting out, just find a quiet place so that you're not, not challenging yourself unnecessarily. Uh, don't probably do it, you know, with like all your technology surrounding you and, um, blaring at you. So try to find a quiet place un-distracted from external factors. And the task here is to sit comfortably in this kind of alert, almost dignified posture. Like you're doing something serious here, but not really uptight.
Speaker 3: So I'd say upright, not uptight. Take it seriously. It's a, it's a task of waking up, not falling asleep. You don't wanna be slouchy and grouchy and pay attention to the sensations of breathing. Now, what I mean by that is take the flashlight and get granular. Like, what is most prominent in your sensory experience tied to breathing now? Is it the coolness of air moving in and out of your nostrils? Is it your chest moving up and down? Maybe you feel something in your back, doesn't matter what it is for you. You just figure out what that is. Kind of check it out and then think about this sort of just image of you pointing that flashlight of your attention to those prominent breath related sensations and kind of hold it there. Just keep it focused there sooner alpha. If we did this for let you know, dead air for 10 seconds and we just did this.
Speaker 3: So just let's try it right now. Just focus your flashlight of attention on those breath related sensations with your eyes closed. If you, if you feel comfortable doing that, just breathing, focusing, and if it hasn't happened yet, it surely will. Your mind has wandered away from those breath related sensations. It's often another thought or another sensation or a memory doesn't matter what, but it's not pointing to the breath anymore. What do you do in that moment? Well, first of all, it's a, when you just realized, oh my gosh, I'm not paying attention to breath related sensations. All you got to do now is take that flashlight redirected back. So all we're doing for the short practices, focusing, noticing, and redirecting at a lot of my wonderful military colleagues, just call that the pushup for the mind that we are just doing a quick mental workout.
Speaker 3: And we repeat that over and over again and work up to about 12 minutes a day and it can be very beneficial. So I hope, I hope that was helpful just to kind of get a sense of this quick practice. And I hope that it kind of connects the dots between what we talked about with these three systems, because obviously the flashlight's important. We just pointed it where we wanted it to go the floodlights important because it gave us insight into where the heck the flashlight was pointed, right? It's like, what's going on right now? What is happening in this moment? And then the juggler executive system kicked in and said, get back on track, come on, get back on track. And when we think about this as supporting all three of these systems and exercising them over and over again, it can feel less like a burden or something we can achieve. And something just much more like we're just doing it. You know, we don't argue with ourselves when, when we're doing reps on some kind of, you know, with some kind of weight, we're not like, oh, why is this weight so heavy? It's like, we understand the challenge and we're going to do what feels comfortable and maybe push ourselves a little bit, same idea with the mind.
Speaker 1: I think that's really telling, because I know from experience when I first started meditating, I was frustrated that it happened so suddenly, like, it's like, yes, I'm getting it. And then you, you lose it. And then exactly that you start to beat yourself up and get down on yourself. Like, why is this seem easier for others? Uh, am I doing it right? But that's part of the practice. That's part of the challenge and that's normal. And a lot of what I hope we're doing today for audience is just normalizing these things. You're not alone. This is biological processes and our brain doing what it needs to do to keep us alive. And we need to be more mindful and more present of these processes to harness them for what we want out of life, to direct our focus and attention to the tasks that really mattered to us.
Speaker 3: Exactly. You said it so beautifully that, you know, it's, it's, we're doing this for a reason. We're not doing it to be awesome. Breath followers. Nobody cares. If you can follow the sensations of your breath is so that we can take that capacity into the rest of our lives. But yes, we want to just reframe, you know, if the, the moment you notice your mind has wandered, you feel like you lost something and you use that Fraser. The thing really telling phrase, you actually found something. You found that you don't, you, you know where your attention is right now, and it's not where it needs to be. So reframe that moment of realizing your mind has wandered away as a tiny little win. Cause if you didn't have that, when you could be off planning your next vacation or thinking about the taxes you've got to pay, you know, you could be off for a very long time.
Speaker 3: So for me, as I was practicing, you know, in those early days, I remember thinking, oh wow, it's not that I'm staying steady for longer periods of time. It's that I'm earlier to notice when I'm off task. It's like, I'm getting more. Um, I don't have to have a full blown fantasy about something it's just more like, oh, my mind feels a little unsteady and get it back fast. So we'll, we'll, we'll start establishing ourselves. And you know, oftentimes you might even feel like, man, I'm so distracted, we might feel more distracted and hopefully you'll realize, Nope, you're just checking in with what's actually already at
Speaker 1: It's creating those guardrails. So you don't go so far off track that an hour has passed and you haven't completed your task. Right? It's recognizing it sooner. It doesn't mean it's going to go away. Does it mean that struggle will no longer be there, but paying closer attention to those signs can allow you to redirect it in a meaningful way. And I know what comes up for a lot of people in our audience who have children is the struggle that they are now seeing their children go through around focus and attention and again, use of devices. And it's a common question that a lot of parents in our X-Factor accelerator program ask, what can we do to help our kids maintain better focus and attention. They feel that their kids are not present or tuning out and it can be difficult for them to communicate. And we know that attention plays an important role in establishing great relationships in our lives as parents. And I know you have kids, what are your strategies? Not only for your own attention, but to help them build these tools at a younger age.
Speaker 3: Oh my gosh, that's a big one. The first thing I'd say, and it's such a natural impulse, right? As parents, we love our children. We do anything for them. And it's like help them. I would say in the spirit of loving them, work on yourself. And it sounds like I'm copping out in an answer, but I'm really serious because what I realized, even with my children and they were quite young, when I, when I was really getting a sense that I'm super out of it. I'm not here. If I can show up, if I can, if I can model what it means to fully pay attention to them. And they experience what that feels like, there's just a natural inclination to want to do that back. Um, so I would just say, you know, we can definitely talk about strategies for, for children, but really don't bypass the effort and not even effort.
Speaker 3: I want to say the commitment to support yourself being better at doing this. And I would say my children are probably way better at, at, uh, dealing with technology challenges than I am. I mean, they both had, at some point I asked them the same question. Like, what do you do when you find yourself on Instagram? They're like, oh, well, they both had said they deleted all the apps that were distracting them. And then they put timers on things that they knew, knew that they would have to use for school, like YouTube or whatever, to go see a class video. And I was like, what? You know? So they're using external ways to really control, which I don't think is a bad approach, but really the, the, the key here is going to be having more internal awareness of where your attention is, moment by moment.
Speaker 3: And like, just to unpack that, you know, oftentimes it's definitely happened to me. I mean, less and less as I've been becoming more aware and practicing more, but you're just sitting there the next minute. You have the phone in your hand and you've been scrolling for 10 minutes and you might even get that kind of achy feeling like I can't get off of this thing. Right. But did you notice when you picked up the phone, did you notice when the facial recognition software allowed you in to access all your apps? Do you, did you notice clicking on the app? Did you notice what happened next? No, it's all a blank because it becomes this sort of ballistic, mindless, automatic thing that we do. And when we start applying these same things, the same principles of focus, notice, redirect to our more granular moment, by moment nature, we can intervene a lot more easily.
Speaker 3: You know, like I remember the first time I started really thinking about how to use this. So is, is as it relates to Instagram, it was like, what am I needing right now? Like before I even press it, what do I want? I don't know. I want some engagement. I want something. I want my mom to see what Emmy outfits people are wearing. Like, okay, fine do that. That's your goal. Get that input and then stop. Right? It's like make micro goals for even what you want, but that, that provides some limits and barriers. But I actually wanted to connect it back to, if you don't mind what you asked me a few moments ago regarding ADHD and, and real attentional disorders and challenges, people have, it ends up children. They have less developed frontal lobes than adults. And the frontal lobes are our key part of the network that allows all three of these attention networks to actually function well.
Speaker 3: So realize that that attention is developmentally slow to mature. And for those of us over the age of 35, maybe not, neither of you are, but, uh, it's on the fastest decline as well. So our frontal lobes are, they don't fully developed who are 25 and they're on 35. They start kind of dwindling. So got a good 10 year window. We were kind of, you know, at our peak of, of attentional functioning, but thankfully there are things that we can do. And, and actually some of the really interesting research regarding mindfulness is that it has sort of this youth inducing properties of keeping frontal lobes, kind of cortically thick and more, um, healthy looking. But in people that have, uh, add actually the clinical diagnosis of ADHD, it is the case that they tend to have attentional. And it's really important to, to understand what that means.
Speaker 3: It doesn't mean that they're always distracted. It means that each of these systems and potentially multiple systems are not functioning normally. So sometimes it can actually look like the flashlight is just stuck on things for too long. It can't have as normal buoyancy. And when we did a project with adults with add, I mean, I was specifically on mindfulness training for adults with add because I was very curious, you know, and, uh, how it might help and how we might have to change the way that they practice to support them. The first thing we learned is that, first of all, the say we didn't tell them to do anything differently with their medication. They were taking it, take it, do whatever you normally do participate in this class was about eight weeks long. And, you know, I gave that number earlier of 12 minutes a day of, of practice.
Speaker 3: We didn't even have them start practicing 12 minutes till the eighth week. So it was a very slow ramp up, right? And all the practices were very active. I would never actually have an add group, have them sit quietly in a and not move and keep their eyes closed. It's like, we're going to walk, we're going to move. And we're going to pay attention to the sensations as we're walking, very active things. But here's what was kind of interesting, you know, it is the case that, that adults, and this is just known separate from mindfulness that adults with ADHD tend to have higher reported mind-wandering. But if they also have another feature, which is actually tied to that floodlight function, something called meta awareness so that they have more capacity to check in with their mind moment by moment, they don't suffer as much from the mind wandering.
Speaker 3: So we already know from the kind of studies on not mindfulness, just add that meta-awareness is something that is really, really beneficial, even if you have a clinical diagnosis. And that's the function that these adults that are going through our eight week program reported back. And they said some of the most amazing things, like I still take my medication, but now I don't take my medication and play video games for eight hours. I actually think to myself, what do I want to be doing right now with this focus that I have, and, you know, just the most creative gifts I ever received as a researcher too, by the way. So I just think it's important to realize that that these same things that we talked about for all of us apply for people that might have sort of the extremes of challenge based on any of the brain systems that we re reviewed.
Speaker 2: This brings up to two points that I wanted to get at number one, I don't know how much research you had done into hallucinogenics and how they take over attention and being able to check out something for hours on end, and then it becomes your whole world. So there's that, but also something that, that was in the book that goes along with that, because when you're in that state, it's usually you're in play and you're making something out of the situation and out of this attention and mind has taken over and you talked in your book about staying in play and finding those moments where you lose yourself in what you are, what you're doing.
Speaker 3: Yeah. Gosh, Jenny, you really read the book. Well, that makes me really happy. A plus. Now I'm always a professor now. Absolutely. So maybe unpack, unpack what I mean by stay in play, because it actually is not about play. Like, you know, you're, you're, um, playing an instrument or something like that. It's really regarding, uh, the model of the brain as an MP3 player. So typically when we have mind wandering, which is, again, this 50% off task thoughts during an ongoing task or activity, what we're doing is mental time travel most of us. So back to that MP3 analogy, we're in fast-forward. So we're planning, we're thinking about the next thing, or we're in reverse, reflecting on past experiences and under high stress situations, which often we're in, it's not just the productive fast-forward and rewind, but you know, now when we're fast forward, we're catastrophizing, we're worrying, we're making a doom scapes that just not only haven't happened yet, but they just may never happen.
Speaker 3: Right. And when we're rewinding, we're sometimes looping on bad experiences and we're kind of stuck in this kind of like a tsunami of our own making. So when I say state on play, what I'm talking about is essentially what I see mindfulness as this capacity to pay attention to our present moment experience, without a story about it, without reacting to it. And that's what we're cultivating through these kinds of practices, like the short one that we did, it's your breath. You can not be saved for later. The breath is only happening right now. So it's really happening health helpful for in the now you, you know, it's like, it's, so it's a trip I'm breathing right now. And when we find ourselves yanked away in time, we can bring ourselves back to the here and the now very, very quickly and efficiently. And being in that mode allows us to get more of the raw data of our moment to moment life. So we can intervene when we need to.
Speaker 1: Well, you mentioned stress, we've touched on this a little bit, and I think going through the pandemic, you call it VUCA in the book. We've all experienced this period of high demand. And many of us have fallen into these doom scapes, where we are scrolling and catastrophizing and compounding the stress with our dysregulation of our attention. So what is VUCA and how can we actually start to work through this when we are in a stressful situation, because I totally understand mindfulness when things are going well. And it seems like you're just getting your focus and attention back, but many of us are in a place where we don't even feel that things are going well. And it's hard for us to get out of that, that stress mode to even start building this resilience and get our focus back.
Speaker 3: Oh, that's so interesting because actually the reason that I started working in this whole area with the kind of populations that we work with in my lab, like I mentioned, you know, military service members or, uh, first responders, medical and nursing professionals is because they have to operate when things are not going great. In fact, we rely on them as a society to be at their best when, by any stretch of the imagination, these are some of the worst circumstances human beings have to suffer through, right war, fire, uh, you know, emergency surgeries, et cetera. So I actually was always thinking of mindfulness as being more useful in the context of real world, real life challenge. But I can imagine, I can understand what you're saying is that, you know, in some sense it feels like it's easier to do when there's not like catastrophe happening.
Speaker 3: And that's certainly the case, but sort of the hardest test is being able to show up even when things are difficult. So the first thing is that we're not trying to disabuse ourselves. We're not trying to put on rose colored glasses and see the world any differently. In fact, we're doing the opposite. We're, we're, we're cultivating the capacity to see what is happening in the moment. Really see not exaggerated stories of uncertainty, not, oh, woe is me. It used to be so much better, but what is actually happening right now. And, you know, I, I described mindfulness is not just present centered attention, but non-judgemental non editorializing and non-reactive, so it's got these very clear qualities of how we're paying attention. I think those are that's really important because we don't do that. Usually we have a director's cut of, of, of our lives, right?
Speaker 3: It's like, we're watching a movie and it's like, oh, and this scene I'm bloody, blah, blah, blah. It's like, we've got the reality. And then we've got the story about the reality and w there's so fused together that we don't really know if it's the story that's driving the reality, or if it's really there. So part of what mindfulness is allowing us to do is to start watching our mind in that way, is this the raw data, or is this an overlay of my expectation and doing that can help dial down these extremes that, um, in our wonderful capacity to simulate reality and worlds in our own mind can sometimes drive us to really exaggerating the amount of stress hormones our body has to deal with. Um, so just living with the circumstances more clearly. So let's just, maybe I'll say one more thing. And then I, to go back to kind of talking through what you asked me about, which is, uh, VUCA.
Speaker 3: So what is VUCA? You know, that's the, the, the first thing I'll just break it down. The word, the term actually we think comes from the U S army war college. And it comes from a really key description of most combat situations. So V volatile, you uncertain C complex and a ambiguous, and you gotta be able to perform in VUCA circumstances. What you need to do is have your full capacity and you don't want to drain your batteries by thinking about all the bad stuff that could happen. Cause you got to deal with bad stuff right now. People may actually be shooting at you. You don't have to imagine it it's happening. So I think partly it is to build this what I would probably call mental toughness of I'm here for it, no matter what, there's no part of me that's trying to slip away, uh, because if I don't fully have myself here, there's no way I'm going to be able to maneuver through the complexity. And you know, all these other circumstances that I'm dealing with.
Speaker 1: Well, I definitely feel that many of us have gone through this pandemic experience, feeling that in large part for maybe even the first time in our lives, you know, many of us don't go into combat. We're not in such a long period of uncertainty, ambiguity. And of course with the way media is portraying, what's going on. And the way we're seeing the numbers and the data, there are these narratives that are developing, that are taking hold that of course make things seem a lot worse than they may be in our experience of it. And that catastrophizing creates a higher stress for us to look for the distraction, right? It's easier to doom scroll or to go on social media and look for the fun dance videos to not deal with the here and now and be present necessarily in what's going on around us. So if someone in our audience is feeling that that, that need to sort of remove themselves from the present and what we're seeing is actually that is not helpful for us developing the focus and the attention we need. How can we overcome those challenges in this higher stress environment? Yes.
Speaker 3: Yeah, no, just to say, I never, you know, all the work that I've been doing really over in the context of mindfulness has been with these very extreme, in some sense groups, uh, that are experiencing things like pre deployment training deployment itself, hurricane season, you know, whatever it is, and even undergrads that are going through the academic semester. I never thought the whole world would be experiencing that. And that is essentially the reality of what we're experiencing. It's true that we are in a Buka circumstance. So I want to kind of lean on the learnings and the insights we got from working with those populations. The first thing is that our tendency is to want to escape. And by the way, a lot of military service members said the same thing to me too. I don't want to be in, in this moment. This moment sucks.
Speaker 3: You know, I just did a duo. I just had to do a really long hike and my boots are digging into my feet and I don't want, I want to escape. And then of course we have the conversation regarding, well, is it actually going to help you to ignore the fact that your, your feet are not doing well? You know, when you start feeling that they're cutting in, maybe change the way your socks or whatever, like really taking it granular to say, it may seem like it's a good idea to escape, but actually it's not going to serve you. Same thing goes with frankly in the pandemic. Like you don't want to have to think about the fact that anybody you encounter in a special with the Delta variant raging at these moments, anybody you encounter may be unvaccinated and you may be getting exposed to a deadly virus.
Speaker 3: That is the truth. If that is the reality, you could ignore it and pretend that everything's great. Or you could actually say, you know what, I'm gonna take some extra care. Maybe keep my social distance, wear a mask, whatever the responsible approaches are. So that the reality isn't, isn't met with my, uh, disregard for it. But that the really hopeful part that we learned from all of these groups going through these extreme circumstances is actually three things. Let me start with the bad news. Sorry, John, did you want to cut in or could I say the bad news first?
Speaker 1: The bad news,
Speaker 3: The bad news is it's not your imagination. If you undergo high stress, high demand intervals, your attention is actually objectively declining. You have less capacity available. Stress will do this. Your mood is also probably going to be much more negative. Your stress levels, your perceived stress is going up. So it's not your imagination that you're experiencing this. The cognitive fog is real. And this is exactly what a lot of the service members that were going through training reported to us. Then we ended up conducting a series of studies where we co you know, recruit a group like this half of them would get the mindfulness training under these high stress circumstances. Half of them would not they'd get it later. The group that didn't get the training, but just like I just said, their attention starts to tank over a four to eight week interval.
Speaker 3: Their mood gets worse too, and their stress levels go up the other group. So, so just realize that it is a stressful circumstance by all objective measures. And even in the minds of the people that are going through it. We see that, but the group that got mindfulness training, same circumstances, their attention stayed stable over time. They did not decline. And those that did more practice daily, we asked them to do this 12 to 15 minutes a day. Those that practiced more, actually some of them even got better than where they started, even though it's under high stress circumstances. That is what motivates me to make sure I practice everyday. Even if I'm feeling the cognitive fog, because if Marines can do this in a war zone, when they feel depleted and benefit, maybe we can all benefit. And that will advantage us to make it through these very difficult global circumstances, less degraded and diminished than we would be otherwise.
Speaker 1: Can you just unpack the 12 minutes? Cause you've, you've mentioned it a few times now and we've had other guests on the show talk about mindfulness and meditation. And many in our audience have tried to go 30 minutes, 40 minutes an hour, and just said, oh my God, it's next to impossible. I feel like I can't do it for weeks on end. How did you arrive at the 12 minutes? And what does your 12 minutes today look like
Speaker 3: The 12 minutes? I'll just say that part, that, that it looks like it's very similar to the practice we did. So focused attention, practice this, find your flashlight practice. And then we do other ones that really tap into those other systems. So there's a body scan where we're, we're, we're taking that flashlight through the body. There's open monitoring, which is really tapping into the floodlight. So we've set up a suite of practices and all of our research studies that I just mentioned, where we're getting at those various components of attention to strengthen it. So the practices are pretty straightforward. The way we, the reason we even came up with this prescription is because I had a very practical set of things that I wanted to know. What's the minimum amount of time that we should ask time, pressured, highly demanding professions to do every day, because I'll tell you what happened is that we, I would start the conversation with leaders of organizations and I'd say, listen, I need 24 hours and eight weeks to train your, your people.
Speaker 3: And I want them to practice 45 minutes a day. And basically I'd hear a dial tone. It's like, no, we're not doing that. And oh yeah, by the way, I want them during deployment training. It's like, uh, no. And by the way, no, you know, so, and it wasn't just, uh, military leaders. I mean, even undergrads, we couldn't get them to do that. Nobody would, especially if you're in high stress, it's like the last thing you want to do. So the response I typically get something is something like, well, I'll give you an hour and I'll give you, I'll give you four hours. And I'm just like, uh, I have no ideas, four hours really enough. So we took a very systematic approach. And you know what I'm about to tell you, I like basically say eight year research journey where we were, we knew that the kind of gold standard for mindfulness training, which is thousands of studies have been published on this mindfulness based stress reduction.
Speaker 3: I'm pretty sure you've talked about it. At some point, John Kabat-Zinn developed, it is an eight week 24 hour program offered at 750 plus medical centers around the world, 45 minutes a day. So that was our starter package. Like, okay, if we're going to do something, let's, let's stick to what we know works. And then we systematically said, can we go down there from 24 hours down to 16 hours? And what about eight hours? And then what about four hours? We just kept wearing it, cut the time. And then also crunch the window, you know, does it have to be eight weeks? Can we make it four weeks? Can we make it two weeks? And what I wanted to do with that effort was figure out like what's too low. At what point do we just speak? Nothing is going on, right. And essentially four hours over two weeks, not a good combo.
Speaker 3: So the sweet spot we found was about eight hours over four weeks. And, um, and then the other thing that happened was that, you know, we started out by asking everybody to do 30 minutes a day in this, in these larger courses, nobody was doing 30 minutes a day because we said, look, no matter what, just be honest, tell us what you actually did. And we found out that there was a lot of zeros and then there was somewhere in between very, very few people did 30. And what we found with that group is that the more people did, the more they benefited, but it took about 12 minutes a day to start seeing reliable benefits. And those that did more than 12 minutes benefited more. So, you know, that was sort of the first hint that maybe this prescription is good. Then we went on to just pursue other solutions. Like only give him 12 minutes. Don't even tell them to do 30. What happens then? Oh, they do it. They do, they do the 12 minutes. They don't do it every day. They do it about five days a week. And when they do it about four to five days a week, we get benefits. So the on-ramp to just starting to see benefits, we just made it much more reasonable. And we started seeing people practicing more consistently and engaging in what we were offering.
Speaker 2: The carrot is more appealing than the stick [inaudible].
Speaker 1: Well, the next question that I'm sure many of our listeners have, and it's the way that many of them are wired is a morning evening. Is there a time window that is best because we've had guests come on the show and say, I do it first thing in the morning, we've had other guests say they book on their day in the evening. Did you notice a difference in what the timing of the actual meditation or mindfulness was during the day?
Speaker 3: We have not asked that question and that would take another kind of a research study where you force people to do at certain times of day and see when it tends to stick. But I think the fact that you've already had a variety of answers gives you the insight, which is the best time to do it is when you do it. So, so if for you, that happens to me in the morning. That's great. What I always suggest is you'll get to something you definitely do every day. Like without fail, you're going to do it like, is it having your morning coffee, then do it right before I bet you're going to enjoy that morning coffee a lot more, actually, if you're much more present for the taste of it, if you brush your teeth everyday, which I hope you do, uh, do it right after that and make it the very important thing is as you're trying to set up these habits, and this is basic habit formation set yourself up.
Speaker 3: So you get that little dopamine burst of like I did it, you know? So I would say, if you think you can do five minutes to start do to, because you should really get in your gut, like, did it, did it, did it when, when, when then slowly ramp up to you, get to the point where you feel comfortable. And then, then I would say, follow the kind of recommendations I provide of what you can try for this four week on-ramp to give your attention the full workout. You know, all those brain systems will get exercised by doing the suite of practices. And frankly, that was my motivation for writing the book. We had learned so much from these kind of high pressure, high demand groups, but I didn't think that they were the only ones that could benefit. So I wanted to offer it to all of us because frankly at some point in our lives, if not more than one moment in our lives, we're going to be high pressured and time pressured. For sure. So,
Speaker 1: And as we wrap, what was the most surprising finding and all the research that you did in researching for the book and your own research, anything counterintuitive or surprising you'd love to share with our audience?
Speaker 3: That's a good question. I think the thing that surprised me, um, which was kind of the bad news part, it's like, oh my gosh, our entire military is training people to go to war zones and they're more depleted than they were eight weeks before. That was that really scary, wake up call of like, Ooh, not good. And probably even more upsetting to me as a professor was undergrads were the same way. Their attention was worse at the end of the semester, right before finals than at the beginning of the semester. And I feel it, I mean, a professor I'm like, I feel worse at the end of this semester than the beginning, but for them, their, their grades depend on it. So that part was like a wake up call that I was very surprised by it. And I think the other thing that really did surprise me, because even in those early days, I was describing Richard Davidson telling me about the meditation work he was doing and learning about these kind of Olympians of meditation, practicing for like three-year silent retreats.
Speaker 3: And you know, this is their full-time job and they're, they're literally monks on mountain tops that are changing the structure and function of their brain. I just thought it would never happen for me. How could we ever give this to regular ordinary people? I mean, how would it ever be useful? And to find that as little as 12 minutes, you know, 12 to 15 minutes, about four to five days a week is enough to actually see not one study to straight. Now we're up to like, you know, 12, 13, 14 studies just with that prescription. And then the larger literature is now just blossoming to say short form training can actually help. That made me so hopeful and so excited. So that was the happy surprise.
Speaker 1: I love that. And regaining all this attention we can put towards the relationships in our lives that matter, which is what the art of charm is all about. We love asking every guest what their X factor is. What is that part of you that makes you extraordinary?
Speaker 3: Oh my gosh. So this is the humblebrag part of the show. I asked my, I asked my son that like, what do you think that I'm the best at making? And he said children. So I think for me, the thing that I enjoy the most, which I hope aligns with what I'm good at is trying to take complex brain dynamics, like, you know, functional brain dynamics or the complexities of the mind that seem unapproachable to most people and, and put it in a way that makes it relatable. That's one thing I really love to do, and I hope I'm at least through reading the book, people will agree that that's something I was able to do successfully.
Speaker 1: I definitely believe so. The book is peak mind. We highly recommend our audience, check it out to find your focus and own your attention, which we know is so important in building the relationships that matter. Thank you so much for joining us. Dr. Mishu is such a pleasure.
Speaker 3: Oh, thank you. This was a lot of fun.
Speaker 4: [inaudible]
Speaker 1: Jonny. I have to say, we've talked about meditation and mindfulness on the show in the past, but never to the degree and science that Dr. Mishi brought to this show. And I was so happy to dig into all of the work that she's done with professionals, with military special operators and high-level athletes to gain that edge and unlock their X factor.
Speaker 2: We certainly talked about meditation and mindfulness practice here on the show, but when you link it to attention, that's when you truly see the benefits. And we all know that focus is superpower, and what's the number one ingredient and focus your attention. So I loved how this show came out. And I know now everyone is going to get their 12 minutes every morning.
Speaker 1: Johnny, we got a shout out today from our Instagram. One of our show listeners wrote us, Hey, AIG, Johnny and Michael. Oh my gosh. I'm listening to your podcast on networking and had to stop in the middle to write and say, thank you. I've struggled with this for years, hating to network with any ulterior motive. And I love how you guys are explaining it all. It's a huge help to me. Thank you so much. So many light bulb moments. Now back to the podcast, Elizabeth, that is exactly why we do this show Johnny and I love the toolbox episodes. If you have not caught our guide to networking, toolbox double back, it was a few episodes ago and it is so full of strategies that we've used to grow this podcast.
Speaker 2: And we want to shout out you on this show. So find us on Insta, Twitter, wherever, shoot us a message. Let us know how this show has helped you. And we'll highlight you on the next episode.
Speaker 1: That's right. You can find us at the art of charm on all your favorite platforms. And we love the positive reviews. Also, before we go, could you head over to your favorite podcast app and rate and review this show? It helps us bring on amazing guests. And of course fans like Elizabeth. Find the show
Speaker 2: You are to chomp podcast is produced by Michael Harold and Eric Montgomery until next week. I'm Johnny
Speaker 1: And I'm a J have a good one.
Speaker 4: [inaudible].
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