Blog Post | Training the Brain to Pay Attention


Training the Brain to Pay Attention


Let’s face it, there are so many interesting things to learn about all around us that it’s really hard to resist getting distracted by anything that pulls us away from what needs to be focused on. I recently found a skills-based app that helps users develop the skills to manage their minds. It’s called the Healthy Minds Program and it’s a free app designed to help develop the skills to promote well-being through learnings and meditation practices.  

Let’s get into the content first and I will share who the brains are behind this awesome tool. 

The app is based on research that identifies 4 pillars of wellbeing: Awareness, Connection, Insight, and Purpose. It teaches us how to train the mind, rewire the brain, and introduces a variety of meditation techniques. So you learn new skills accompanied by brief practices. My intention is to focus on one small area of this program, the Awareness of Attention. 

You learn about building the habit of training your mind to focus your attention using 4 skills: directing attention, sustaining attention, noticing when you get distracted and relaxing attention. We are always getting distracted by external stimuli. You can learn how to bring your focus to the present through regular practice. 

One of the many practices is learning how to direct attention using the sense of sound. By taking 5 minutes in your day, pause, close your eyes and direct your attention to the sounds around you. What noises are grabbing your attention? You can then bring your focus back to the present moment and focus on your breathing, counting to 4 on the inhale and counting to 6 on the exhale. When you bring your mind back into focus you are strengthening the neurocircuitry of your brain. The training involves the practice of repeatedly bringing yourself back to the present to get back to what you were paying attention to. 

That probably sounds pretty easy, so how do you sustain your attention when you are working, talking to someone, or learning something new? We have the ability to catch ourselves as we get distracted by noticing the very thing that is hijacking our attention and bringing our focus back to what we need to pay attention to. It takes time and maintaining regular practice to learn these skills. 

We can learn how to manage distractions by monitoring the mind (noticing the distractions) and treating those distractions the same way we would in training a puppy. We can train our mind by inserting space between the situation (distraction) and the mind, thereby strengthening our monitoring function. Try it the next time you are reading something and your mind begins to drift elsewhere. Then notice the distraction without judgment, letting it capture our thought, and redirect our attention to the breath, and then back to our reading. The key learning is to bring awareness to our distractions with openness and curiosity. We are not resisting or trying to change anything, we are simply paying attention when we get distracted. That is where you begin to transform the way to relate to distractions.  

The Healthy Minds App was developed by Cortland Dahl, a research scientist at the Center for Healthy Minds, and Richard Davidson, Ph.D., Founder, and Director of the Center for Healthy Minds. Davidson is also known for his research on the neuroscience of emotion. He is also the author of the book Altered Traits

Coach Victoria studies mindfulness coaching through the Mindfulness Coaching School in Santa Fe New Mexico. If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, check out our masterclass on ADHD and Mindfulness on April 2nd co-lead by Coaches Victoria and Riley. Click here for more details.  


Victoria Roche, MSW, PCC
ADHD Coach | Center For Living Well with ADHD, LLC

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