We all know that attention is a limited resource and that we seem to be surrounded by things to distract us. In fact, there are a growing number of industries, like Social Media and smartphone apps, TV and film and advertising, which are in the business of competing for our attention.
Our attention can be focused and concentrated, as well as wide and open. There’s also a continuum of attention, which, at one end, can be tightly focused but limited and fragmented and scattered at the other. As well as the obvious external interruptions, our ability to focus is affected by internal challenges. Our attention can easily drift off into thoughts away from the task at hand, while stress, anxiety and low mood also inhibit our ability to concentrate.
Attention is like a torch, where the intensity of light is the energy and where it points is the focus. Within the brain, there are also different ways that our attention is redirected. This can be bottom-up from the brain-stem and mid-brain that support basic life functions like heartbeat, senses, sensations and primary emotions and top-down from the neocortex and working memory that supports thinking. The bottom-up processes are more unconscious and automated, while the top-down are more conscious and intentional. So, we could be in a meeting and feel frustration that comes from the bottom-up, which distracts our focus as we have the top-down thought, “Why are these meetings so frustrating?”
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