On an episode of Mindbodygreen, host Jason Wacob chatted with Dr. Amishi Jha, a neuroscientist and the author of Peak Mind about mind wandering, training for mindfulness, and how to take back your attention.

“You’re missing 50% of your life, and you’re not alone, everyone is.”

-Dr. Amishi Jha, after conducting a study showing that people mind wander throughout 50% of their day.

What is mind wandering?

In short, Dr. Amishi Jha explained that mind wandering is:

“Not having your attention in the here and now. You’re either rewinding the mind to events that have already happened—unproductively for the most part— ruminating, relieving experiences that are not happening in this moment. Or you’re fast forwarding the mind to catastrophes of your own making…what you’re doing is shifting the tension to the past or the future and it has almost devastating—in some cases—consequences for your performance and your mood.”

The solution?

Keeping the tension in the present.

How to do that?

By practicing mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?

“Paying attention to present moment experience without elaboration or reactivity.”

How To Train for Mindfulness:

The find your flashlight exercise: Pick a target for your attention, and try to keep your attention focused there for a minute. I.e. direct your flashlight willfully in one direction. When you notice your mind has wandered away, gently direct your “flashlight” back to your focus point.” 

I.e. If you have a work deadline, but you get an upsetting text message—related to your personal life—first acknowledge and allow the emotional reaction that you had to the text message. Then think of it as there with you, (e.g. hold space for it and don’t try to reframe or ignore it), and continue on with your work.  

What our phones do to our attention:

Our attention spans are not shorter…”our attention is working absolutely fine, and it’s doing exactly what it should be doing. It doesn’t mean it feels great, but it’s doing exactly what it should be doing.”

“We’re deciding where to put that flashlight and we’re directing it…but that same flashlight, it’s at capacity, and it gets pulled by various types of stimuli. So your flashlight can get hijacked away by things like notifications, any information that’s self-related, threatening, alarming, interesting…anything that’s enticing for us, the flashlight will get pulled toward it.”

Dr. Amishi Jha, a neuroscientist and the author of Peak Mind.

She followed that we end up in a battle between what we know we should be focused on, and what is enticing our attention.

The next time you have the itch to pick our phone—or find yourself already scrolling for 10 minutes—ask yourself: ‘What is the benefit of doing this right now?, or;  ‘What is my goal of engaging with my phone at the moment’? Once that goal is accomplished, then leave the phone, and get back to the present.