Finding the Present Moment
UW Health Services
Shilagh on NBC-15
Shialgh recently appeared on NBC-15 to talk about mindful focus. Watch the interview
Count Your Breath
The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds offers a breath count tool to help you gain a deeper understanding of how your breath can contribute to your well being. Learn more about their tool
Madison, Wisconsin - It really is a 24/7 world. And, it seems, there is tremendous pressure to make the most of every one of those minutes.
With more workers staying connected after hours and even on vacation, to an abundance of technology and apps that keep us organized and in touch no matter where we are, there's rarely a quiet moment in our day. And that's a problem.
"Our minds can only focus on one thing at a time. No matter how well someone thinks they can multitask, the reality is, it's impossible," says Shilagh Mirgain, UW Health psychologist. "Our minds continually fight distraction, and the more our focus gets disrupted, the worse we do and the longer things take."
Mirgain points to a stat from the workplace – the average employee gets interrupted 56 times each day and on average switches tasks every 3 minutes. Each time, it can take up to 23 minutes to recover. Essentially, employees spend more time recovering from interruptions and distractions than they do focused on the tasks they are trying to get done.
And of course, distractions aren't just limited to the workplace. A recent study found that the average adult spends 47 percent of his or her time not paying attention to what they are doing. Many don't think twice about using their phones while driving, which can have deadly consequences (and is the reason why laws have been passed to prevent the behavior). Teens receive and send an average of more than 3,339 texts per month, according to some studies. We are so fixated on our phones and devices that we've even started experiencing "tech neck" – the strain that comes from having our heads bent as we are absorbed into checking our phone.
What's lost in all of this is the present moment. And, when our mind is wandering we report being less happy. When we are constantly connected online, research shows that we feel increasingly lonely and isolated. With our attention focused outwardly, it means we're missing what's taking place right now in our own lives. But, when we are focused and living in the moment and fully engaged, we can change our outlook and experience greater well-being.
How to Stay Focused
"Attention is a learnable skill," comments Mirgain. "We can strengthen our ability to focus through simple practices."
Count Your Breaths
One exercise Mirgain suggests is to count our breaths. The premise, she explains, is that if we can focus on our breath – which is quite boring – then we can focus on nearly anything at will.
"Spend 5 or 10 minutes a day silently counting your breaths from one to nine, again and again. One count equals an in and out breath," Mirgain explains. "Just breathe normally. At some point you will notice your attention has wandered from the breath.That is okay. Simply acknowledge this non-judgmentally and then gently bring your focus back to your breath."
Mirgain adds that mindful breathing isn't just for adults. Teaching children to focus on their breath can help them learn to self-regulate and calm down. When kids feel calm, it's easier for them to learn and retain information, such as at school.
Another exercise Mirgain recommends is to just stop and be in the here and now.
"Maybe it's when you put your key in the car's ignition, or are waiting in line at the grocery store. Notice and look around at what life is offering you in the present moment. Being fully present and in what we are doing lets us feel fully alive and then everything becomes a gift," she says.
For parents, focusing on the present moment offers something else as well – an opportunity to teach kids that it's okay to be alone with our thoughts. One common behavior is that when we're waiting in line, or even just come to a stop at a stoplight, we often reach for our phones and start checking the news, our email or texts, even our social accounts. Kids learn by watching and by observing this kind of behavior, we're in effect showing them that every moment has to be filled with distraction.
"Learning to focus our attention and be mindful of the present moment is like going to the gym for your mind," comments Mirgain. "Simple concentration practices are like weight-lifting for the brain. The more repetitions, preferably daily, the stronger the muscle becomes."
Hear Shilagh in person at "Dream Big – Keep Calm and Carry On"
On June 18, 2015, Shilagh will share how you can cultivate the courage and resilience to overcome obstacles and learn how to achieve your dreams. During the free workshop as part of American Family Insurance's Dream Bank series, you can learn mind-body strategies to help develop the focus, energy and positive outlook necessary for achieving your goals. Learn more about the event
Date Published: 05/13/2015