Sie sind auf Seite 1von 30

Focus: Why Concentration

Can Make Your Brain More


Powerful
A Webinar Session with
Ruth Buczynski, PhD
and Daniel Goleman, PhD

Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful


2
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful


Contents
(Click on the section title to jump to the page)
From Emotional Intelligence to Focus and Attention . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
The Components of Focus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
How Attention Works: The Ratio of Concentration to Distraction. . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Boosting the Concentration Muscle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Converging Data on Cognitive Control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Why Focus Improves Learning. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
The Memory Trick of Chunking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
The Myth of Multitasking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Strategies for Keeping Your Concentration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
The Bottom-Up and Top-Down Brain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
How Story Captures Our Attention. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . .13
Ten Thousand Hours: The Element of Smart Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Positive Attitude and the Brains Ability to Focus . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . .15
Why Leadership Depends on Focus . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . 17
The Ratio of Positive-to-Negative in Predicting Success . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . 17
Smart Decisions and Self-Awareness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
TalkBack Segment with Ron Siegel, PsyD and Kelly McGonigal, PhD . . . . . . . . 21
What Stood Out Most . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
How to Mediate Wavering Attention. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Focusing to Improve Attention . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
How to Motivate for Improved Concentration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Ways to Balance Left and Right Brain Activity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
About the Speakers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
3
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

Dr. Buczynski: Hello everyone and welcome to this series on The New Brain Science.
I am Dr. Ruth Buczynski, a licensed psychologist in the State of Connecticut and the President of the
National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine.
My guest today you know from the body of work on emotional intelligence. This has changed so much of
how many of us think about intelligence it is profound work and I am talking about Daniel Goleman.
He is a licensed psychologist, a science journalist, and the author of several books including most recently
Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.
We are going to talk about that topic today: the brains role in focus, or in other words, focus in the brain.
That is so important to consider when we think about what we get done and what we dont get done. Those
of us who are good at harnessing focus have an edge over folks who are not focusing.
Today we are going to try to understand what is going on in the brain as we try to focus, and what we can
do to improve our focus.
Welcome, Daniel. This is my frst opportunity to interview you. I am excited to talk about this so
welcome to our series.
Dr. Goleman: I am delighted to be here, Ruth, and thank you so much for inviting me to participate.
From Emotional Intelligence to Focus and Attention
Dr. Buczynski: Right off the bat, I want to say, as the person who created emotional intelligence, what
made you turn your attention to this idea of focus?
Dr. Goleman: It was the same thing that made me turn my attention to emotional
intelligence in the frst place.
As you mentioned, I was trained as a psychologist, but I actually never practiced
psychology. I went into science writing very early when that feld was just
starting.
When I was at the New York Times as a science journalist, I realized that there was an upsurge of fndings
on emotions in the brain. Thats what led me to write Emotional Intelligence.
Today, the same thing has happened with attention. I felt that it was time to look at this new understanding
of attention: how it operates in the brain and what the implications are for all of our lives.
As you said, focus is the driver of excellence it is what matters for getting our work done well, for
learning, and for everything we do.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
with Ruth Buczynski, PhD
and Daniel Goleman, PhD
Focus is
the driver of
excellence.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
4
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

Dr. Buczynski: In preparing for this webinar today and in going through your book, you talk about
attention as something that started to be studied during World War II but that it is under-studied and
underrated. What was it about World War II that made people more interested in focus?
Dr. Goleman: First of all, radar and second, spotting enemy airplanes.
The frst part of attention to be studied back in the Second World War
is vigilance. Vigilance is the ability to keep your brain aroused enough
during long absences of anything happening so that you can spot the one
thing youve been waiting for.
Vigilance was very prized; it was what every radar operator needed so that is where the frst focus was.
Dr. Buczynski: Yes, that makes sense and really was important.
The Components of Focus
Lets talk about the components that make up attention. As we look at the brain, where does focus reside?
Dr. Goleman: It depends on the kind of focus. There are different varieties of attention.
Each variety of attention draws on a different set of neural circuits.
For example, when we say focus, we tend to automatically think of
concentrated focus, and that is extremely important attention and
what I have been saying so far really applies to that variety.
Our ability to comprehend depends on concentration. Our ability to do
our best work depends on this ability to concentrate.
The circuitry for concentration is largely in the prefrontal cortex behind
the forehead.
But there is another set of circuits in the same general area of the brain, in
the medial area of the forebrain, which activate when our mind wanders,
which is the exact opposite of concentration.
It turns out that the mind wanders about ffty percent of the time, on
average of course the more concentrated we are, the less it wanders.
But those circuits draw power and attention away from that prefrontal focus. So, there are many varieties
of attention, and each one has its own distinct circuitry.
Dr. Buczynski: Two of the ones I know about would be sensory and
emotional.
Dr. Goleman: The sensory and emotional circuits are big distracters. They
are the two biggest distracters from a concentrated focus.
Sensory distracters are simply something around you theyre pop-up balloons that say, Youve got an
email when you are trying to focus on something else. You could say that is a sensory distracter.
Vigilance is
the ability to
keep your
brain aroused.
Each variety of
attention draws
on a different set
of neural circuits.
Our ability to
comprehend
depends on
concentration.
Sensory and
emotional
circuits are big
distracters.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
5
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

But the more powerful distracters are the emotional ones distracters that are upsetting us, or the problems
we are having in our relationships.
Any upset ending in distress draws our attention away from the work we are
trying to get done thats a focus on what is upsetting us.
Of all the varieties of distracters, emotion is number one.
Dr. Buczynski: Is it more negative emotion than positive emotion?
Dr. Goleman: Almost always. When I say concern, I am talking about
distressing emotions.
Emotional distracters are our anxieties; they are what make us angry our frustrations, our jealousies.
All of these distressing emotions engage attention, rip it away from where we want it to be and put it
squarely on trying to work out and solve these dilemmas or at least pay attention to them.
How Attention Works: The Ratio of Concentration to Distraction
Dr. Buczynski: How does attention work in the brain?
Dr. Goleman: If you are talking about concentration and you are looking at the prefrontal cortex, there
is some circuitry, which on the one hand, amps up what we are trying to focus on and helps us sustain it,
and it also dampens down distractions.
It is the ratio of concentration to distraction which defnes how focused
we are on what we are doing. The brain circuits have a neat built-in
operation for helping us keep our attention where we want it.
Dr. Buczynski: If we are thinking specifcally about where attention
resides in the brain, the ability to stay steady on one target and ignore
everything else, does that come from the prefrontal regions?
Dr. Goleman: Yes, the ability to stay focused on a target and ignore distractions is a prefrontal ability.
Dr. Buczynski: Is there other, more specialized circuitry in this area
that boosts the strength of the signal?
Dr. Goleman: The prefrontal cortex boosts the incoming signal from
what we want to attend to. At the same time, it dampens down or
minimizes signals coming in from distractions.
For example, when you are highly focused, you dont really hear the
sounds around you. Thats a sign that that circuitry is operating.
Dr. Buczynski: Is there a way to lock on to that circuitry?
Dr. Goleman: There is something called phase locking which occurs in the brain. Phase locking is a sign
that the brain is absolutely tuned in to what it wants to focus on.
The ratio of
concentration
to distraction
defnes how
focused we are.
Of all the
varieties of
distractors,
emotion is
number one.
The ability to
stay focused on a
target and ignore
distractions is a
prefrontal ability.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
6
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

The way they determine this in the lab is by sending a signal that does have a phase to it and then watching
what the brain is doing. The brain is matching that phase.
Dr. Buczynski: How do we know, though, that when they are doing that, the person even wants to pay
attention to that signal? I mean, how do we know that is a good replication?
Dr. Goleman: In the lab, of course, it is an arbitrary signal and people want to because they are asked to
pay attention to it. Im a hundred percent sure if they were in their own home, free to choose what they
paid attention to, they would not pay attention to that signal.
Dr. Buczynski: Now, Daniel, I am going to tell you that your subjects were probably college students
who had to do some experiment to get their psyche credit and they could care less . . . about anything than
getting the checkmark!
Dr. Goleman: Thats the state of research generally these days. You get the subjects you can.
Boosting the Concentration Muscle
Dr. Buczynski: Is there any way to train as we do with biofeedback ourselves to lock on to certain
frequencies? Is there any way to get good at fnding that ability?
Lets say that people who are listening to this have kids who need to do well in school and these kids are
taking a course that they are not good at or dont like. How can parents help with a childs focus?
Dr. Goleman: The dilemma is that if kids are not interested, the mind is going to wander and they dont
care.
The question is how can you help a child boost the concentration muscle?
Concentration is a muscle of the mind, and it is willing. They can will
themselves to pay attention, even to things that arent that intrinsically
engaging as, Im sorry to say, much of school is.
There are defnitely ways to strengthen the circuitry for concentration. I have
seen it done in seven-year-olds in a school in Spanish Harlem where they had
a daily session of what they call breathing buddies.
Each child would get a little stuffed animal, lie down on the
foor, put that animal on their belly and just watch it rise when
they inhaled, and fall, go down, when they exhaled. While
doing this, they count, one, two, three going up, and one,
two, three going down. What they are doing is focusing on
one thing and ignoring distractions.
The research at Emory University suggests that the more we
bring our mind back from wandering, to a single point of
focus, the stronger the circuitry for concentration becomes.
How can you
help a child
boost the
concentration
muscle?
The more we bring
our mind back from
wandering, to a single
point of focus, the
stronger the circuitry for
concentration becomes.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
7
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

In children, this ability is called cognitive control and it simply means you are able to control your
attention. You can keep it where you want to keep it and you can ignore distractions.
The most famous study of this is the marshmallow test that was done by Walter Mischel at Stanford where
they told kids, You can have one marshmallow now, or if you wait ten minutes you can have two later.
He found that the kids who waited did much better in their academics as seen fourteen years later on their
SATs. These were four-year-old kids.
It has now been found, in an amazing study in New Zealand where
they followed more than a thousand kids from age four to age thirty-
two, that the ones who had this ability to concentrate had better
cognitive control in their thirties were doing far better fnancially
and were in much better health.
Cognitive control turned out to better predict their fnancial success
than either IQ or the wealth of the family origin.
Cognitive control is a very powerful and independent factor in how well people do in anything.
I am an advocate of teaching this to kids in school because the ability to concentrate is the essence of
readiness to learn.
Dr. Buczynski: How do we do it? What if the child is too old for the
activity you just described?
Dr. Goleman: Right, this is good to do with seven-year-olds. There
are other developmentally appropriate ways.
There is a new videogame coming out. It is called Tenacity, and it is for the iPad. I have tried it with my
grandchildren, ages seven to fourteen they all liked it.
You can do it at different levels, depending on how good you are, and it gets harder as you get better.
It is basically very similar to breathing buddies, but what you do is you monitor your breath, and every
time you breathe out, you tap the screen of the iPad once. On the ffth breath, you tap it twice.
What you have to do is stay focused on your breath and not let your mind wander. It gets harder as you get
better. By the way, you also get a visual reward when you get it right you might have a desert scene but
now fowers are blooming. It turns out that kids like this.
If you can present a concentration-building exercise in a format
that is engaging and appealing to kids, then you are going to be
able to help them amp up that concentration muscle.
Dr. Buczynski: Thanks. Thats a useful resource. Is that
videogame available now?
Dr. Goleman: It will be available within a few months. Let me
say not to date this but in spring of 2014.
Cognitive control
is a very powerful
and independent
factor in how
well people do in
anything.
The ability to
concentrate is
the essence of
readiness to learn.
If you can present a
concentration-building
exercise in a format
that is engaging,
you will amp up that
concentration muscle.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
8
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

Dr. Buczynski: Do you have any fnancial interests in the company that owns this?
Dr. Goleman: Oh, no. Its the University of Wisconsin.
Dr. Buczynski: Great.
Im very curious about the study that you referred to that said cognitive control predicts fnancial success
. . . and this is without respect to IQ or family of origin.
Dr. Goleman: More powerfully than those two factors, yes.
Dr. Buczynski: Thats really an interesting study. Has that been replicated?
Dr. Goleman: It would take twenty-eight years to replicate that study. Think about it its a longitudinal
study. However, it is a gold standard study. It was published in an A-level journal.
Dr. Buczynski: Thats very interesting.
Converging Data on Cognitive Control
Dr. Goleman: There is a lot of converging data years of Walter Mischels study and probably dozens or
maybe hundreds of other studies of cognitive control that are converging on the same sorts of conclusions.
Dr. Buczynski: Can you tell us about a couple?
Dr. Goleman: There is a woman named Adele Diamond at the University of British Columbia who
has her own exercises for kids. I dont remember the ages of the kids I think they are young, maybe
elementary school kids.
She explicitly is trying to boost their cognitive control and has shown that this same kind of concentration
exercise does so.
Her outcome measure, the one I remember, is called the Flanker Test, which is one of the standard
assessments for cognitive control where you are presented with successive arrays of arrows, fve arrows,
pointing in different directions and you have to track in which direction the middle arrow is pointing and
kids get better at that. That is a concentration test.
Dr. Buczynski: Are any of these tools that we have been talking about useful for adults?
Dr. Goleman: All of those are very useful for adults but there are
some adult-specifc methods.
One that is very common these days is called mindfulness. Companies
are bringing it in for employees and you can go to centers for
mindfulness, and it is being introduced in schools, too.
Mindfulness is basically a meditation stripped of a belief system
and it turns out that what is left is attention training exactly the kind
of training Ive been talking about.
Mindfulness
is basically a
meditation stripped
of a belief system
and what is left is
attention training.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
9
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

In mindfulness, you watch your breath. When your mind wanders, you notice it wandering and you bring
it back. That is the basic repetition in the mental gym.
Dr. Buczynski: Yes. I have started to think about mindfulness as a power tool. I mean, certainly it has a
spiritual component but for someone who doesnt care about the spiritual aspect . . .
Dr. Goleman: Let me say that the way mindfulness is introduced in most settings, there isnt a spiritual
component. It really is just attention training. If you want the spiritual component, you have to go to a
retreat center.
Why Focus Improves Learning
Dr. Buczynski: Lets talk about why focus improves learning and the neural reason for that.
Richard Davidson has done some work on sharp focus and how, during sharp focus, key circuitry in the
prefrontal cortex gets into a synchronized state. Can you tell us about that?
Dr. Goleman: You are talking about the phase locking study, I believe. I would go somewhere else, Ruth,
with the question you started to ask. I wouldnt go to the phase locking study.
Basically, I would say that when children are trying to understand,
for example, a new math lesson or a new history lesson, the
brain creates a new set of circuits for the new information which
embeds in the mental models that already exist.
That is the scaffolding for understanding the new math concept,
or for putting the new history/information into a context that is already
there in the brain.
The brain weaves circuits into circuits that pre-exist and builds new
ones.
If your mind is wandering, if you are not paying attention to what the
teacher is saying or you are not reading the text, you are going to have
holes in that circuitry.
In other words, the stronger you can focus, the more you can pay
attention and the better the brain can do its task of creating a new circuitry expanding the mental models
that are already embedded within its circuitry.
To the extent that your mind is wandering, you are just not going to get the
same effect.
One powerful demonstration of that is with a toddler who is learning the
names for things. If you are saying to a toddler, Cup and pointing at a cup,
the toddlers brain will only register that when you both are fully attending to
the cup. You need joint mutual attention.
Attention is the bedrock of learning.
Attention is
the bedrock
of learning.
The stronger you
can focus, the
more you can pay
attention and the
better the brain
can do its task.
The brain interweaves
pre-existing circuits
and builds new ones.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
10
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

The Memory Trick of Chunking


Dr. Buczynski: How much information can we focus on at one time?
Dr. Goleman: There is a statistic on this. How much information can we focus on at one time? is a
question the cognitive scientists have tried to answer for decades, and the answer seems more or less the
same over the decades, which is plus or minus four to seven bits of information at one time.
Think of a digit in a phone number as a bit of information.
However, there is a phenomenon called chunking, which allows us to take three digits, like your area code,
which might be 840 and chunk it into 840 instead of an 8, a 4 and an 0.
This 840 chunk is now one bit of information rather than three. Experts know
how to chunk. For example, if you look at a physicians repertoire of chunks, it
has been determined that there are about 50,000 most of which are diagnoses.
These are patterns that you recognize; there are factors to group together in a
single chunk.
On the one hand, we can focus on four to seven bits of information at one time; on the other hand, how
much information you can ft into that neural span
depends on how good a chunker you are!
Dr. Buczynski: Is chunking something that we can
teach?
Dr. Goleman: Yes, chunking certainly is something
we can teach. Memorization is best done through
chunking, for example.
Dr. Buczynski: That is the way we learned our subtraction and multiplication tables and whatnot. But if,
as an adult, you are learning a new area of study, is there a way to get good at chunking?
Dr. Goleman: Oh, yes. There are classic memory tricks, and they go
back to the Greeks. You think of rooms in a house and what you are
going to put in each room.
You may have a long list to remember. For example, in studying
anatomy you have so many names of muscles to remember, or so many
parts of the brain, but if you can put them in the same space in a room, then this is one trick for chunking
and remembering.
Some people like to make up words, and each letter in the word is the
beginning letter in a list of things they are trying to remember. You can
chunk them together in this way. There are lots and lots of memory
tricks that we can use.
We can focus on four to
seven bits of information
at one time; how much
information you can ft into
that neural span depends on
how good a chunker you are!
Experts
know how
to chunk.
Memorization is
best done through
chunking.
There are lots
and lots of
memory tricks
that we can use.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
11
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

The Myth of Multitasking


Dr. Buczynski: I cant end this session without at some point talking to you about multitasking.
Lets pull it in now in the latest work that you have done, what is it saying about multitasking in terms
of learning and performance?
Dr. Goleman: In terms of performance in terms of anything it turns out
that multitasking is a myth.
Cognitive science says we dont multitask. We dont do things simultaneously
because of the neural bottleneck in attention.
What we do is switch very rapidly, and we fool ourselves into thinking that we are doing it simultaneously.
Actually, you drop one thing and go to another. Your brain is not doing what you dropped it is doing the
other! That continues as you do another and another task.
The downside of multitasking is that there is a performance
decrement in the thing you dropped in order to do the other
thing. You think you are keeping all the balls in the air at the
same time, but you are catching one at a time.
Studies have shown that if you are fully concentrated say
you are doing a report or you are studying and all of a
sudden you answer your email or you do three other things, it
takes several minutes to get full focus of concentration back
on the task that you dropped.
Dr. Buczynski: Yes, I know that if I am under time pressure to prepare, I have to turn off my email.
Dr. Goleman: Yes, thats a very good idea.
Strategies for Keeping Your Concentration
There are strategies for keeping concentration. For example, I am a writer and I like to meditate in the
morning because it makes my mind calmer and clearer; I like to have breakfast with my wife it gives me
a nice secure base to work from; and then I like to go into a place where I will not be interrupted by phone
calls or email and really focus for a couple hours.
That is how I get my books written. That is how I get things done.
But a lot of us are working in complex environments a lot of people
around and a lot of incoming stimuli to juggle.
One of the keys of staying as concentrated as you can in that moment
is remembering that there is a lot that we can control we dont
have to be interrupted.
Multitasking
is a myth.
If you are fully
concentrated and all of a
sudden you answer your
email, it takes several
minutes to get full focus
of concentration back...
One of the keys
of staying as
concentrated as you
can is remembering
that there is a lot
that we can control.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
12
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

First, there are now some very good apps, for example, that will
turn off the Web at whatever time you determine, so that you
wont be distracted.
You can turn off your email; you can turn off your cell phone;
you can turn off whatever it is that you habitually let intrude into
that zone of concentration.
Second, you can build concentration. If you do a daily concentration builder, it gradually makes us better
and better and better at ignoring distractions and keeping our attention
where you want it.
Dr. Buczynski: Are you talking now about meditation or about the
videogame tools?
Dr. Goleman: I am talking about whatever will work for you whether it is a video game, or mindfulness,
or watching your breath to build the strength and the circuitry that keeps your mind concentrated.
The third strategy is at a different level and has to do with keeping
your energy up. The brain consumes glucose, and energy can become
exhausted.
The longer you concentrate, with effort, the more you need a rest
period. A lot of companies now have nap rooms for people! That rest
period reboots the brain for the rest of the day.
Then, there are the usual strategies: exercise and good food and a good
nights sleep, because your general ftness will determine your general
alertness.
So those are four different strategies for protecting your focus.
Dr. Buczynski: In general, do we fnd that people who meditate have
better attention?
Dr. Goleman: Yes, the research literature shows it very strongly. It really is a no-brainer meditation
turns out to be training in attention.
The Bottom-Up and Top-Down Brain
Dr. Buczynski: Lets now talk about the bottom-up and top-down brain.
Dr. Goleman: There are two major mental systems. Daniel
Kahneman has described them very elegantly in his book,
Thinking Fast and Slow and they have been around in
cognitive science forever.
There is the bottom-up brain, and this includes the automatic
circuits actually the larger part of the mind.
Meditation turns
out to be training
in attention.
You can turn off
whatever habitually
intrudes into your
zone of concentration.
A rest period
reboots the brain.
Your general ftness
will determine your
general alertness.
Distractions come from
the bottom-up brain. The
top-down brain resists
those distractions.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
13
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

Then, there is the top-down brain, which makes up the voluntary circuits for example, these are controlling
our attention, planning, thinking things through, making decisions, and learning.
Those are top-down functions, and they are largely controlled from the prefrontal cortex from the top of
the brain, or the neocortex.
The bottom-up brain is generally subcortical circuitry, and it is where our distractions come from. The
top-down brain is what wants to resist those distractions.
How Story Captures Our Attention
Dr. Buczynski: I dont know if you have written about this, but I am wondering about the whole idea
of story, imparting messages, and learning through story. It seems to me that if the story is really good, it
bypasses some of the need for discipline.
Dr. Goleman: A story captures our attention. A story is a very
good way to learn anything! If you can embed what you need
to learn or what the person needs to learn in the story, then that
is a great method for teaching.
It is also a great method for leading. Every leader has to tell a
story that motivates people: what we are doing, why it matters, how it is meaningful.
The best leaders very often are very good storytellers and they will tell a
story which sums it up without their having to say so, and their story hits the
emotional centers as well as the cognitive.
You asked what people can do. Actually, I made an instructional audio for
people who want to enhance their concentration. It is designed to improve
concentration and also to improve
empathy. Those are two forms of attention that we all need.
There are many people in their workplaces, for example, who are told,
Youre doing a great job, but you need to be a little better at people
skills. Empathy is the basis for that. Attention/concentration is, of
course, the basis for doing work well in any domain.
Dr. Buczynski: Thank you.
Ten Thousand Hours: The Elements of Smart Practice
A while back, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that to do something well, you had to put ten
thousand hours into it. He talked about that in one of his books. How did that idea get started and is it
accurate?
Dr. Goleman: The idea got started because of the work of Anders Ericsson, who is a cognitive psychologist/
cognitive scientist at the University of Florida.
If you can embed what
you need to learn in the
story, then that is a great
method for teaching.
Often, the
best leaders
are very good
storytellers.
Concentration and
empathy are two
forms of attention
that we all need.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
14
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

He was looking at expertise he is the world expert on expertise itself, in any domain, whether it is sports
or medicine you name it. His general rules apply because he is studying the mind.
The ten thousand hour number comes from a study he did of
violinists, I think at Juilliard, a top music school, and he found
that those who played frst violin, who were rated the very best,
had rehearsed or practiced at least ten thousand accumulative
hours in a lifetime.
Those who were second fddles, so to speak, literally, had practiced seven thousand fve hundred hours
on average.
He looked at a number of other domains of expertise and found
the same phenomenon: the more we practice, the better we are.
People who have read Gladwell fxated on the number ten
thousand. Unfortunately, that is not suffcient and it is not exactly
what Ericsson said.
What Ericsson really said was that you need ten thousand hours aided by an expert coach doing what he
called deliberate practice.
An expert coach watches your performance and says, You know, you
could get better if you just improve this. So for your next hundred hours,
just practice that. Oh, youre pretty good at that now heres the next thing
you can do to improve your game. That goes on and on and on.
Everyone who is at world class level has a coach who does deliberate
coaching.
The other thing that happens with deliberate coaching is that you never
stop improving.
People who practice ten thousand hours the same lousy golf stroke
will have the same poor golf stroke after ten thousand hours.
Most amateurs, Ericsson found, practice up to about ffty hours and
then let it all become base brain their routine.
This means that they dont look at it with an expert eye anymore they
dont get any better.
Dr. Buczynski: Do they let it go into that automatic zone?
Dr. Goleman: It becomes automatic; the base brain is automatically
run from the basal ganglia, which is a storehouse for habits of all kinds.
The basal ganglia are some of the most primitive brain structures lizards have very good basal ganglia.
The ten thousand hour
number comes from a
study of violinists.
You need ten
thousand hours aided
of deliberate practice.
With deliberate
coaching you
never stop
improving.
Most amateurs
practice up to
about ffty hours.
The basal ganglia
is a storehouse
for habits.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
15
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

But you dont learn from the basal ganglia; that is where you take something you have learned and, once
you have gotten good enough, the brain wants to conserve energy so it lets the basal ganglia do it it
becomes effortless.
Dr. Buczynski: That is the brains strategy for preserving its energy.
Dr. Goleman: Yes, thats why it goes on base brain bottom-up brain.
Dr. Buczynski: It looks like this is leading to smart practice, which is what we really need to do. What
would you say is involved in smart practice?
Dr. Goleman: There are three elements to smart practice.
First, is practice itself doing something over and over when you dont have to, but you do just because
you want to get better at it.
Second is an expert coach who watches you and assesses where you can improve.
Third is the feedback from that coach, which is continual and helps
you see where you can improve next.
By the way, this should be the basic structure of coaching, whether it
is life coaching or executive coaching.
A coach should be the expert eye, and the practice should be a learning
plan. Heres an example: Im going to become a better listener. Every
time I have a naturally occurring opportunity to listen better, Im going to do so. Im going to ignore my
distractions and pay full attention.
At frst that might take effort, but then it becomes easier and easier. Then you go on to the next step which
will make you even better.
Positive Attitude and the Brains Ability to Focus
Dr. Buczynski: Lets talk about having a positive attitude and how that affects the brains ability to focus
on a goal
Dr. Goleman: Positivity, or positive emotion, opens us up. Negative
emotion anxiety, anger closes us down and makes us defensive.
Literally, we cannot think of as many possibilities when we are in a
negative state as when we are in a positive state.
Positivity is the best place to begin a program of self-development.
Dr. Buczynski: Richard Davidson did some research on positive
moods and brain activity.
A coach should be
the expert eye, and
the practice should
be a learning plan.
Positive emotion
opens us up.
Positivty is the
best place to begin
a program of self-
development.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
16
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

Dr. Goleman: Richard Davidson, when he was focusing in his own research on emotions in the brain,
determined that when we are experiencing a distressing emotion a disturbing emotion we have lots of
activity in the right prefrontal area and the amygdala.
In this case, the amygdala has hijacked the right prefrontal cortex. When we are feeling really good and
really energized and enthusiastic, the right side is quiet and the left
side is active.
Each of us has a distinct ratio of left-to-right activity.
Dr. Buczynski: The more we are in the right probably means the
more we are sad and blue . . .
Dr. Goleman: If you are very far to the right, you may well be clinically depressed or clinically anxious.
Dr. Buczynski: Does talking about dreams have any effect or infuence on this at all?
Dr. Goleman: None that I know of. Actually, mindfulness has been found to shift the ratio from the right
in people who are highly stressed toward the left, with the biggest/largest boost showing up at the
beginning of practice.
Dr. Buczynski: What does that mean for people who get started with mindfulness even though they might
not be good at it and they dont perceive themselves as good at it?
Dr. Goleman: The boost, I think, may be because mindfulness teaches people that they can step back
from their thoughts and feelings and not be trapped or swept away by them.
An inner distance gives them more degrees of freedom internally. I am just guessing that might be the
reason for the initial boost.
Dr. Buczynski: At Case Western Reserve, there was a psychologist named Richard Boyatzis who was
talking about positive dreams and goals.
Dr. Goleman: Richard is an old friend we were graduate students together at Harvard years ago as was,
by the way, Richard Davidson. Ive known them for a long time.
Richard Boyatzis teaches in the business school in association
with some colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic where he does
brain research.
He has found in his research at Case Western that if you get
people to talk about their dreams and by that he doesnt mean
their nighttime dreams, he means their hopes and dreams for
themselves . . . where they want to be in fve and ten years, it
opens people up to a whole range of possibility.
Once you have that range of possibility, you reverse-engineer to where you are now and what might help
you get to your dream what the next step might be. That opens up practical applications in coaching and
practice.
Dr. Buczynski: He scanned the brains of college students that he interviewed is that right?
Once you have that
range of possibility,
you reverse-engineer
to where you are now
and what might help
you get to your dream.
Each of us has a
distinct ratio of left-
to-right activity.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
17
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

Dr. Goleman: Yes, he compared thinking about your dreams


with the kind of negative feedback people often get, which
makes people defensive and closes them down.
He found that when they were having the positive state, the
pleasure circuitry was activated. It feels good to think about how
good life could be. It is reward circuitry.
Dr. Buczynski: What about when they were in the negative
state?
Dr. Goleman: I am not exactly sure but it was some negative emotional circuitry. It might have been the
amygdala.
The Ratio of Positive-to-Negative in Predicting Success
Dr. Buczynski: Lets talk about the Losada Effect. Can you tell us what it is and why it is relevant?
Dr. Goleman: Marcial Losada studied teams. He was an organizational psychologist, and he found that if
the mood of the team was positive in a ratio of three to one positive-to-negative, then those teams tended
to be the highest-performing.
One of his students, Barbara Fredrickson, has taken this down to the level of the individual. What she fnds
is that people who tend to fourish in life they do really well with their relationships and with their work
also tend to have this three to one positive-to-negative ratio.
Then, of course, John Gottman, who studies marriage, has found that a fve to one ratio in a marriage
predicts a stable marriage.
Dr. Buczynski: Yes. It is amazing to think that at any time if bickering breaks out, it takes fve times as
much . . .
Dr. Goleman: I look at it more positively by saying, Okay, weve bickered wed better have fve great
times now.
Why Leadership Depends on Focus
Dr. Buczynski: Id like to focus a little bit on leadership. Would you say that one of the marks of a good
leader is the ability to focus and harness attention?
Dr. Goleman: I would say that you cant be a good leader
unless you can focus your own attention, engage other peoples
attention, and pay attention to the overall context in which you
are operating.
You need these to develop a strategy that you are going to
mobilize people around. These are the kinds of attention you need: inner attention, other attention, and
outer attention.
You cant be a good
leader unless you
focus with inner, other,
and outer attention.
If the mood of the team
was positive in a ratio
of three to one positive-
to-negative, then those
teams tended to be the
highest-performing.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
18
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

Dr. Buczynski: As a leader, do you fnd a balance between them?


Dr. Goleman: The best leaders have strengths in all three and can balance them, yes.
There was an article in the Harvard Business Review called Leadership Run Amuck. It was about leaders
who have very good internal focus internal self-management skills which fow from self-awareness
who were able to reach a target or a goal but ignored how they ran roughshod over people.
That kind of leadership creates a negative morale de-motivates people, and in the long run, harms the
organization. Those are leaders who might look good in the short term, but in the long term, they really
are a cost to the overall organization.
Dr. Buczynski: Through your work with emotional intelligence, you have worked with a lot of companies
at this point. Are you fnding that companies are now starting to study how to harness or distribute or
garner attention?
Dr. Goleman: I am introducing the idea of attention to
companies now. I was just, for example, in Europe last
week. I spoke at a business school in Switzerland and one
in Spain interestingly, to the alumni association with
members who were generally in business.
There was huge interest in the topic of attention and focus. Many, many companies now use emotional
intelligence as the gauge of leadership, for example, or they recruit people for their emotional intelligence.
I dont know of many companies yet who are paying attention to attention
per se, although I do know that mindfulness is getting more and more
popular in organizations.
Dr. Buczynski: Yes. Do you see anything that would remind you of or
be almost like organizational ADD?
Dr. Goleman: The signs of organizational ADD are very similar. These include missed deadlines, or
people leaving, low morale, or being blindsided by competitors.
All of those are signs that a company as a whole, which you could describe in terms of distributed attention,
needs to be better at focusing internally on people, goals and
strategy more broadly, given the larger forces that will determine
whether they survive or not.
Dr. Buczynski: You wrote a bit about Steve Jobs as almost a case
study in terms of the ability to illustrate these ideas. Can you share
your thoughts on that?
Dr. Goleman: Steve Jobs is really interesting because he was a brilliant strategist. He may not have been
the nicest guy; however, people self-selected.
He had a star team around him people who were very much like him, who were single-minded in their
focus.
Many companies now use
emotional intelligence as
a gauge of leadership.
Mindfulness is
getting more and
more popular in
organizations.
A company needs to
be better at focusing
internally on people,
goals and strategy.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
19
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple, he felt that they were doing
too many things; they had too many different kinds of computers.
He simplifed.
Now, he was a student of Zen, and the Zen aesthetic is very
simplifed. He brought that to the computer industry. He said, Its
as important to know what not to do as what to do.
One of the things he didnt want to do was have too many products he wanted to be excellent at just a
few, and he achieved that brilliantly.
Dr. Buczynski: I think that is true in so many areas of endeavor. It is certainly true in being a psychologist
or a therapist that is the feld I know the most about. But I imagine it is true in many other areas it is
important to know what not to do.
Dr. Goleman: Thats an interesting observation, and Im sure its true!
Smart Decisions and Self-Awareness
Dr. Buczynski: You have stated that, Making smart decisions can come from having high self-awareness.
We briefy touched on that already, but Id like you to talk about that a bit more.
Dr. Goleman: The best decisions draw on maximal information, and there
is one key source of data that people often ignore, and that is life experience.
The basal ganglia, which I mentioned in terms of habit related circuits, also
do something very important: as we go through life, they store decisions.
For example: When I did that, that didnt work, or When I said that, that
worked beautifully. The same holds true when we face a life decision
Should I leave my job for another?
The same circuits hold together everything that we have experienced and tell us what our life wisdom has
to say.
But the problem is they dont do it in words. That part of the brain
has no connection to the verbal cortex. It has rich connectivity to
the gastrointestinal tract so we get a gut feeling. It feels right/it
doesnt feel right, and that is data, too.
In making the fullest decision, we would incorporate that gut
feeling not that that decides it, but we add that in to everything
else we know.
Dr. Buczynski: Yes. Thats part of the whole idea of the brain in the gut and how that infuences us.
We havent really gotten into that idea here, but as you said, thats the part of the brain that doesnt think
in terms of words. It has knowledge and wisdom but not in terms of words. It is so important to get all of
that . . . otherwise we are dealing with only reason and rationality.
Dr. Goleman: Absolutely. Sure.
Knowing what not to
do is as important as
knowing what to do.
The best
decisions draw
on maximal
information.
Circuits hold
together everything
that we have
experienced and tell
us our life wisdom.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
20
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

Dr. Buczynski: Thank you, Daniel. Im sorry that we have to stop here.
Thank you so much for your time. You are a prolifc producer of good ideas and very important knowledge,
so thank you immensely for the contributions you have made.
Dr. Goleman: It was a real pleasure, Ruth, and I hope our conversation is of beneft to people listening in.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
21
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

TalkBack Segment with Ron Siegel, PsyD and Kelly McGonigal, PhD
Dr. Buczynski: That was a fascinating webinar. I have been waiting to talk with Daniel Goleman for an
awfully long time, and I am very interested to hear what my two colleagues thought of the interview.
We are going to start the Talkback Segment now, as we will at the end of every webinar.
We will be joined by Dr. Kelly McGonigal who is a lecturer at Stanford Universitys Center for Compassion
and Altruism Research and Education, and she is the author of The Willpower Instinct.
Also, joining us is Dr. Ron Siegel. He is a licensed psychologist, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology
at Harvard Medical School, and in private practice. He is an author of many volumes and coauthor of
Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, which is the seminal work for many of the psychotherapists who are on
the call.
What Stood Out Most
As we are going to do each time, lets jump in by frst getting your thoughts on what stood out to you and
this time we will start with you, Kelly.
Dr. McGonigal: What stands out to me is Dan recognizing that
attention is a resource that underlies many of the factors we care
about, from emotion regulation being successful at work and being
able to sustain our relationships to empathy and compassion.
Dan also recognizes that not only is attention a resource, but it
is a trainable skill, and as a resource, it can be depleted by our
environment.
These are all really useful ways to think about how we can choose
to engage with attention and train attention and also how we can protect and nurture attention as a resource
that is going to make it possible for us to do what matters most in our lives.
Dr. Buczynski: Yes, I have been thinking much more about the style with which people use their attention
almost diagnostically, but not in a pathological way but just thinking of it as a frame of reference.
Dr. McGonigal: One of the things Dan mentioned that didnt get
teased out too much but is really important is that when we talk about
attention, sometimes we think of it as an on/off switch: Are you paying
attention? This means thinking about focused concentration as the only
form of attention.
But actually, as he mentioned, there are a lot of different qualities to
attention and each one of them is trainable. You need the ability to focus
but we also need the ability to be open to what is happening around us.
We need an open awareness a broad attention that allows us to access new information. So, its
important to get to know these different qualities of attention.
Not only is attention
a resource but it is
a trainable skill, and
as a resource, it can
be depleted by our
environment.
There are a lot of
different qualities
to attention and
each one of them
is trainable.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
22
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

Dr. Buczynski: Ron, how about you what stood out to you?
Dr. Siegel: The comments that Kelly just made defnitely resonate
with me as well.
It actually reminds me of doing psychological testing I dont do
it now but I spent many years doing that kind of testing and there, when we were looking at cognitive
capacities, we always used to think of them as a chain.
A chain functions well, but it is only as good as its weakest link. There are so many areas in which we
have diffculty, where it looks like there is either an emotional problem or it looks like there is a defcit in
some kind of intelligence.
The weak link is so often untrained attention: not knowing how to focus
ones attention in a way that is appropriate to the task at hand. I found
it very useful to hear Dan Goleman go into attention with this kind of
detail.
I was also very moved by his discussion of, in essence, the power of
delayed gratifcation.
This is in Kellys work as well Walter Mischels experiments with the marshmallows were frst done at
Stanford years ago, showing that kids who can manage to wait for the second marshmallow do so much
better in other life measures.
Now this new study out of New Zealand shows again the same result this capacity to not have to go with
the impulse of the moment but to be able to exercise some restraint to be with desire, but not to act on
it seems to be so important for so many different forms of successful
functioning in life.
Finally, I really appreciated his emphasis on what gets in the way of
attention. He is basically saying that what gets in the way of attention
is the remarkable power of painful emotions and that is certainly my
experience.
Many of the listeners on this call are clinicians, and in our clinical
work, whether on the mental health side or on the physical medicine
side, it is so often the painful aspect of what we are listening to what we are working with that makes
it hard to be with it and makes us separate or leave the room in some way. I hope we will have time to
discuss that a little bit more, going forward.
How to Mediate Wavering Attention
Dr. Buczynski: Ron, staying with you for a moment, we talked about emotional distractions as the main
reason for wavering attention or wavering concentration. What are some ways to mediate that type of
distraction?
Dr. Siegel: That is a great question, and that point jumped out at me, too.
The weak link is
so often untrained
attention.
To be with desire,
but not to act on
it, is important
for successful
functioning.
What gets in the
way of attention
is the remarkable
power of painful
emotions.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
23
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

Again, going back to the psychological testing experience, one of


the ways people use cognitive testing is to evaluate what is going on
emotionally to basically see where the areas are that get interrupted
in our attention.
Were all familiar with Jungs old word association test where, If I say
cat, what comes to your mind?
Here they werent so interested in what came to peoples mind; they
were interested in the latencies: to what extent people got hung up on a word and had trouble thinking of
something else.
That would indicate an area of emotional confict or emotional
juice. Those are, indeed, the things that can make for trouble
around attention.
There are a lot of ways that we can work with emotional
confict around attention.
One of them that Dan alluded to is the use of mindfulness
meditation. He was emphasizing the train the muscle of concentration part by repeatedly returning the
attention to an object of awareness, we get better at returning our attention.
But it works in another way, too, which I think is really interesting. By sitting with and feeling or being
with everything that comes up, including fear, anger, sadness, and the full range of physical and emotional
discomforts, we get better at allowing those things to be.
We feel less compelled to distract ourselves from them. It really
is a capacity to be with pain, emotional and physical, that allows
us to stay on task without having our attention hijacked every
time something painful comes up.
Meditation practice can do that; mindfulness practice can do that;
a lot of traditional forms of psychotherapy can help us with that
simply talking about the issues that are painful to us.
Other auxiliary practices like journaling can be helpful anything that helps us to get in touch with and be
with emotion can enhance our attention by diminishing the distractions.
Focusing to Improve Attention
Dr. Buczynski: Kelly, Daniel also identifed concentration and empathy together as forms of attention
that we should focus on to improve. Do you agree?
Dr. McGonigal: Yes. I really appreciate that he brought up the role of attention in a process like empathy.
Sylvia Morelli at Stanford recently published a paper showing that if you give someone something to
focus on a little distraction, a little mental task it reduces their ability to notice, understand and then
respond empathically to other peoples emotions, both good emotions and negative emotions.
There are a lot
of ways that we
can work with
emotional confict
around attention.
By repeatedly returning
the attention to an
object of awareness,
we get better at
returning our attention.
Anything that helps us
be with emotion can
enhance our attention
by diminishing the
distractions.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
24
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

Other work has shown that when peoples minds are wandering,
the brain responds less with instinctive empathy to other
peoples pain.
We know that the placement of your attention has a lot to do
with whether or not you are able to respond empathically to
others it really isnt so much about cultivating internal focus
or tight control of your attention as it is about being in a state
of shared attention.
At the Center for Compassion where we train compassion
and empathy, we really talk about this kind of expanded
attention that allows you to tune into and notice what is
present for someone else, while at the same time staying
connected to what is present in you.
This includes, perhaps, noticing your own distress that
arises when you are aware of someone elses emotions,
noticing your own agenda or stories that might be
triggered by another persons emotions, and having the
attentional fexibility not to get sucked into that but to be able to keep ones attention placed on the person
that you are interacting with.
The way that Ron described mindfulness towards ones own emotions is an attentional skill that supports
our ability to be empathic and compassionate. A lot of these skills go together nicely.
How to Motivate for Improved Concentration
Dr. Buczynski: Ron, lets go back to you: the ability to cultivate concentration depends a lot on our
motivation. How can we motivate ourselves and others to concentrate more?
Dr. Siegel: I had a really interesting experience that taught me about this many years ago.
It was about thirty years ago and I was riding on a bus, and the bus must have been about a fve-hour ride
through rural Peru I was going to see the Nazca Lines.
A bunch of different people from different countries were there, and there was one fellow with his six-
year-old daughter.
I had been working in community mental health for some years and when I saw this six-year-old girl, I was
amazed: she spent the entire bus ride doodling, looking out the window doing simple things and fully
engaged in her activities no complaints and no diffculties.
I asked him, This is not what Im used to seeing in children. Whats the secret? He said, Oh, shes never
seen television. Ive lived as an expatriate and she has simply never seen it, so she focuses on small things,
and small things are big for her.
When peoples minds
are wandering, the brain
responds less with
instinctive empathy to
other peoples pain.
Expanded attention allows
you to tune into and notice
what is present for someone
else, while at the same time
staying connected to what
is present in you.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
25
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

I thought of that in contrast to what happens with Sesame Street, where we try to compete with commercial
TV. The people at PBS have created a system of rapid stimulation, constantly changing scenes no scene
lasts for more than a few seconds to try to engage attention.
This turns up the amplitude on the stimulus rather than turning
up the amplitude on the attention.
But that takes motivation. Russell Barclay, who has done a lot
of studies of ADHD says, It is not a disorder of attention it
is a disorder of motivation.
Kids with ADHD can play videogames all day long. There was a wonderful study done at McLean Hospital
near me where they took kids with ADD and kids without ADD, and put them in a room. They had them
do an academic task and they deliberately created a commotion, a drama, going on in the hallway.
Afterwards, they quizzed the kids, both on the academic task and on the
commotion.
The ADD kids didnt do so well on the academic test but they could outline
exactly what was happening in the hall the full drama in complete detail.
The other kids did better on the academics,
but didnt know what was going on in the
hallway.
It is so clear that it is not about diffculty paying attention it is about
what draws our attention and whether we have diffculty paying attention
to something which isnt intrinsically rewarding.
This all leads to the best answer I know and one that educators have been
struggling with for years: how do you make stuff intrinsically rewarding?
One way is to chunk a task into small enough chunks so that we feel rewarded by it.
In other words, instead of sitting down and saying, Oh, my gosh Ive got to write a chapter, we could
say, Let me write a couple of pages and congratulate myself on writing those two pages have a little
reward built in there.
The other, though, which I think is even more important, is noticing that
we dont have to turn up the amplitude on the stimulus in order to get
engaged.
All we have to do is notice that the task is one of engagement deliberately
trying to appreciate the little things in other words, smelling the roses
and being present to experience. That can go a long way to motivating us
to pay attention.
Dr. Buczynski: Thanks. That was interesting.
Dr. McGonigal: Id like to add to that.
Rapid stimulation turns
up the amplitude on the
stimulus rather than
turning up the amplitude
on the attention.
How do you
make stuff
intrinsically
rewarding?
All we have to
do is notice that
the task is one
of engagement.
Being present to
experience can
go a long way to
motivating us to
pay attention.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
26
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

Dr. Buczynski: Yes, go ahead.


Dr. McGonigal: One of the things that most fascinated me about the
science of attention is the research showing that anything that you pay
attention to becomes inherently rewarding the quality of your attention
determines the quality of your experience.
Oftentimes, this is the question: How do you motivate people to pay
attention?
It may be hard to motivate them, but once you have the experience of paying attention to something, you
almost cant help but fall in love with it or fnd it interesting. That is why artists fall in love with their
models and their muses: theyre giving them that quality of intense
attention.
So, in some ways, when there is something that you are avoiding
because you think it is going to be boring or uninteresting, the
solution is to give yourself one minute/fve minutes at it.
Many things become intrinsically interesting when you choose to
bring attention to them.
Dr. Buczynski: Thanks. Thats an interesting addition.
Ways to Balance Left and Right Brain Activity
Lets talk a little bit about people who are right-brain-oriented. Kelly, what are some ways to help balance
left and right brain activity?
Dr. McGonigal: I want to start by giving a little bit
of a different frame on this idea of right and left brain
orientation.
Dan talked about it in terms of negative and positive
emotions, which is a part of the picture.
But probably the best way to think about individual
differences in right versus left prefrontal activation is
to use the framework of approach versus avoidance rather than positive and negative emotions.
What this individual difference really seems to be about is whether or not people are oriented toward going
after what they want.
Heres the approach orientation: This is something that is
meaningful; I am going to go after it. Im willing to take action.
I want to move towards/lean into life, versus people whose
primary orientation is one of withdrawal: I want to avoid the
The quality of
your attention
determines the
quality of your
experience.
Many things
become intrinsically
interesting when
you choose to bring
attention to them.
The best way to think about
individual differences in right
versus left prefrontal activation
is to use the framework of
approach versus avoidance.
People who have a
strong tendency toward
avoidance orientation
are more likely to be
depressed or anxious.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
27
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

things that I dont want to feel; I want to protect myself. The second one is more of a tendency to escape,
to look for ways kind to move back rather than lean in.
Much of the research has shown that people who have a strong
tendency toward avoidance orientation are more likely to be
depressed or anxious.
It is not so much because they are having negative emotions but
because the consequence of relating to life in that way really
increases stress and decreases personal resources.
From that framework, you can understand what some of the
strategies are that people use to help people shift to be more
approach-oriented, which has the side effect of increasing happiness not because you are happy but
because the things you do when you choose to approach rather than avoid create the experiences and the
attitudes that foster genuine happiness.
Basically, here are some things you can do: encourage people to rethink their relationship to their own
goals and their own actions to be aware of where there might be a tendency to retreat or avoid and see
if you can re-shift an avoidance goal into an approach goal.
Rather than thinking, I dont want to let people down, you can say, This is an opportunity to demonstrate
my strengths and share with others.
Rather than thinking about how uncomfortable a certain
activity is going to be and wanting to avoid that discomfort,
think about the meaning that it has for you in life and try to
imagine the action that you could take that would increase
meaning or build a relationship.
To get people to focus on actions that are consistent with
their values and their goals is the best way to increase an
approach orientation that has the consequence of really
shifting peoples emotional balance and emotional states.
Actually, it is often more important to start with leading people toward action and commitment rather than
trying to get the emotions right frst.
Dr. Buczynski: Thanks. We have to wrap up tonight.
This has been fascinating our whole emphasis on focus and attention.
Next week, we are going to shift our focus; we are going to be talking about epigenetics.
Epigenetics is about gene expression. We will be talking about the brain and how that is related to
epigenetics; we will talk about how our genes turn on and off, three ways that stress can affect us even
before we are born, and how fear and negativity can play a role in our genetics.
So, wherever you are tonight and thousands of you are watching from all over the world thanks for
being here. We are looking forward to seeing you next week.
The things you do when
you choose to approach
rather than avoid create
the experiences and
attitudes that foster
genuine happiness.
To get people to focus
on actions that are
consistent with their
values and their goals is
the best way to increase
an approach orientation.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
28
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

References:
Barkley, Russell and Murphy, Kevin. Attention-Defcit Hyperactivity Disorder, Third Edition, 2005.
Morelli, Sylvia and Rutsch, Edwin: How to Build a Culture of Empathy with Science.
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
29
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

About The Speaker:


Daniel Goleman, PhD is an internationally known psychologist, lecturer,
and co-founder of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional
Learning, originally at the Yale Child Studies Center and now at the
University of Illinois at Chicago.
Currently, Daniel co-directs the Consortium for Research on Emotional
Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University.
In his latest book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel
combines cutting-edge research with practical fndings, and delves into
the science of attention in all its varieties, presenting a long overdue
discussion of this little-noticed and under-rated mental asset.
Find out more about this and related programs at:
www.nicabm.com
Focus: The Hidden Driver of
Excellence
Featured Books by Speaker: Daniel Goleman, PhD
Click HERE
to Purchase Now!
Focus: Why Concentration Can Make Your Brain More Powerful
30
The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine
www.nicabm.com

About The TalkBack Speakers:


Since 1989, Ruth has combined her commitment to mind/body
medicine with a savvy business model. As president of Te National
Institute for the Clinical Application for Behavioral Medicine, shes been
a leader in bringing innovative training and professional development
programs to thousands of health and mental health care practitioners
throughout the world.
Ruth has successfully sponsored distance-learning programs,
teleseminars, and annual conferences for over 20 years. Now shes
expanded into the cloud, where shes developed intelligent and
thoughtfully researched webinars that continue to grow exponentially.
Ronald D. Siegel, PsyD is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychol-
ogy at Harvard Medical School, where he has taught for over 20 years.
He is a long time student of mindfulness meditation and serves on
the Board of Directors and faculty of the Institute for Meditation and
Psychotherapy.
Dr. Siegel teaches nationally about mindfulness and psychotherapy
and mind/body treatment, while maintaining a private clinical prac-
tice in Lincoln, Massachusetts. He is co-editor of Mindfulness and
Psychotherapy and co-author of Back Sense: A Revolutionary Approach
to Halting the Cycle of Chronic Back Pain.
Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford
University, and a leading expert in the new feld of science-help. She
is passionate about translating cutting-edge research from psychology,
neuroscience, and medicine into practical strategies for health,
happiness, and personal success.
Her most recent book, Te Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works,
Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It, explores the
latest research on motivation, temptation, and procrastination, as well
as what it takes to transform habits, persevere at challenges, and make
a successful change.