Free Forum Q&A – TIM RYAN Congressman, author, A MINDFUL NATION: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, Recapture American Spirit & WINIFRED GALLAGHER RAPT: Attention and the Focused LifeWritten on April 2nd, 2015
TIM RYAN (originally aired August 2012)
WINIFRED GALLAGHER (originally aired May 2009)
“My experience is what I agree to attend to.” — William James
This week we focus on mindful attention – hailed by ancient spiritual traditions and modern neuroscience alike as one of the keys to the quality of our lives.
In the first half, I’ll be joined by Ohio Congressman TIM RYAN, who offers a radical solution to the stresses and problems that face Americans today — radical in its original meaning of having to do with roots of things. He has written a book, A MINDFUL NATION: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit. Ryan has a daily practice of mindful meditation and now he’s advocating that the spread of similar practices could help heal us, not just as individuals but as a nation. And his book is filled with examples of how mindfulness is already being successfully applied in education, healthcare, even the military.
Then I’ll speak with bestselling author, WINIFRED GALLAGHER about her book, RAPT: Attention and the Focused Life. In it, she argues that “”The skillful management of attention is the… key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience, from mood to productivity to relationships.” Gallagher came to appreciate this while fighting a fairly advanced form of cancer. Determined not to let her illness “monopolize” her attention, she made a conscious choice to look “toward whatever seemed meaningful, productive, or energizing and away from the destructive, or dispiriting.” Her experience of the world was transformed, and she set out to learn more about the science of attention as well as what we can do to cultivate it.
Here’s one big tip based on neuroscience: GALLAGHER recommends starting your workday concentrating on your most important task for 90 minutes. At that point, your brain may need a break But don’t let yourself get distracted by anything else during that first hour and a half, because it can take the brain 20 minutes to reboot after an interruption.
I don’t have to tell you how many messages, interruptions and distractions you are inundated with every day. Add to that the stress placed on so many of us by the many roles we play everyday – parent, partner, friend, worker, citizen. The very critical skill or quality of attention is under siege.
DANIEL GOLEMAN, the psychologist, journalist, and best-selling author who wrote the book on Emotional Intelligence, has a new book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. In it, he delves into new, surprising findings from neuroscience labs and explains why attention is a little-noticed mental asset that makes a huge difference in how well we find our way in our personal lives, our careers, and in virtually everything we do. Like a muscle, use attention poorly and it withers; work it in the right way and it strengthens. But Goleman doesn’t only consider the personal need for attention but also the way evolution has presented humans a challenge when it comes to dealing with long term threats like climate change.