Awareness: The start of change and choice

A summary of the topic of Awareness based on the material

  • Attention can be top-down (conscious choice, prefrontal cortex / pfc) or bottom-up (emotion system derived)
  • Attention can be narrow or broad/open
  • Conscious attention allows us to learn; and is impeded by distracting bottom-up emotion, or supported by bottom-up supportive emotion (motivation)
  • Attention is part of our executive function, and also includes self-regulation, self-control, impulse control (all though a function of attention)
  • Executive function capacity varies (within the same person) based on energy, motivation, competing priorities, …
  • Our brain’s plastic nature means we can fundamentally change ourselves – with attention, time, and persistence (repetition)
  • We can improve our executive function through practice – but strategies to reduce reliance on it have a big impact too
  • We become what we focus on – it literally changes our brain, so we become it through habit
    • Remember though, whatever our existing habits and approaches – if we want to change them, then attention can help us change direction, and form new habits, and so a new ‘me’

Our attention system is part of the brains prefrontal cortex (pfc) Executive Control system

Delayed Gratifcation – appreciating the power of our attention

Walter Mischel and team wanted to understand what strategies children would use to help themselves delay gratification.  This experiment has since become famous, party because it proved to be able to predict success in later life.  BUT, what we often don’t hear, is that, if we learn the techniques that those children used, we might even call them ‘tricks’ of distraction to reduce the pull of our emtoional system, then we too can get the same results (this was shown in later experiments).  But, for now, enjoy one of the many Marshmallow test videos:


Learning and Brain Plasticity (and Individual Difference)

By Dr Lara Boyd


Mindfulness and Attention

Amishi Jha is a neuroscientist that has spent her career studying the brain basis of attention, and how to train it, primarily with mindfulness.  This TEDx talk uses teh context of stressful situations to describe attention: