Rebecca Shafir

January 21, 2009

Barack Obama certainly faces a worldwind of distraction on day one of his presidency. It makes me think of how many of the problems on his plate are due to the collective dwindling of attention, impulsive actions, “honest mistakes” and general restlessness of our leaders, decision-makers and society in general. 

 I have been reading (more like studying!) a fascinating book, Distracted, by NY Times journalist Maggie Jackson. She writes about the multi-facted nature of attention within the context of post modern life. Through her interviews with researchers in the attention arena, she provides a compelling road map for cultivating sustained focus and for nurturing a more enriched and literate society.

Researchers in the field of neuroscience report on the mounting evidence for attentional malleability. Conditions like AD/HD, depression, etc., once considered biologically fixed and treatable only with medications, can be strengthened with various exercise regimens: Cogmed Working Memory Training, Meditation, among other kinds of effective brain workouts at any age. Exercises aimed at bolstering our existing allotment of focus and adding new pathways can make the use of compensatory strategies or tools more effective. This may be why persons with AD/HD have difficulty implementing the organizational strategies, time management skills generously doled out at therapy sessions.  Might the use of these tools and methods get a better foothold in our brains if some attention training takes place first?