How to Shift Your Attention to Reduce Stress

    Did you know that feeling stress has to do with the way you are paying attention? Biofeedback researcher Dr. Les Fehmi has discovered that getting locked into what he calls “narrow-objective focus” is the source of much of our stress.

    So what is narrow objective focus and how can you shift out of it?

    According to Dr. Fehmi, “Narrow-objective attention is focusing on one or a few important things as the foreground, and dismissing all other stimuli, making everything else the background.” (p. 14, The Open Focus Brain)

    This type of attention is effective if we are involved in conducting a science experiment, or a hunt, or on guard against a specific known enemy, but it requires a great deal of attention to maintain and it cuts us off from deeper feelings, inner connections, and connections to others. It also disregards the larger context in which your narrow point of focus appears. It fails to take “context” into account, which leads you to being, quite literally, narrow-minded.

    Since life is so much bigger and more complex than what narrow-objective focus reveals, we limit ourselves from seeing the solutions to problems, from experiencing connections that make all the difference, and from relaxing our focus to conserve our energy. In a nutshell, chronic narrow-objective focus leaves us stressed-out, extremely self-limited, and exhausted.

    So what is the anti-dote?

    Immersed-diffused attention. To be immersed in something is to feel a part of it, to be absorbed in it, to feel connected to it. Diffused attention is a panoramic view that takes in the whole background context around an object of perception.

    To experience immersed-diffused attention you can center your attention inside any body part or inside your body as a whole. Then you can maintain your inner sensation while you diffuse your attention to include the feeling of the whole space around you.

    Try it for a moment.

    Focus narrowly on your hand as if it’s an object separate from you, as if you are viewing it from the outside like a scientist. This is narrow-objective focus.

    Now, shift your attention to feel inside your hand, as if you are feeling the space inside your hand. This is immersed attention. Then, feel the space inside your hand while simultaneously diffusing your attention to feel the space around your hand. This is immersed-diffused focus. Notice how different that feels.

    Try that when stress arises. See if you can be present inside what is going on as if you are immersed in it and understanding it from the inside. Then soften and diffuse your focus, taking the surrounding context into account. Take in the whole space around the event. Widen your perspective as wide as you need to until the event seems small in the bigger picture.

    With practice, you can feel objective-narrow-immersed-diffused focus all together at once. To do that, practice attending to your hand, or anything else, with each attention style in sequence and then allow those perceptions to merge together.

    When you do that, you activate both hemispheres of your brain and stimulate whole-brain attention. You can activate whole-brain attention at any time to break the chronic loop of stress mode.

    Try it out and let me know how it works for you!

    Have fun with it,

    Kevin Schoeninger

    P.S. Qigong meditation is a great way to cultivate immersed-diffused attention and activate whole-brain function. You can check it out here:

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