Many of us are experts of inattentiveness. Although it may not be obvious to us at first, we spend much of our lives lost in another world, our
thoughts far from the present moment.
Signs of inattentiveness include finding yourself lost in thought, realising you cannot remember the content of a recent meeting, or details of your commute to work.
Other signs include struggling to remember whether or not you have already completed an important task such as paying a bill, taking a medication, or relaying an important message to someone.
These are just a few indicators that you are habitually engaging in what is called the ‘default brain state,’ a state associated with stress, depression and allostatic load.
The default brain state is not only an unhealthy way to live, it’s extremely dissatisfying and ineffective.
As I explain in my book A Practical Guide to Mindful Meditation, when attention is absent, we miss out on living in the now. In this state our attention flits from thoughts of the present, to the past, to the future so quickly we don’t even notice it.
But if we pay careful attention we will notice an underlying superficiality, or a feeling of disconnectedness. We will recognise we are not being fully present to what is happening in and around us, and as a result we are missing out on key relationships and experiences.
Without the ability to skilfully engage our attention and stay continuously in the present, we will never find the peace, wholeness and connection we long for. Attention is vital, for both leadership and life.
Wisdom-seekers in all ages have been fascinated by what might be called the ‘technology of attention.’ They have asked the questions, ‘What is attention?’, ‘How does it work?’, ‘How can we train ourselves to be attentive?’ and, ‘What happens when we are attentive?’
In response to these questions, many have found that mindfulness provides an important key to training attention. This is because mindfulness is all about remembering what we are doing as we are doing it.
Cultivating mindfulness therefore requires us to learn, over time, how to maintain a continuity of attention and presence.
Compare how you feel when you are doing something you aren’t truly interested in, with how you feel when you are engaged and enjoying life. In the first case you are there, but not really there. In the second, your sense of engagement creates a vividness and vitality that is in itself pleasurable. That continuous presence leads to a clear memory of what happened and how it happened. You feel more alive, whole and connected. This is mindfulness; this is attention to the present.
The benefits of attentiveness start with a greater sense of ease in our daily lives, then gradually extends deeper into the field of experience. Our stress is reduced. We are opened up to the possibility of experiencing joy, insight, understanding and awakening in ways hitherto unknown to us.We are more aware of those around us, making us better leaders and better listeners. We are more attuned to what is inside of us, bringing us greater peace and contentment with life as it is.
Attention, when practised with clear understanding, leads to profound insight and wisdom. Attention enables success in many areas of life, and in this way serves as a gateway to great fulfilment and transformation.
About the Author: Michael Bunting
Michael Bunting is the bestselling author of The Mindful Leader and A Practical Guide to Meditation, and co-author of Extraordinary Leadership in Australia and New Zealand. He runs leadership consultancy WorkSmart Australia, a certified B-Corp. For more information visit http://www.mindfulleader.net
 Marchetti, I., Koster, E.H.W., Sonuga-Barke, E.J., and Raedt, R.D. (2012). ‘The Default Mode Network and Recurrent Depression: A Neurobiological Model of Cognitive Risk Factors’, Neuropsychology Review 22(3), 229–51.