Open Monitoring VS Focused Attention VS Effortless Presence—Explained
When it’s all said and done there are only three mind-states used when focusing in meditation.
- Focused attention meditation
- Open monitoring meditation
- Effortless presence meditation
THE DAILY MEDITATION’s readers are still digging my guide to 31 ways to meditate.
And you probably want to know more regarding focused attention VS effortless presence VS open monitoring.
For starters though, there is a fourth type of focus. It’s called multi-tasking. I personally used to multitask all the time. I would be at work and while I was on the phone I would be reading a book and eating at the same time.
That’s the very definition of mindlessness. And there are lots of negative effects of multitasking on the brain, which we’ll look at in a sec.
But first, let’s look at what divided attention / multitasking is and why it doesn’t work. Then we’ll look at the forms of focus used in meditation and why they massively improve your focus.
What is Divided Attention / Multitasking?
It’s a popular myth that divided attention / multitasking improves productivity. But it’s been proven wrong. Here is what actually improves productivity.
Multitasking / divided attention is when we are focusing on several things at the same time.
Examples of multitasking:
- Being on the phone while driving
- Watching TV while working out
- Using the internet while at work
- Eating while watching TV
It’s a common misconception that multitasking activities makes us more productive. Horse-hooey.
Multitasking is actually impossible .
It’s been proven that we cannot multitask. The brain cannot focus on more than one thing at a time . When we think we are multitasking we are in fact just jumping very quickly from one thing to the next and back again.
This destroys the illusion of multitasking because:
- If we aren’t actually doing two things at a time we aren’t getting things done quicker.
- And if we are just jumping from one thing to the next we are causing our minds to be erratic.
That’s why multitasking is bad for you. It actually causes mental health problems.
Effects Of Multitasking On The Brain
Do you suffer from the following problems:
- Being unable to focus
- Focusing on multiple things at the same time
- Never getting anything done
- Being unable to complete one task at a time
- Feeling restless
- Makes you less productive (3)
- Reduced mental performance (4)
- Makes you less appreciative of your own abilities (5)
- Makes you less effective at completing tasks (6)
- Increases stress, anxiety and depression (7)
- Makes you age faster (8)
- Is addictive (9)
There are seriously risks of multitasking. This image shows the effects of multitasking. Take a look at his book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload [AMAZON]. It is a real eye-opener on how multitasking and other mental habits effect our minds.
Meditation is the opposite of multi-tasking because when we meditate we consciously focus.
Focused Attention VS Effortless Presence VS Open Monitoring (Open Awareness)
The three different states of mind used in meditation are:
- Focused Attention
- Open Awareness
- and Effortless Presence.
These three are ideal and healthy states of mind that are used in meditation, but they can also be used in everyday life.
Let’s take a look at them.
Focused Attention Meditation
Focused attention meditations are technique in which we focus on one thing at a time (the most classic example of focused attention is Samatha technique)
Focused attention is the complete opposite of multitasking. It is very intentionally focusing on only one thing at a time.
Some focused meditation examples:
- Breath-based techniques
- Sound methods
- Candle meditation
As you can see from these examples, focused attention activities are about concentrating on one thing at a time.
So, what are the benefits of focused attention exercises?
When you use these focused activities, you are training your mind to focus on one thing at a time. So, the immediate and obvious benefits of this is that it improves your concentration.
However, because you are forcing your mind to focus on one thing, you are also letting go of everything else.
Focusing 100% of your mind on your breath means not focusing on anything else. In other words, you let go of your thoughts, feelings, mental imagery and so on. And this creates very many secondary benefits.
We’ve already looked at the benefits of meditation (that link will take you to a very extensive article about how meditation helps you). So, let’s look at some specific benefits of focused attention techniques.
- Make us more productive at work.
- Helps us overcome negative thoughts.
- Help us to tune-out background noise
- Help us stop multi-tasking
- Increase harmony between brain hemispheres
- Make us more able to enjoy life
- Relieve stress
- Reduces anxiety
- Prevents and relieves depression.
- Leads to less mistakes being made
- Improves clarity of thought
- Increases present-moment-mindfulness
- Improves efficiency
- Makes us more aware of our own abilities.
Doing one thing at a time, or focusing on one thing, is seriously beneficial
As you can see, the majority of the ways in which focused attention helps is that it removes unnecessary information from your mind and improves focus. And because these are fundamental mental competencies, they help with very many other tasks and processes.
Open Monitoring Meditation
So how about focused attention VS open awareness. What’s the difference?
Open monitoring meditations, which are also called “open awareness”, are the opposite of focused attention. The concept of open awareness activities is that they are about opening your mind to the entirety of the environment.
In open monitoring exercises, you let the entire world in, without focusing on any one specific thing and without being judgmental about anything. You simply let the whole environment into your mind with complete acceptance.
To give you an example of an open awareness exercise
- step outside
- turn your head up to the sky
- simply observe everything.
- silence your mind and let the whole world in.
That is an open awareness meditation. It is letting the whole world in.
The benefits of open awareness meditation
The main benefit of open awareness is that it makes you more creative.
Unlike in focused attention, in open awareness activities you are letting the whole world in. That puts a lot of information in your mind. And because you are very relaxed, that information is able to flow more freely. Because of the nature of the brain, when new chunks of information come into contat, associations are made. You see a round object next to a box and you suddenly realise that those two things together make a car.
When you practice open monitoring technique you increase your creativity. This is the primary benefit of open awareness.
There are many secondary benefits too. For instance, your body relaxes, tension releases, and this creates many physical and mental health benefits. Plus, in my personal experience, open awareness simply feels incredibly liberating.
Effortless Presence Meditation
Effortless presence actually comes from Yoga.
If you have ever done yoga your teacher probably told you, at the end of the session, to lie down in corpse pose (Savasana), let go, and exist without effort. That is effortless presence meditation.
Effortless presence meditation is about pure acceptance and relaxation. This technique lets you relax completely. It is very similar to open awareness, and the benefits are the same. Though you could argue that because effortless presence requires zero effort it is even more relaxing and even more liberating.
Open awareness, focused attention, and effortless presence, offer three psychological definitions for all the different meditation types.
Which of these types have you tried? And what are your experiences with them?
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Paul Harrison is a meditation teacher, author and journalist based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential. Don’t miss Paul’s inspirational and enlightening book: Your Best Meditation