Anchoring Our Attention

Mindfulness can help us center ourselves and our thoughts

In this lesson, we will start to practice and develop the skill of anchoring our attention to the present moment. By using this mindfulness-based approach, we learn to not identify with the content of negative thoughts and become less hooked by them. In this way, negative thoughts dissipate over time, or, if present, no longer dictate how we feel or behave.

In the words of NBA superstar, LeBron James, it “…helps a lot for me personally with taking a lot of deep breaths, closing my eyes and just centering myself”.[1]

This skill, also known as attention regulation, refers to the capacity to deliberately direct, maintain, and shift one’s attention in response to internal (thoughts, emotions, or body cues) and external experiences.

Our minds continually wander, especially when feeling stressed or depressed. For many of us, this means our thoughts are often pulled into the past or projected into the future. Sometimes, this can bring a sense of satisfaction, like when savoring a fond memory, looking forward to an upcoming vacation, or reflecting on past experiences to gain insight.

But often, it also means getting stuck in the past and worrying about the future. For example:

We may find ourselves ruminating on past mistakes or regrets, with our thoughts and mood spiraling downwards.
We may find ourselves fretting about the future, fearful about some terrible outcome occurring or not being able to achieve what we want for ourselves.

Getting stuck in these types of thinking patterns compromises our ability to be fully present in our lives. Mindfulness practice can help you intentionally direct your attention to the present, allowing you to develop a greater sense of control over negative thoughts and emotions and savor positive experiences.


Mindfulness practice uses the present moment to help anchor our attention.  We want to practice and develop the skill of noticing when our minds have wandered, and then bring our attention back to the present.

Redirecting our attention to the present involves three key skills:

  1. Sustaining Attention
    • The ability to sustain attention on a specific task or focus. This requires the ability to notice when attention has moved from the intended focus.  
  2. Shifting Attention
    • The ability to shift attention to intentionally refocus on a different task.  
  3. Response Inhibition
    • The ability to inhibit impulses, thoughts and behaviours in order to select a behaviour that is consistent with one’s values and goals. 

Developing these skills will help us to:

  • Purposefully focus on the present moment 
  • Notice when our attention has moved away from our intended focus don’t get lost in (so don’t get lost in distractions, like checking our phones)
  • Shift our attention and intentionally refocus it 
  • Select a behaviour that is consistent with our intention (acting vs. reacting)
  • Embrace positive experiences

These skills are especially important when fighting anxiety and depression, as they allow us to better recognize and disengage from negative thoughts and emotional triggers that make us feel worse.[2] The sooner we can recognize that our attention has moved to unhelpful thoughts, the sooner we can kindly redirect our attention to the present.

The first step is to notice when our mind has wandered from the present moment. So let’s get started with our first guided practice.


  1. Medina, M. (2020, September 8). Challenges of isolated life in the bubble add to NBA Players’ playoff stress: “I just checked out.” USA Today.
  2. Ford CG, Kiken L, Haliwa I, Shook NJ. (2021). Negatively biased cognition as a mechanism of mindfulness: a review of the literature. Curr. Psychol.

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