How To Cultivate Attention And Focus

By Julia Mossbridge, MA, Ph.D., “Dr. Julia”
Science Director, Focus@Will Labs

Note: This is the last of a four-part series on what I call the “attention garden.” The goal of this series is to help you become aware of, hone, and harness the power of your attention. I previously explained the metaphor and the scientific background (part one), then talked about how to choose what to plant in your attention garden (part two), discussed tools for tending your garden (part three) and here I discuss the importance of harvesting the fruits of your attention garden (part four).


Hey, it’s harvest time! That’s the final essential piece of the attention garden metaphor that I’ll be discussing in this series. If you don’t harvest your garden, you get a bunch of rotting fruits and veggies, and that’s great for compost but not great for eating.

But what does this mean, in terms of honing your attention? Turns out it is really important to celebrate how far you’ve come every so often. Learning psychologists call it “providing positive feedback for goals” (Locke & Latham, 2002; Mossbridge, 2009) but I think it’s more fun to think of it as having a party for yourself, then taking a really good nap.Harvest Time

Look, we spend so much of our lives trying to be better – do better, be more productive, be kinder – but when we actually achieve something, many of us tend to shrug and move on. As if it’s not a huge miracle that we can get anything done at all, given all the inefficiencies of humanity. As if we knew we could do it the whole time. As if getting something done, learning something, or just remembering to smile at a few people is a “minimum viable product” rather than cause for delight and celebration.

Meanwhile, we tend to look for the next challenge, the next seed that we want to grow in our attention garden, even before clearing space for its roots. In some puritanical sense, we feel we’re being good by not spending time tooting our own horns and moving directly onto figuring out what the next piece of work is. But even the puritans knew the importance of a good party (e.g., Thanksgiving).

Every culture that relies on growing food has some kind of harvest festival, and for a very important reason: It’s hard to tend all those plants, it’s a big deal that there’s some kind of natural drive for the plants to grow and produce fruits and vegetables, and it’s a mystery how the whole thing works. So people are grateful when it does. And we need to be grateful too.

What happens if you don’t acknowledge and celebrate the fruits of your attention garden is that you eventually burn out. Planting, tending, then not picking the fruits means the garden will be overgrown and there will be no energy to plant more seeds.

So avoiding burnout requires not just tending to your garden  (see part 3), but building in some kind of celebratory time for yourself. Here’s one suggestion about how to do this, but you’ll get the idea and figure out your own method of celebration.

Check in with your attention garden every day, just for a minute. When you see something that looks ripe, write it down or draw a sketch of it on a separate piece of paper. This paper will be where you can go to remind yourself of everything you’ve harvested this year. At the end of the year, make a collage of everything you’ve harvested, then clear out the garden and start planting new seeds.

As you read this, did you wince at the idea of picking something from the garden and clearing it out? I did, a little bit. I think I’m afraid that if I don’t have my successes on display in my garden, they won’t grow. But this instinct is wrong – I can plant a new seed, tend to it and watch it grow, and when I harvest it, I can plant it again! In other words, the cycle of planting seeds, growing them, and harvesting them must continue – but we can keep planting the things we love, and each time they will grow in more diverse and astounding ways.

Thank you for joining me in this process, and I wish you many future harvest celebrations!


NOTE: While writing this blog post, I kept focused on my work via an experimental brain entrainment audio channel (Kora Beta with Entrainment) created by Focus@Will labs.


About Julia Mossbridge:

I am a parent of a 16-year old composer and a partner to a wonderful human being. I give talks about work engagement, authenticity, and aliveness. I am working on changing the culture of Silicon Valley to move it toward a greater appreciation of the gifts of being human (watch a video of me giving an hour-long talk on this topic). I am the author of Unfolding: The Science of Your Soul’s Work, and my upcoming book co-authored with Imants Baruss, Transcendent Mind: Re-thinking the Science of Consciousness, will be released by the American Psychological Association in August 2016. I am also the Science Director at Focus@Will Labs, Director of the Innovation Lab and a Staff Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and a Visiting Scholar in Psychology at Northwestern University.



Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American psychologist, 57(9), 705.

Mossbridge JA. 2009. Brain Shaping at Work: Wiring Our Brains for Integrity, Leadership, Creativity and [Insert Your Favorite Trait or Skill Here]. In “The Workplace and Spirituality: New Perspectives in Research and Practice,” Dr. Joan Marques, Ed. Skylight Paths Publishing.

Leave a Reply