Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Present Focused Attention May Help Us See What We Are Missing

There's more to life than meets the eye.

Key points

  • With all of the stimuli that we process daily, we might not be attending to important aspects of the world around us and within us.
  • Providing space in our lives for present-focused attention can provide us with several benefits and opportunities for growth.
S Migaj/Unsplash
Providing space in our lives for present-focused attention can help us see more about ourselves and the world around us.
Source: S Migaj/Unsplash

An interesting function of our brains involves how it helps us efficiently go through a world that can be overwhelming. Every day we are surrounded by sensory stimuli that are limitless. In each moment, we encounter numerous smells, sounds, sights, and touch stimuli. Despite this, our brain is able to selectively choose what to attend to dependent upon the intensity of the stimuli and what is most important to us (Ettinger, 2018). Or, in other words, the world that we perceive around us is more than just what meets the eye.

To demonstrate this further, take a moment and find something within your current eyesight. Pick one thing to look at that is not too large, but not too small. This should be something that you can see well and observe its details. After finding this object, spend 30 seconds to a minute observing it. As you do so, take in the colors, shapes, and details. What observations are you making? Were there any details that you had not previously recognized prior to taking the time to attend to it more intentionally?

When we engage in present-focused attention like the visual activity you just did, it allows us to take more in than we typically would; because we are doing it in a way that the brain can process depth and breadth more thoroughly. The beauty is, we can also expand our abilities to “see” in our daily lives through mindfulness and present-focused attention.

Within us, our brains are constantly processing several pieces of information, emotions, cognitions, memories, and more simultaneously. With the efficiency of the brain, this means that the most pertinent information at that time is what is attended to. Unfortunately, this means that those pieces that aren’t pertinent to the moment, yet still may be important, might be missed.

Some of these aspects might be emotions, memories that surface, meaningful questions that we hold, triggers from trauma or other events that need to be processed, and more. What happens is, as we go through the motions of life we may unintentionally (or intentionally) play “whack a mole” and push the emotions, memories, triggers, or aspects that need to be processed down. This isn’t to say that our brains should or can attend to all of these things at once, yet when we engage in present-focused activities it allows us the space to meet ourselves right where we are (see Meeting Yourself Right Where You Are).

Lina Trochez/Unsplash
There are several benefits to present focused attention.
Source: Lina Trochez/Unsplash

The Benefits of Present-Focused Attention

Psychological research provides ample support surrounding the benefits of such attention and mindfulness (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Davis & Hayes, 2011; Hülsheger et al., 2012). Some of these benefits discussed in psychological research might include:

  • Being more aware of what is happening in us and around us
  • Having an increased understanding of our needs
  • Bringing clarity and vividness to our experiences
  • Increasing our self-awareness
  • Increasing our ability to recognize and regulate our emotions
  • Increase our ability to cope with stress, depression, anxiety, traumatic stress, and more
  • Foster well-being and self-compassion

As we go through life, it has been said that “Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake” (James, 1924, p. 237). Alternatively, when we allow ourselves to practice present-focused attention and mindfulness, we gain an increased clarity, engagement, and vividness (Brown & Ryan, 2003). Just as you might have recognized new beauty when you participated in that visual sensory activity, when we engage in mindfulness and present-focused activities, we may learn more about ourselves and grow in ways that we aren’t able to while living life going through the motions or in survival mode (for more in survival mode, see Why Survival Mode Isn't the Best Way to Live). Just as there is more to the world around us than we often attend to, there is more to you, and to life, than meets the eye.


For additional resources and activities on present-focused attention and mindfulness, see the Mindfulness Meditation Institute, 22 Mindfulness Exercises and Activities and 30 Mindfulness Activities to Find Calm for Any Age.

Brown, Kirk Warren, & Ryan, Richard M. (2003). The Benefits of Being Present. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822–848.

Davis, Daphne M, & Hayes, Jeffrey A. (2011). What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness? A Practice Review of Psychotherapy-Related Research. Psychotherapy (Chicago, Ill.), 48(2), 198–208.

Ettinger, R. H. (2018). Psychology: The science of behavior(6th ed.).Redding, CA: BVT Publishing

Hülsheger, U. R., Alberts, H. J. E. M., Feinholdt, A., & Lang, J. W. B. (2012). Benefits of Mindfulness at Work: The Role of Mindfulness in Emotion Regulation, Emotional Exhaustion, and Job Satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031313

James, W. (1924). Memories and studies. New York: Longmans, Green, & Co. (Original work published 1911)