To find your focus, the first skill you need to develop is to notice when your “attentional flashlight” has wandered away from the task-at-hand. In this “core exercise,” your goal is to repeatedly find your flashlight. Think of this like training a puppy. Wandering around is just what puppies do. No need to be harsh or mean. But you should be consistent and clear with your instruction, over and over again. If the puppy does not follow a command, we don’t indulge stories about how bad, flawed, untrainable or unlovable the puppy is. Instead, we simply begin the training exercise again.

Adopt a similar supportive-yet-firm attitude as you engage in this activity—and notice when old mental habits like justifying, chastising or ruminating show up when you notice your mind-wandering. Now, reframe “mind-wandering” itself: it’s not a failure or error, but rather a cue to begin again and reorient back to the target object. The more often you gently guide your attention back, the more easily it will follow—just as your puppy will learn to do. Your mind will begin to get more attuned to noticing when you’ve wandered off, as well with more practice, you’ll grow more able to notice the initial pull on your flashlight away from the target object, instead of becoming completely lost or hijacked before you do. When we are able to find our focus more easily, we waste less time, experience fewer dips in mood and fewer spikes in stress and worry less when we have something important to get done—whether for work, for others or for yourself. 

To help find your flashlight, you can draw on a foundational mindfulness practice often called breath awareness. Breath awareness can seem deceptively simple: focus your attention on your breath, and when the mind wanders, return it. The instructions are quite basic, yet what the exercise is actually doing to your brain’s attention system is anything but. The breath awareness exercise targets all three systems of attention, because it allows you to practice focusing—as you orient attention to the breath; noticing— staying alert and monitoring ongoing mental activity to detect mind- wanderingand redirecting—executive management of cognitive processes to make sure we return and remain on-task

1. Get ready . . . Sit in an upright, stable, and alert posture. You want to be comfortable, but not overly relaxed. Think “upright,” not “uptight.” Sit up straight, shoulders back, chest open, in a posture that feels natural and embodies a sense of dignified presence. Let your hands rest on the armrest, or on the seat beside you, or on the tops of your legs. Close your eyes or lower your eyelids to have a soft gaze in front of you, if that’s more comfortable. Breathe, and follow your breath. You are following the breath moving at its natural pace—not controlling it. 
2. Get set . . . Tune in to breath-related sensations. These may be the coolness of the air going in and out of your nostrils, the sensation of your lungs filling up your chest, your belly moving in and out. Choose one area of the body—related to whichever breath-related sensations feel most prominent—to focus on for the rest of this exercise. Direct and maintain your attentional focus here, like a flashlight with a strong, bright beam. 
3. Go! Notice when your flashlight has moved . . . and then move it back. The real work of this exercise, after you’ve chosen the target for your flashlight and committed to resting your attention there, is to pay attention to what happens next. Notice when thoughts or sensations arise that pull your flashlight off-target. It could be a sudden reminder that there’s something you need to do right after this. It might be a memory floating up. When you notice that your flashlight has been pulled away, re- direct it back to your breath. Nothing special to do other than this simple, gentle “nudge” that acts supportively to move the flash- light back.