Directed Awareness

28.11.2019 |

Episode #1 of the course 10 easy meditations to bring calm to your everyday life by John Robin


Welcome to our meditation course!

My name is John Robin. I’m an author and entrepreneur. I especially enjoy writing educational nonfiction. I’ve now written twelve Highbrow courses about writing, math, science, and productivity, including my two most recent courses on health, “Sleep Hacks: Using Science to Improve Your Sleep,” and “Hack Your Diet: Using Nutrition Science to Live Healthier, Longer, and Diet-Free.”

One concept that’s come up in my latest courses has been the power of mindfulness meditation. It’s the key to:

• sharpening your focus as you work

• relaxing deeper

• retraining your ability to enjoy healthy foods

So, what’s more fitting than a course on meditation?


Directed Awareness: It’s More Than Just Sitting on a Pillow

There’s a good chance that you’ve tried meditation already:

1. Sit in a comfortable position.

2. Set a timer for two to five minutes. Focus on your breath.

3. Only focus on your breath.

4. If a thought arises, notice it, then return your attention to your breath.

5. Keep doing this until the timer finishes.

This is a good practice, and the more you can do this (and the longer you can last), the better you will train your attention.

Unfortunately, many of us just don’t have time to fit this into our day. As a result, we like the idea of meditation, but it doesn’t quite stick. Like many of the other pressing things in life we want to do, we put it off.

In today’s lesson and in each lesson for the remainder of the course, you’ll learn how to get around this problem. It will start with this critical insight:

You don’t need to set a timer to meditate, and you don’t have to sit in an upright posture.

You can stop right now after you read this sentence and meditate, in whatever position you’re in. In fact, I want you to read this instruction, then do it:

1. Let your eyes lose focus.

2. Breathe in deep and focus on your breath.

3. Breathe out slowly. Keep your attention on your breath.

4. Do this three times—three breaths. Stay focused on your breath each time you inhale, then as you exhale.

5. When you complete your third breath, refocus your eyes and return your awareness to the present.


Do it now!

How did it go? Three breaths were probably pretty easy, which is why I kept this one simple.

What you’ve just experienced is the most common type of meditation: directed awareness meditation. In directed awareness meditation, you choose an anchor to set your attention on. This can be anything, but the most common anchor is your breath.

I want you to try something different. Pick something in the room. If you’re sipping coffee, pick that.

Now, we’re going to try a slightly different directed awareness exercise. Feel free to replace “coffee” with whatever you choose as your anchor:

1. Shift your focus to your coffee.

2. Focus on it and nothing else.

3. Keep your attention on your coffee.

4. If your attention drifts from your coffee, notice that, and return your attention back to it.

5. No need to set a timer. When you feel that you’ve done this for long enough, return your focus to the present.

Okay, do it now!

How did it go? Even counting to ten and keeping your attention in one place can be hard, so don’t feel bad if your mind wandered a few times. What did you notice, though, when it wandered?

This question is actually the key to why directed awareness meditation is powerful:

The narrower we focus our attention, the more we notice about what happens to it when it is broken.

Consider your cup of coffee again. What does it even mean to focus on your coffee? Many things might happen:

• You think about what a cup of coffee is.

• You think about the temperature and how it feels in your hands.

• You think about its smell.

• You think about the cup it’s in and perhaps details about the cup.

These are just a few possibilities. You can always sharpen your attention more on any specific thing you choose.



We’ve learned about directed awareness meditation and how to get outside the box with it. Practicing directed awareness meditation is something you can do any time of the day, for any length of time, on any object you choose.

Your homework is to spot at least three opportunities today to practice this form of meditation. It could be something as simple as a spot on the floor you focus on when you’re waiting in line for coffee. The possibilities are endless!

Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we’ll turn to a type of meditation that is the opposite of directed awareness.


Recommended book

Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness by Susan L. Smalley, PhD, and Diana Winston


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