Bad brain habits: Attention

Bad brain habits: Attention

7 min. reading time


Louis Zantema

24 April 2020

Louis is a GZ-Psychologist with a great passion for gaming. For him, a game training that offers therapy is the most valuable thing you can develop: especially for pain complaints, which are on the interesting intersection of body and mind. His aim is to make himself dispensable as a therapist.

This week is a special blog week, which is dedicated to three 'characteristics' of our brain. Our brain has all sorts of habits to lead us through life in easy ways. Although these properties often have a lot of advantages, they certainly also have... disadvantages. Read this week which properties of our brain can cause the necessary pain - and what to do about it.

Habit 1: Everything that you give attention, grows

Maybe you know the adage "everything that you give attention grows". A statement by Aristotle - one of the most famous ancient Greek philosophers. Nowadays this means that the things that give you attention are becoming more and more important in your life and thoughts.

That place is also 'confiscated' in your brain! Brain scientists have discovered that more areas of your brain are occupied when you get better at something. An experienced violinist, for example, has much more brain activity when listening to a classical concert than someone who doesn't play an instrument! 

So when we pay attention to something and repeat it often, it 'grows'. In other words, you get 'better' at it. However, this does not only count for the good, fun or meaningful things in life. 

The downside

When your pain gets a lot of attention, the pain 'grows' as well. The brain becomes more active, and the pain can even increase - without anything in your body having changed! That's why many people with prolonged pain feel more and more pain - the brain becomes 'better' in pain. 

We also see this on brain scans. Someone with long term pain, has a much more active brain when it comes to pain, than someone with little 'pain experience'. Your brain has become better at pain... 

Stop the growing attention

The trick, therefore, is to pay less attention to everything that has to do with pain. These are thoughts about pain, behaviour that can amplify pain as well as the pain itself or other negative feelings. 

There are different ways to achieve this. Because this is about attention, I will mention the way that lends itself the most to it: mindfulness. Mindfulness is an excellent way to train the 'muscle' of the attention. To become more aware of when the attention will be sucked back to your pain and to release you from it. I will write about mindfulness quite often on the blog, but if you want to start rightaway, you could visit headspace, calm or tenpercent to see which application suits your needs best.


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