The neurobiology of focus and distraction: The case for incorporating mindfulness into leadership

Healthc Manage Forum. 2018 May;31(3):87-91. doi: 10.1177/0840470417746414. Epub 2018 Apr 16.


Increasingly health leaders are experiencing greater demands and pressures, which require the need for better focus while limiting unwarranted distractions. This article offers a neurobiological explanation of how the brain focuses and becomes distracted, in order to help health leaders gain insight into their own effectiveness. Two main neural circuits are contrasted: the mind-wandering default mode circuit and the attentional central executive system. These two systems act in an antagonistic pairing, where the degree of toggling between systems is associated with the degree a person can sustain focus and filter out unwarranted distractions. Excessive multitasking appears to compromise the neural switch of these two systems, thereby diminishing our focus and concentration. In contrast, mindfulness practice is shown to have the opposite effect by enhancing the neural switch, thereby enhancing leadership focus that can lead to greater flexibility, foresight, regulation, and creativity. To conclude, leaders who are excessively distracted, such as with multitasking, may be compromising cognitive brain functioning, while engaging in mindfulness may replenish the brain and thereby enhance leaders' ability to sustain focus and tap into higher cognitive functioning.

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Health Personnel / psychology
  • Humans
  • Leadership*
  • Mindfulness*
  • Neurobiology*