Peak Mind: A book review by Bob Morris

Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day
Amishi P. Jha
HarperOne/A HarperCollins Imprint (October 2021)

How to nourish neural bases of attention to strengthen mindfulness amidst constant distraction

Amishi Jha speaks for many people when suggesting that there is a crisis of attention in today’s world. “We are exhausted and depleted, cognitively fuzzy, less effective, and less fulfilled in our lives. This crisis is partly systemic, driven by the attention economy where inviting and highly addictive content-delivery vehicles that take the form of news, entertainment, and social media apps keep us scrolling and scrolling. Driven by predatory practices and a lack of regulation, our attention is lured and mined. And then, like mortgages and other financial products, our individual attention is pooled, repackaged, and sold [or re-sold] for big profit.” (Pages 6-7).

Countless others attract and then exploit our attention in order to serve their own purposes; worse yet, as we become aware of the nature and extent of this relentless exploitation, we pay little (if any) attention to what is worthy of our interest and involvement.

What to do in response to this crisis of attention? Here’s what Jha recommends: “Paying attention to present-moment experience without conceptual elaboration or emotional reactivity.” In a word, become mindful. She identifies and explains dozens of core mind-training practices that have persevered throughout the centuries. Have these practices been effective? The answer is a resounding YES! “In fact, mindfulness training was the only brain-training tool that consistently worked to strengthen attention.”

These are among the passages in the first six chapters of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Jha’s coverage:

o The Extraordinary Impact of Attention (Pages 3-5)
o The New Science of Attention (12-13)
o Can the Brain Really Change? (22-28)
o Attention Disruption (40-41)
o What Is “Kryptonite”?(46-50)

o When Stress Doesn’t Feel Like Stress (53-56)
o The Attention Continuum (56-58)
o We’re Using Failed Strategies (60-64)
o Neuroplasticity: Train Your Brain to Change Your Brain (64-72)

Observation: This passage all by itself is worth far more than the cost of the book. Your mind is what your brain does. If you want to become more mindful, you must bed more mindful of how you pursue that objective. During my interview of John Kotter, he said the most difficult challenge for change agents is change how they think about change.

o Is Mindfulness Really the Secret Sauce? (77-79)

o Time to Start Training (85-89)
o The Neurosurgeon and the Mechanic (95-104)
o Why [Our Minds] Wander (104-109)
o Finding Your Flashlight (114-117)

Observation: I agree with Yogi Berra: “You can observe a lot by just watching.” Focus your attention (i.e. your flashlight) where it will reveal what is of greatest interest and value.

o Where Do Distracting Thoughts Come from? (131-134)

o Working Memory and the Three Subsystems of Attention (140-142)
o The Loop of Doom (144-151)
o The Power of Knowing What’s on Your Whiteboard (153-155)
o For Better Memory, Live Mindfully (180-183)
o What to Remember About Remembering (183-185)

In the remaining four chapters, Jha  explains HOW to stop “biased thinking” from affecting your attention, use metro-awareness to unlock your powers of attention, revolutionize your interactions and relationships, and get the “minimum required dose” of mindfulness training to transform your mind.

I commend Amishi Jha on the 23 pages of annotated Notes while deeply regretting that her book has no Index. That is inexcusable. (Presumably one will added if and when there is a second edition.) Meanwhile, I urge each reader to have a lined notebook near at hand in which to record questions, comments, page references to highlighted passages, etc. and especially when completing dozens of interactive exercises that Jha inserts throughout her lively and eloquent narrative.

For example, there are five “Core Practices” (pages 117-118, 151-152, 178-179, 230-231, and 255-257) as well as a seven-day sequence of immensely informative “Peak Mind Practice Guide” exercises (pages 301-324) to complete. Accumulating your own material in a lined notebook will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key points later. It is imperative to keep in mind, meanwhile, that finding one’s focus and owning one’s attention is a never-ending process

Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out two others: Carol Dweck’s Mindset: Changing The Way You Think To Fulfill Your Potential (Updated Edition, 2017) and Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (2020.



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