, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 75–80 | Cite as

Why Is It So Hard to Pay Attention, or Is It? Mindfulness, the Factors of Awakening and Reward-Based Learning

  • Judson A. Brewer
  • Jake H. Davis
  • Joseph Goldstein


Core to many clinical and spiritual practices ranging from stress reduction to self-actualization to self-transcendence is the ability to pay attention in a nondistracted manner. Yet, many, perhaps even a preponderance of people who wade into these waters quickly return to shore as soon as they become even a little muddied, saying to themselves and others, “this is too hard,” or “I can’t concentrate,” or “how can this possibly lead to happiness, it feels quite the opposite.” On my (JAB) first weeklong meditation retreat, 2–3 days in, I found myself literally crying on the shoulder of the retreat manager, choking out these exacts words between sobs. The teacher, Bhante Gunaratana, well-respected and seasoned in such matters, had even met individually with me and given suggestions such as “start with counting the breaths up to seven” when I could not keep my mind still. The problem was that my mind would have none of it. No matter how much I tried, my mind could not be...


Operant Conditioning Mindfulness Training Mindfulness Practice Experienced Meditator Sensual Pleasure 
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We would like to thank Leigh Brasington, Alice Brewer, Nikolai Haylay, Bill Hale, Stephanie Hertz, and Mahri Leonard-Fleckman for feedback on the manuscript. This work was funded by the following grants: NIDA K12-DA00167, 1R03DA029163-01A1, and the US Veterans Affairs New England Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center (MIRECC).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Judson A. Brewer
    • 1
  • Jake H. Davis
    • 2
  • Joseph Goldstein
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryYale University School of MedicineNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy, City University of New YorkGraduate CenterNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.The Insight Meditation SocietyBarreUSA

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