29/10/2014 11:21 GMT | Updated 28/12/2014 05:59 GMT

How to Change the World 10 Seconds at a Time - and How Your Brain Tells You Not To

You are an explorer

You are looking for something. A way to make a difference, to create meaningful relationships, and a to enjoy a quality of experience that you believe is possible even though it seems elusive. However, there is a gap between what is most important to you and how you spend your time and energy. The day to day is not as rewarding as what seems to be just over the horizon. You are not alone in this -- as you look at your coworkers and the environment around you, you see many people who appear in varying states of struggle or resignation.

There is nothing wrong with you

All of this occurs because you are human and you have a brain. There is a survival system in your brain that is designed to see the world through the lens of problems and limitations. It assumes that past behavior has led to survival, so it creates thoughts and sensations to get you to behave as you always have, and it rewards you for doing so. This system produces compelling reasons to engage in habitual behavior as well as resistance to the unfamiliar.

Blaming, complaining, arguing, avoiding, indulging -- when we treat every thought and sensation from the survival system as the truth, we put time and energy into unnecessary struggle rather than into what is most important. You only have so much energy in life, and when you put it into things that just don't matter, you get a life that is at least unfulfilling, if not frustrating and exhausting.

Rather than being an automatic slave to the survival system, we can see it for what it is and choose another option. Consciously observing thoughts and sensations strengthens a connection to the part of the brain that operates from purpose and possibilities. Consistently focusing on what is most important develops emotional and behavioral self-control. Being mindful and purposeful builds brain pathways for unconditional happiness, authentic confidence, deep connection, and sustained excellence.

It takes integrated practice

Growth comes from actively taking on challenge, accepting the risk of failure, and learning from all forms of feedback. Modern research has shown that willpower is an internal resource that can be continually drawn upon and rejuvenated to sustain self-discipline in challenging circumstances. So, how do we practice drawing upon this unlimited resource and growing continuously? Most of us are familiar with isolated practice where we set aside time to focus on strengthening a specific skill. Playing the piano or hitting golf balls is isolated practice. On the other hand, integrated practice utilizes any experience as an opportunity to build skills. The way you live your life becomes your practice.

There are four principles to integrated practice:

Knowledge is not practice. Understanding is not the same as doing.

You get better at what you practice. Your brain strengthens or weakens pathways based on behavior.

Everything you do is practice. Your brain does not distinguish between what you want to get better at and what you don't

You choose what you practice. While you cannot choose your circumstances, you do choose how you respond.

ONACOA(pronounced oh-nuh-coh-uh)

The elements of this integrated mindful and purposeful practice have been around for thousands of years and are supported by thousands of research studies in human well-being and performance. This sequence is particularly effective as it shifts activity in the brain from the areas related to survival to the areas related to growth. While it may seem awkward at first, ONACOA can be practiced a few seconds at a time throughout the day and incorporated into any activity.


Uncross arms and legs, extend your spine, and lift your gaze

On the in breath, relax your stomach and roll your shoulders back

On the out breath, drop your shoulders and smile gently


Bring your attention to the sights, sounds, smells of your surroundings

Beginning with your toes, scan your body for sensations

Bring your attention to the experience of thoughts showing up and passing


Accept the presence of sensations and thoughts

Accept impulses to avoid, resist, or indulge sensations and thoughts

Accept the lack of substance of sensations and thoughts


What is most important?

What is quality of experience you imagine you will have in the future?

What are the relationships, contributions, and goals that matter most?


How is this moment an opportunity?

How can you express your commitments through action?

How else?


What is the next action you will take?

When will you take or schedule this action?

How will you remember to take this action?

Dave Mochel is CEO of Applied Attention, a consultancy that creates positive change by teaching individuals, teams, and organizations to live and work mindfully and purposefully. The mindful and purposeful practice of ONACOA has been shown to have a significant positive impact upon personal fulfillment and health, strength of personal relationships and organizational cultures, excellence in performance, and effectiveness in leadership.You can contact him at