What is Mindful Attention Training (MAT): Mindfulness Explained

by | 11 Apr, 2024

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Mindful Attention Training (MAT) is a form of mindfulness practice that emphasizes the cultivation of focused attention and awareness. This practice, rooted in ancient Buddhist meditation techniques, has been adapted into a secular form of training that is used in various contexts, including healthcare, education, and personal development. The goal of MAT is to help individuals develop a greater sense of presence, reduce stress, and enhance overall well-being.

Understanding MAT requires a deep dive into the concepts of mindfulness, attention, and the specific techniques used in this training. This glossary entry will provide a comprehensive exploration of these topics, shedding light on the principles, practices, and benefits of Mindful Attention Training.

Understanding Mindfulness

Mindfulness, at its core, is the practice of being fully present and engaged in the current moment. It involves paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the environment around us without judgment. Mindfulness encourages us to step back from our habitual patterns of thought and behavior, allowing us to see things more clearly and respond to situations more effectively.

While mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, it has been secularized and popularized in the West through various therapeutic and self-help approaches. One of these is Mindful Attention Training, which we will explore in more detail in the following sections.

The Origins of Mindfulness


Mindfulness has been a central part of Buddhist meditation practices for over 2,500 years. The term used in the original Pali language of the Buddhist texts is ‘sati’, which translates to ‘mindfulness’ or ‘awareness’. In this context, mindfulness is seen as a path to enlightenment, helping individuals to see the true nature of reality and liberate themselves from suffering.

In the 20th century, mindfulness was introduced to the Western world through the work of various scholars and practitioners. One of the key figures in this process was Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in the 1970s. This program, which incorporates mindfulness meditation, yoga, and body awareness exercises, has been widely used in healthcare settings to help patients manage stress, pain, and illness.

Mindfulness in Contemporary Society

Today, mindfulness is widely recognized for its potential to improve mental and physical health, enhance performance, and increase overall well-being. It is used in a variety of settings, including healthcare, education, business, and sports. Mindfulness practices have been incorporated into a range of therapeutic approaches, such as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

Research has shown that regular mindfulness practice can lead to improvements in attention, memory, emotional regulation, and stress management. It can also help to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. However, it’s important to note that mindfulness is not a panacea, and its effectiveness can vary depending on the individual and the context.

Exploring Attention

Attention is a fundamental aspect of our cognitive processes, allowing us to focus on specific elements of our experience while ignoring others. It is closely linked to mindfulness, as both involve the conscious direction of our awareness.

There are different types of attention, including selective attention (focusing on one thing while ignoring others), sustained attention (maintaining focus over a long period), and divided attention (multitasking). In the context of Mindful Attention Training, the focus is primarily on developing selective and sustained attention.

The Role of Attention in Mindfulness

In mindfulness practice, attention plays a crucial role. It is the tool that we use to anchor our awareness in the present moment. By directing our attention to a specific focus, such as the breath, body sensations, or a mantra, we can cultivate a state of mindful awareness.

However, maintaining attention in this way can be challenging, especially in our modern world where distractions are abundant. This is where Mindful Attention Training comes in, providing techniques and exercises to strengthen our attentional capacities.

Attention and the Brain

Neuroscientific research has shown that attention and mindfulness practices can have a significant impact on the brain. Regular practice can lead to changes in brain structure and function, particularly in areas related to attention, emotion regulation, and self-awareness.

For example, studies have found that mindfulness practitioners have increased grey matter density in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with attention, decision making, and self-regulation. Other research has shown that mindfulness can increase activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region involved in attention control and error detection.

Mindful Attention Training (MAT)

Mindful Attention Training (MAT) is a specific approach to mindfulness that emphasizes the cultivation of attention. It involves a range of practices designed to strengthen our ability to focus, maintain awareness, and manage distractions.

MAT can be seen as a form of mental training, similar to how physical exercise strengthens the body. By regularly practicing these techniques, we can enhance our attentional capacities, improve our mindfulness skills, and experience a range of associated benefits.

Key Techniques in MAT

There are several key techniques used in MAT, including focused attention meditation, open monitoring meditation, and body scan exercises. These practices involve directing attention to a specific focus, such as the breath, body sensations, or thoughts, and maintaining that focus over time.

Another important aspect of MAT is the cultivation of metacognitive awareness, which involves observing our own mental processes. This can help us to notice when our attention has wandered and bring it back to the present moment.

Benefits of MAT

Research has shown that MAT can lead to a range of benefits, including improved attention, reduced stress, enhanced well-being, and better performance in various tasks. It can also help to manage symptoms of mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

Furthermore, the skills developed through MAT can be applied in various aspects of life, from work and study to relationships and personal growth. By cultivating a greater sense of presence and focus, we can engage more fully with our experiences and navigate life’s challenges with greater ease and resilience.


Mindful Attention Training (MAT) is a powerful tool for cultivating mindfulness and enhancing our attentional capacities. By understanding the principles and practices of MAT, we can harness its benefits and apply them to our own lives.