Daniel Goleman on the Importance of Cultivating Focus (Video Playlist)

Best-selling author and social-emotional learning pioneer Daniel Goleman offers tips and insights from his new book about how focus drives achievement and success.

Best-selling author and social-emotional learning pioneer Daniel Goleman offers tips and insights from his new book about how focus drives achievement and success.

Release Date: 10/8/13

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Daniel Goleman is an internationally known psychologist, author, and science journalist. Goleman wrote the New York Times bestseller Emotional Intelligence; his latest book is Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. Goleman is also a co-founder of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Keep up to date with Goleman on Twitter or on his website.

View Individual Videos on YouTube:

  1. Daniel Goleman: The Emotional Atmosphere of a Classroom Matters (1:10)
  2. Daniel Goleman: Three Kinds of Focus (1:33)
  3. Daniel Goleman: Distraction is the New Normal (1:24)
  4. Daniel Goleman: Breathing Buddies (1:48)
  5. Daniel Goleman: Attention is Like a Muscle (1:16)
  6. Daniel Goleman: The Importance of Downtime (1:34)
  7. Daniel Goleman: Parents Teach Focus (1:34)

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Daniel Goleman: The Emotional Atmosphere of a Classroom Matters (Transcript)

Daniel Goleman: If I could change one thing in education, it would be making explicit the now implicit understanding that the emotional atmosphere of the classroom matters. It's not irrelevant; in fact, it's essential to learning. And the reason it's essential to learning, from the scientific point of view, is that the emotional centers of the brain actually can take over the centers for learning, and so our attention goes from what the teacher is saying to that thing that's upsetting us, and the failure to understand this, I think, handicaps education as a system. So, if we were to make explicit the fact that "yes" it matters that students feel safe; it matters that students feel calm; it matters that they're attentive. And they won't be attentive unless they're calm and now that we're ready to learn, we can go ahead.

Daniel Goleman: Three Kinds of Focus (Transcript)

Daniel Goleman: There are three kinds of focus. One is inner focus, being aware of our thoughts, of our feelings. This is the basis for being able to manage our inner world. For a child, this is extremely important. It’s called cognitive control. Cognitive control means that you can see when you’re about to do something that maybe you shouldn’t and stop before you do it, not after. In a landmark study of more than 1,000 children who were followed from aged four into their 30s, cognitive control was a better predictor of a child’s financial success and health in their 30s than was either their IQ or the wealth of the family they grew up in. The second kind of focus is empathy. It’s an other focus. It’s focusing on that other person and understanding their inner world, their thoughts, their feelings. The third is an outer focus. Being able to sense and understand the larger systems that impact and shape our lives, whether it’s the dynamics in an organization, whether it’s a school or a business or larger systems like the global systems that support life and how human activity, how our choices of what we buy and do can help or harm those larger systems.

Daniel Goleman: Distraction is the New Normal (Transcript)

Daniel Goleman: The central premise of my book is that today more than ever in human history our ability to focus is challenged by new technologies, by things that are distracting. You see couples at dinner, both looking at their phones and not at each other. You see moms taking care of a kid, holding the kid in one arm and staring at a phone in the other. And the fact is that students and teachers are more distracted than ever. It’s a new normal and yet the basis of learning is being able to pay attention. It takes sustained attention to comprehend what the teacher is telling you. It takes a continuous, unbroken attention to read a passage in a book. And in a time when we’re raising children in an atmosphere where the normal thing to do is to be distracted all the time, we have to be explicit and make an effort more than any time in history to help children learn something very simple, it’s the basis of learning-- to pay attention.

Daniel Goleman: Breathing Buddies (Transcript)

Daniel Goleman: One of the ways that children can learn to focus better and strengthen their attention skills, particularly for concentration in school is something I saw demonstrated in a second grade classroom in a public school in Manhattan Spanish Harlem, which is a very impoverished area of New York City. Kids there live in the housing projects and they have very tough lives. I was astonished because the classroom atmosphere was very calm, very focused. Kids were very alert, very attentive to the teacher. What’s the secret here, I wondered. Then I realized why it was. The teacher said every day we do an exercise called “Breathing Buddies.” One by one the children go to their cubby and get their favorite little stuffed animal. Then they find a place on the floor to lie down, they put that animal on their tummy and watch their breath go up, counting one, two, three, and watch it go down, one, two, three, up one, two, three, down, one, two, three. That is training of the attentional circuitry. This is the kind of training which helps children not just focus on what the teacher is saying, but it turns out that same circuitry helps them manage their distressing emotions. So they’re getting a "two-for" they’re getting attention training and self management training, inner self management training. Something as simple as just watching your breath and bringing your mind back when it wanders is that basic repetition of the muscle for focusing.

Daniel Goleman: Attention is Like a Muscle (Transcript)

Daniel Goleman: It may surprise you to know that attention is like a muscle. Like a muscle in the arm, and that there are exercises, mental exercises that can improve attention that strengthen the brain circuitry for attention just like you’d go to the gym and you’d do some reps on a CYBEX machine and get a stronger tricep. These exercises are very simple, but very effective. The social emotional learning curricula have many that are developmentally appropriate so that you teach the same lesson in different ways as children’s cognitive abilities expand with brain growth and as they go through the grades. One of the most effective is something called "the stoplight." It’s a poster on the wall of a classroom. It says, “When you’re upset, remember the stoplight, red light, stop, calm down, think before you act, yellow light, think of a range of different things you could do now and what the outcome would be. Green light, pick the best one. You can try it. It’s a highly effective method.

Daniel Goleman: The Importance of Downtime (Transcript)

Daniel Goleman: I know I’ve said that children, to learn, need sustained, focused attention, but there are limits to how long any brain can sustain optimal attention. And I think the school day should be aware of this so that it’s paced, so that children’s brains have a chance to recover for the next period of learning. And what’s happening is that glucose, the brain’s energy, gets used up, gets depleted. This is why recess is so important. This is why downtime is so important. We all need a period when we do restore, for example, one thing that restores the brain, it turns out, is focusing on the breath. It’s a neutral thing, doesn’t take a lot of mental effort, keeps us focused, but it’s also a time when the brain is resting. Going for walk, playing, all of these activities are a part of the human repertoire for a good reason. They actually are helping the brain restore itself, so teachers, and educators generally, I think, would do well to be aware of how the brain needs to pace itself and how important it is to schedule regular periods of rest throughout the day. And it’s not just kids that need it, it’s teachers and parents, too.

Daniel Goleman: Parents Teach Focus (Transcript)

Daniel Goleman: Every parent of course is the first coach for kids in focusing and self control. Parents do it naturally. The moment you pick up a toddler who’s crying and you soothe her, you help her calm down. You’re actually modeling for her that behavior and her brain is learning how to calm down on its own. Kids are constantly learning lessons from their parents from infancy on about managing emotions. One of the reason is when a child is first born it actually does not have in its brain the circuitry for modulating a distress. That’s why a baby will express whatever it feels. So a parent is continually modeling for a child how you manage that impulse to run in front of the car, to hit the kid, to do all the things that you’re telling a two year old or a three year old or four year old, “No, don’t do that.” "Just say no" circuitry becomes internalized for kids and they learn to manage their own emotions. And schools that have social emotional learning, that have teachers who care, that have lessons in paying attention and in managing your emotions are simply continuing and complementing what good parents do anyway.


  • Field Producer: Marjan Tehrani
  • Consulting Producer: Amanda Hirsch
  • Director of Photography: Gabriel Noble
  • Editor: Jessica Gidal
  • Gaffer: Brian Sachson
  • Audio Tech: Michael Martin
  • Second Camera Assistant: Rob Thomas
  • Associate Producer: Douglas Keely
  • Senior Manager of Video: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Executive Producer: David Markus

This video was co-produced by Mobile Digital Arts and Twin Cities Public Television as a companion to the PBS special, Is School Enough?

© 2013 | The George Lucas Educational Foundation | All Rights Reserved

Comments (9)

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K-12 teacher from UAE, Dubai

Hello Jill, Based on my

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Hello Jill,

Based on my experience as an online teacher, I found that the best solution is to deal with the students as friends and only friends.

Actually, it took me a long time before I succeed in bringing “most of them“ together and “persuade“ them to attend and participate actively in the classroom. You will need to discover their interests and invest these interests to serve your classroom. I am using many tools to bring myself closer to them by using emotion faces in typing, sending simple gifts to their living address, sharing with them my room view or my picture when I was a baby and asking them to do the same.

In the classroom, online students will me more attracted to the lesson if it is built based on the idea of constructivism (social negotiation, complex learning environments, learner centered instruction together with instructional methods found in online learning such as collaboration, cognitive apprenticeships, and/or hypermedia, simulations, avatars, etc.).

Community Manager at Edutopia

Hi Jill, I don't have any

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Hi Jill,

I don't have any resources ready at hand, but I'll ask around the community to see if anyone has some recommendations for you.

Assistant Administrator at Georgia Cyber Academy

Working for a virtual school

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Working for a virtual school it is a constant focus for us to engage students and to create the environment the Daniel is referencing in the video. It is more difficult when you can't see the faces of the students. Does anyone have any suggestions that work for them if they are in virtual education as well?


That's good.

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That's good.

Disability Advocate - Sharing what works in educational technology

Daniel teaches very important

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Daniel teaches very important concepts on "emotional intelligence" that should be taught in every classroom. These lessons can change your life and help you touch the people around you in special ways. Children and adults who are more mindful and intuitive are more likely to be healthy and whole. Please share his works!

Thanks for sharing this,

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Thanks for sharing this, Jocelyn! It sounds like you are working for a wonderful school.

Transition to Year 2 teacher in remote Northern Territory Indigenous School

I love the breathing buddies

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I love the breathing buddies activity. Our school has purchased 'bio-feedback' software and hardware to help our students learn to regulate their breathing and therefore their emotions. Students are hooked up to sensors on three fingers which monitor heart rate and breathing. They play 'games' on a laptop where they have to breath in particular ways to achieve goals such as making a horn blow. We have had particular success with some older students (approx. 12 years old) who have difficulties with aggression and focus. It has been great to engage these kids in a positive way and help them learn an important skill. Great for the whole school!

Early childhood teacher, writer, life-long learner

I agree with Eric. This is an

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I agree with Eric. This is an outstanding resource. I am currently listening to Daniel's book "Emotional Intelligence". The message of the book and these videos is very powerful. It is a message that every parent and every teacher needs to hear, and respond to with positive actions. The more ways the message can be distributed, the more powerful its influence and the more positive the impact on our world. Keep spreading the message!

This is an outstanding

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This is an outstanding resource for improving the multitude of issues that children have to learn to deal with, I highly recommend that everyone who cares about the well-being of children, take a few minutes to view and reflect on the information presented.

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