Wandering Mind? Not to Worry!

Growing up, teachers could always discern the difference between my academically thoughtful face and my “off somewhere wandering” face. Their natural, disciplinarian response was telling me to “focus!”

With that sort of precedent in my life, each time my mind drifts to thoughts of people, places, or events either experienced or imagined while in the midst of a late night Sawyer crunch, I reflexively feel guilty. That is, until I read this article in The Week magazine: https://theweek.com/articles/744749/why-should-let-mind-wander

Here are some intriguing takeaways:

  • We spend up to 8 minutes of every hour daydreaming
  • The wandering mind might actually be off searching for ways to cope with the stresses of everyday life
  • Daydreaming involves the same brain regions that are active when people are solving insight puzzles
  • People whose minds wander a lot are more creative and better problem solvers because their brains have them working on the task at hand but simultaneously processing other information and making connections
  • Having multiple hobbies allows your brain to subconsciously compare and contrast problems and solutions just as reading multiple books at the same time vs serially lets your brain juxtapose new ideas and make connections (seems applicable to a liberal arts education!)
  • The downside is that people spend roughly 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy

The upshot of the article, according to author Eric Barker, is to “spend most of your time focused but have rituals that allow your mind to wander on cue.” Daily rituals help people unconsciously access information that they might not otherwise perceive if they’re focusing intensely on a specific task instead.

So who knows–making Mission waffles, scrolling through your phone in the morning, or taking study breaks to walk around Sawyer could very well lead to your best idea yet.

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