Many people find that they have a wandering mind in today’s world. Endless distractions, duties, and chores make it hard to stay on task and avoid overthinking.
Some research indicates that people under chronic stress may use mind wandering as a coping mechanism. You tend to think about anything other than the present moment when you want to escape reality. However, the study showed that people with a wandering mind also reported worse psychological well-being.
Therefore, staying focused is essential even when reality feels uncomfortable or painful. The feeling will pass, and you’ll come out the other side with renewed strength and resilience.
The study from University of Cincinnati psychologists confirms the importance of mindfulness in daily life. Research shows that between 30-50% of our thoughts arise from a wandering mind state. Being unfocused throughout the day can cause harmful side effects like poorer memory or performance at work.
What the Experts Say
“While zoning out for a few minutes during a meeting may not hurt, it can impact you negatively if it goes on for long periods of time,” says Lynley Turkelson, a University of Cincinnati doctoral student and lead author of the study published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement.
“When distracting thoughts or feelings come up, mindfulness helps us gently set them aside and refocus on what is right in front of us,” says Turkelson.
Mindfulness includes practices such as meditation, breathing techniques, or yoga. Or, one can practice it by simply increasing awareness of sensations in the present moment.
For instance, Turkelson gives the example of focusing intently on how you feel while eating a meal. Staying in the present moment and experiencing it fully will bring a wandering mind back in focus.
“You may start by noticing the smell of the food before you eat it, what it feels like as you bite into it, how it feels in your mouth and the taste. Or perhaps you pay attention to the flow of breath in and out of your lungs or on the sensations you experience in various parts of the body.”
UC Psychologist Explains How Mindfulness Can Refocus a Wandering Mind
Turkelson, a doctoral student and fellow in UC’s Department of Psychology, and co-author Quintino Mano, Ph.D., a UC associate professor of psychology, collaborated on the study. They performed a systematic review of research to analyze how mindfulness impacts a wandering mind.
They found that mindfulness, or focusing intently on the present moment, can effectively reduce mind wandering. However, the degree of effectiveness depended on the research methodology used.
For example, when people feel distracted or restless, they’re usually not aware of their behavior. So, self-reported examples of a wandering mind wouldn’t be accurate in most cases. The study found that measuring mind wandering using computer-based testing was more reliable.
“During COVID, people are facing even more distractions than normal, so it is important to find research-based ways to decrease mind wandering and improve attention,” says Turkelson.
Turkelson says that their comprehensive review analyzes and synthesizes research results on this topic to determine consistency. However, more studies are necessary to gain more insight into how mindfulness helps a wandering mind.
For now, the study highlights the importance of practicing mindfulness in our daily lives. We could have a more peaceful world by surrendering to the present moment instead of fighting it.
It’s natural to want to avoid pain and seek out pleasure, but in doing so, we neglect reality. Instead of running from problems and adversity, we should try our best to weather them and then let them go. Problems are inevitable in life, but going through trials and tribulations will help you grow. It’s our dwelling on pain and difficulties that causes us suffering.
So, by being in the moment and watching it pass, we can approach difficulties from a healthier perspective. And, being mindful will make you feel calmer and appease a wandering mind.
How to Bring Mindfulness into Your Life
It’s harder than ever to stay mindful of the endless distractions of modern life. You can turn on Netflix or scroll Facebook for hours when you want to escape reality. But, the next time you do this, put down the remote or phone first and check in with yourself. Are you watching a show out of genuine curiosity or because you’re trying to escape pain?
With that said, we’ll give you a few pointers on becoming more mindful: