Lack of interest, boredom, absent-minded are some of the terms that have been used to describe someone whose mind tends to wander. It’s usually frowned upon to get lost in your thoughts. Many of us were called out in class for this very reason. However, recent studies have shown that mind wandering might be exactly what you need to be more productive.
In a study called ‘Inspired by distraction’ published in Sage Journals, it was found that engaging in simple tasks that allow the mind to wander may facilitate creative problem-solving. If we allow our minds to wander when facing a problem, we’re more likely to find a solution if we let our minds drift and then return to the challenge. As the mind drifts, the brain continues to work on the problem at a more subconscious level. If we keep ingesting new information, it can interfere with mind-wandering and block that incubation process.
The conditions that bring about mind wandering are pretty much the same conditions that are responsible for enhanced creativity. This is why creatives tend to disappear in a world of their own from time to time. They incubate and visualize concepts in their minds before starting the actual creative process.
In a study published in Science Direct, researchers found that a potential function of a wandering mind is to plan and anticipate personally relevant future goals. They found that mind-wandering was mostly focused on the future. When we’re constantly focused on being productive – answering emails, taking calls, attending meetings, drafting proposals – we can block our minds from planning for the future.
Achieve long-term goals
In a study Letting Go of The Present researchers found that when participants were doing tasks that needed minimal attention, the more time they spent engaged in thoughts unrelated to the task at hand, the longer they were prepared to wait for an economic reward. It appears that allowing your mind to wander may just delay your need for immediate gratification in favor of managing your long-term goals.
In some cases, letting your mind wander might be the best thing you ever did. When performing mundane or overly repetitive tasks, it gives your brain a break from constantly processing new information and allows your creative, future planning facilities to come into play.
In a study to determine what part of the brain was affected by mind wandering, some scientists realized that by stimulating the frontal lobes with light electrical current to induce mind wandering, the participants recorded an improved performance, especially on tasks that demanded a lot of attention.
We must also realize that the benefit of mind-wandering with respect to job performance does not apply to certain job categories. Take the case of a driver, surgeon or a soldier at war, for example. These are people who have to be focused all the time. Mind wandering in their professions might cause more harm than good. However, after the work is done, such persons might engage in mind wandering to relax and rejuvenate, making them more focused when they begin their next shift.
How the brain responds to stress
Stress is one of the stumbling blocks to development and progress. Productivity and stress do not go hand in hand. When you suffer stress, the brain releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol so that you can deal with emergencies but this can affect your productivity.
Mind-wandering may be a useful way to minimize stress because it has a calming effect. You are physically present, but emotionally miles away. You are in a place where none of the stressful concerns exist. This element of self-regulation plays an important role in boosting your emotional intelligence.
Your brain stops focusing on the task you were carrying out, and your stress is relieved. The stress centers in your brain calm down, and your executive centers can perform at peak capacity. You can now focus once again, your body is relaxed, and you are more alert, which is ideal for improved performance and productivity.
While mind wandering has been linked to a lot of benefits in terms of productivity, it is still imperative that it is not superior to focusing on the task at hand. In fact, both of these two aspects are important for you to achieve a purpose.
In the right circumstances, mind wandering will give your brain that new lease of life, a fresh perspective which might benefit you in your endeavors. In some cases, however, mind wandering might be costly.
In those moments when your brain goes away on holiday, you might miss some good opportunities. Therefore, ultimately what matters is that you know how and when to let your mind wander.