Are you thinking about a project at work while you’re out on holiday? Are you thinking about what you’re going to cook for dinner when your boss is giving you feedback on a report? You are not alone. The average person spends up to one third of their life engaging in thoughts that are not related to the task at hand.

consequences of mind wandering

…a human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.

 

– Matthew A. Killingsworth , Psychologist

According to a study in the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, mind-wandering negatively impacts reading comprehension, impairs the ability to withhold automatized responses, and disrupts overall performance. Think about being called upon at a meeting only for you to have completely missed what was being discussed in the previous ten minutes! Not only does mind-wandering have neurological consequences, but one can only imagine the negative impacts to relationships, productivity, and overall quality of life. 

In response to the question: are you thinking about something other than what you’re currently doing? people answered yes 46.9 percent of the time. Across all the pursuits people were engaged in, from cooking to watching TV to work, people reported mind-wandering at least 32 percent of the time for each activity. The only exception was making love. Love making is the only time where parties mind-wander only 10 percent of the time. 

This suggest that mind wandering isn’t just frequent, it is ubiquitous meaning it pervades everything that we do. 

But how can we bring the same presence we have during love making to our everyday tasks to improve our relationships, increase our productivity, and enhance our overall quality of life?

human nature

The human mind goes where it wants, not necessarily where it’s supposed to, and it’s averse to sitting still. But how much does our mind wander? How much of our time do we spend focused on something other than what’s in front of us?

According to a study by Harvard University, it can go as high as 50 percent! Almost half of our day is spent either thinking about the past or future. Mind wandering can seem harmless, however, as the study confirms, a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.

We hear it all the time: want to be happier? Simple solution: stay in the moment. But what does this actually mean?  Mind-wandering is an important part of the equation for happiness because when our minds wander, we often think about unpleasant things: our worries, anxieties, regrets. 

As psychologist Matt Killingsworth pointed out, technological distractions—podcasts, email, social media, and texts—may mean we’re effectively mind wandering less. However, it may also be that “our capacity to direct our attention for sustained periods gets diminished, so that then when we’re in a situation that’s not completely engaging, maybe we have a greater propensity to start mind wandering.”

mindfulness in action

Of course we have heard about things like meditation as a form of mental training for focused attention, however, for those of us who find the idea of meditating intimidating, we can incorporate elements of meditation in our day to day actions.

Every day we go to the washroom, and wash our hands (hopefully). when we wash our hands, it involves many actions that can be slowed down, watched and felt with full and focused attention. Washing our hands is a task we perform many times a day, and provides a wonderful opportunity for taking a few minutes to practice mindfulness-in-action. Washing hands involves many actions that can be slowed down, watched and felt with full and focused attention.We can take this opportunity to feel the water on our hands, smell the soap, and feel the texture of the towel as we dry our hands.

It seems like a trivial act, however, in doing so, we can bring that 50 percent down to 49 percent, then 45 percent and so on.