Mind-wandering and 3 things you can do about it
Today we welcome guest blogger Anna Bell.
Anna is a coach and trainer who is passionate about supporting people to bring out the best in themselves and others through developing confidence, leadership, mindfulness, and resilience. She set up her own practice in 2015, having gained a wide range of experience from her corporate role of over 20 years, and now runs regular events and in-house programmes including NLP Practitioner Training. You can find out more and read her other blogs posts at www.annabellcoaching.com.
Did you know that our minds are wandering 47% of the time, on average?
Neuroscientists at the University of Wisconsin Madison ran a research project to track which parts of the brain were activated while the participants were focusing on one specific activity.
They found that almost half the time the people’s minds were drifting off to the past or future and they also discovered evidence of links to unhappiness.
So where do our minds go when they wander?
It could be anything from the mundane “Did I let the cat out?” or “What shall I have for dinner?” to things which deeply affect our experiences “I wish I hadn’t mucked up that presentation” or “I’m anxious about my hospital treatment”.
Different tasks and projects call for different ways of ‘being’ and mind-wandering can occasionally be a good thing if you’re letting creativity flow or are going for a mindful walk in the woods. But when left to run free in an organisational setting it can drain productivity and leave you feeling disconnected and distracted. Not to mention loss of focus on results.
And it doesn’t help if you tell yourself off when it happens. When you notice that your mind is wandering it’s far more useful to treat it an opportunity to observe and learn.
Here are 3 things you can do to stop your mind wandering:
- Pause and reflect. Ask yourself: Where’s my attention right now? Is that where I intend it to be? What impact is it having? What can I learn? Observing in this way, without judgement, can encourage mindfulness and resilience, and has been linked to long-term positive changes in the brain’s structure and function.
- Channel it usefully. Sometimes your mind will wander onto something that there is value in picking up later, whether it’s a project idea or a challenge you want to address another time, or anything else that you want to ‘park’ for now and come back to. When this happens, write it down in whatever way feels right for you. It could be a mindmap, notes on a board (onits are great for this and much more environmentally friendly than their paper alternatives!), make a sketch or simply scribble it down in a note-book. And leave it there until your chosen time to pick it up and focus on that (and ONLY that!).
- Focus on outcomes. Human beings are wired to scan for threat. In Mark Williams’ book ‘Mindfulness for Creativity’ he explains that we naturally look for the ‘stick rather than the carrot’. This means our default mode is picking out the negatives – not great news for mind-wandering. The better news is that we can train our mind to focus on positive outcomes. By placing our energy and attention on what we want, rather than we don’t want it is far easier to align thoughts and actions with that to get optimum results.
Why don’t you make a point to notice where your mind wanders to, follow the tips above, and see what difference it can make to you and others in your organisation?
And why the photo of a cute puppy? This is Lucy, my labradoodle, who loves to run free and bounce around wherever she feels like going. A bit like our minds sometimes! Training her has been a learning curve, and I can definitely say I have used the tips above to get to where we are today.
How would you use onits to organise your thoughts? Do you find your mind wandering and feel you could have benefited from better organisation or does your mind stay focused from dawn to dusk?
We’d love to hear how you keep your thoughts organised.
Leave your comments below.