Why Is Mind-wandering Good For You?

Does your mind wander? Is mind-wandering a good or bad thing?

For me, mind wandering was a bad thing.

As a brooding teenager growing up in a high-speed, high-voltage pressure-cooker society like Hong Kong, I often heard scathing remarks from my mother, quick criticism from my teachers and sarcastic comments from friends that demonized mind wandering as a slow or lazy person’s habit.

“Are you day-dreaming? ” (你在做白日梦吗?)

“Is your mind in a fog?”  (你的脑子在云里雾里吗?)

“Don’t waste your time touring in the clouds!” (不要把时间浪费在胡思乱想上!)

These unapologetic unrelenting words always interrupted my train of thought while I was staring off at a distance, reflecting on something of the past or contemplating something in the future.

Mind-wandering gets a bad rap not only in Hong Kong, but also in America.

We live in a performance-obsessed plugged-in culture where staying connected, staying active and delivering results are far more valued than spacing out or scheduling downtime. This is especially true in highly competitive highly globalized cities like New York, Boston, San Francisco where there are high concentrations of immigrant workers, international students, hard-core professionals or hard-charging entrepreneurs who are always working, walking, talking or sleeping with their electronic devices. Everyone since early childhood, like I once was, seems to have been conditioned to think that we can’t waste time, we can’t look idle, we can’t let our mind wander.

But earlier this week, a special series entitled “Brilliance through Boredom” on WNYC (New York’s Public Radio station – one of my favorites!) caught me by surprise.

It endorses boredom.

It touts the benefits of spacing out.

It explains why we should allow our mind to wander in order to unlock our creativity and originality.

In the article “Unlock your creativity this year: Get bored, early and often,” author Manoush Zomorodi quoted cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Jonathan Smallwood as saying – “In a very deep way there’s a close link between originality, novelty, and creativity and these sort of spontaneous thoughts that we generate when our minds are idle.”

As psychologist Sandi Mann also points out, “One of the by-products of boredom is it seems to make us more creative. This is because it’s a connection between mind wandering and day dreaming that allows new connections in our brain to form and come up with creative solutions.”

If you value innovation and creativity as much as I do, then it’s time to re-think your relationship to boredom when your mind is idle or wandering. At last, mind-wandering is a good thing.

Unwind –Schedule Down Time Every Day

It could be meditation, a long walk or just time out to lie down on a couch.

Solitude breeds fortitude. Since incorporating some of these down time habits into my daily schedule, I’ve noticed a clearer calmer mind – the birthplace of creativity and innovation.

Unstuck – Rediscover Meaningful Goals

Sometimes we feel stuck with a seemingly intractable problem or a truly disturbing incident that robs us of our ability to think outside the box. Recent studies provide a glimpse of how mind wandering or “constructive, internal reflection” could benefit you.

For me, those internal reflections have unstuck me in time so I could tap into what is timeless – my moral compass. While my mind may appear to be wandering to outsiders (if I’m in public), those are the very moments when I have reclaimed a sense of self, and re-discovered personally meaningful goals and aspirations.

Unplug – Clear Our Mind

Without our mobile devices for a period of time each day, we can clear our mind and listen to our breath. Without electronic stimulation or screen time, our breath can help us focus a wandering mind that is distracted when attention at a meeting or concentration on a task is needed.

 

If you’re interested in more about the benefits of mind-wandering, or how to focus a wandering mind, I’d recommend reading –

http://qz.com/319085/unlock-your-creativity-this-year-get-bored-early-and-often/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/

http://www.wnyc.org/story/brilliance-through-boredom/

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/2013/09/25/mind-wandering-a-new-personal-intelligence-perspective/

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_focus_a_wandering_mind

Mable, New York

Mable Chan

Mable Chan is the founder of China Personified. Her contact is mablechan@chinapersonified.com.

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