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  • Controlling Your Thoughts

How to Stop Your Mind from Wandering

Last Updated: August 6, 2021 References

This article was co-authored by Ni-Cheng Liang, MD . Dr. Ni-Cheng Liang is a board certified Pulmonologist and the Director of Pulmonary Integrative Medicine at Coastal Pulmonary Associates affiliated with the Scripps Health Network in San Diego, California. She also serves as a Voluntary Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine while volunteering for the UCSD Medical Student-Run Free Clinic for uninsured patients. With over 15 years of experience, Dr. Liang specializes in pulmonary and respiratory medical concerns, mindfulness teaching, physician wellness, and integrative medicine. Dr. Liang received her Doctor of Medicine (MD) from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Dr. Liang was voted as a San Diego Top Doctor in 2017 and 2019. She was also awarded the 2019 American Lung Association San Diego Lung Health Provider of the Year. There are 12 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 27,858 times.

It’s normal for the human mind to wander. There are so many different things filling your mind and pulling your thoughts in different directions. This isn’t always a bad thing, either. If you’re a creative person, a wandering mind can spark a new creative project. However, wandering thoughts can also prevent you from getting things done, keep you up at night, or hurt your mental health if you spend your whole day thinking anxious thoughts. Luckily, with some practice and the right techniques, you can learn to focus your mind on the present and control your thoughts to keep them from racing all over the place when you don’t want them to!

Doing Exercises and Activities

Step 1 Slow down your breathing to occupy your mind.

  • You can also look up different breathing exercises , such as yogic breathing or deep throat breathing, and try those out to find something that works for you.

Step 2 Do a physical activity to focus on something else.

  • For example, if you work in an office and you get 15 minute breaks, you could go outside and go for a 10 minute walk around the block to clear your head.
  • If you work from home, you could take a 15-30 minute break and clean and organize your home office space. A clean workspace can also help you focus!

Step 3 Take 10-15 minutes to do nothing and focus on being in the present.

  • Try combining this period of doing nothing with slow breathing or another type of breathing exercise. This can help keep your mind from wandering for these 10-15 minutes and calm your thoughts down.
  • For example, if you work at home and find that you can’t concentrate, take a break and go sit on your balcony or lay down on your bed, away from your laptop and work things. Do nothing for at least 10 minutes and see how it affects your racing thoughts.

Tip : Stay off your phone and other electronics during this time. If you spend the time on social media, for example, you're not giving your mind a rest. Truly try to do nothing at all other than just sit or lay there.

Step 4 Say a mantra to get other thoughts out of your mind.

  • For example, if you’re feeling stressed, you could use a simple phrase like “everything is OK” or “life is beautiful.”
  • Single word mantras you can try include “strong,” “calm,” and “finish.” These could work well if you’re trying to power through something like a run or a chore without getting distracted.

Step 5 Try meditating to...

  • You can search online for meditation techniques or download something like a mindfulness app to help you if you’re totally new to meditating. Meditation takes practice, but stick with it and you might find that you really benefit from it!
  • The classic mantra for focusing on meditation is just “om.” You could try repeating this out loud or in your head while you meditate.

Controlling Anxious Thoughts

Step 1 Write down all your concerns to get them out of your head.

  • This can also help you organize your anxious thoughts, so you can address their causes later on.
  • For example, if you’re having trouble sleeping because you can’t stop thinking about everything you have to do tomorrow, try writing down a to-do list to get the thoughts out of your head and help you get to sleep.

Step 2 Think about positive alternative scenarios to stop worrying.

  • For example, if you are worried about turning a project in to your boss, think about ways it could help your career if your boss really loves your work.
  • Say you’re studying for a test in a topic that you find difficult and you keep thinking about what will happen if you fail the test, so it’s hard to focus on studying. Instead, try thinking about how great you can do on the test and how it will boost your grade if you study hard.

Step 3 Work on any tasks that are hanging over your head.

  • For example, you might be avoiding putting a big report together at work because it’s slow and tedious, but you find your mind wandering to this task that’s hanging over you. Set aside time in each day to work on the report, so you make progress instead of just dreading it.

Step 4 Talk to someone to get your anxious thoughts out of your head.

  • For example, if you can’t seem to focus on anything because all you’re thinking about is your ongoing divorce, maybe seeing a therapist to talk about it would help you control those thoughts.
  • If your mind is wandering because you’re frustrated about something at work, maybe getting a coffee with a coworker you trust and talking to them about whatever the issue is will help calm your mind.

Tip : If you think you might have clinical-level anxiety, it’s always best to talk to a professional about it. They can provide you with a professional treatment to help you get it under control.

Step 5 Try to accept the things that you cannot change.

  • For instance, say you’re having trouble focusing on being present with your family over a long weekend because you’re worried about something at work. Try to accept that in this particular moment you can’t do anything about your work tasks and focus on enjoying the family time.

Step 6 Pay attention to the root causes of anxious thoughts and address them.

  • For example, if your mind is continuously thinking about what it would be like to work in a different job, it might be time to consider a career change and start looking for another position.
  • If you keep thinking about a conflict with a colleague you’re having at work, it might help calm your thoughts to sit down with them and talk about it.

Focusing on Tasks

Step 1 Do 1 task at a time to concentrate on just that 1 thing.

  • Any activities you do throughout your day can be considered tasks. For instance, when you’re eating your lunch, try to focus just on your lunch. Don’t try to multitask and work or study while you eat.
  • If you’re talking to someone, try to focus 100% on the conversation and not let yourself get distracted by noises or other people around you. After the conversation is over, move on to your next task.
  • If you need to put together a presentation for a work meeting, focus on getting the presentation totally done before you move onto another task like checking your email or looking at data.

Tip : Training your brain to focus on 1 thing is just like training your body. It can be hard at first, but with practice you can learn to control your mind and focus it on the task at hand.

Step 2 Practice avoiding momentary distractions to build concentration.

  • For example, if you work in an office with a bunch of other people around, it can be tempting to look around the room to find the culprit any time someone coughs or sneezes. Don’t let yourself do this!
  • If you have to sit next to a window and there is something going on outside that distracts you, such as a building under construction, practice not looking out the window every time a crane moves.
  • You can also try removing distractions in settings like classrooms and offices by closing drapes or blinds to block your view or putting in headphones to block out noise.

Step 3 Designate a specific time to worry, think, or plan.

  • For example, you could give yourself a free thinking period from 5:30-6:00 every day. During this time, don’t try to work, study, or get any other tasks done. For these 30 minutes, let yourself think about any worries you have or do any planning you need to do.
  • Say you keep thinking about an upcoming vacation and all the things you still need to do to get ready. Instead of letting your mind wander to it all day, designate a time block during which you can do things like making a packing list or researching sites you want to visit, then refocus on your other tasks.

Expert Q&A

Ni-Cheng Liang, MD

  • Mini-interactions with nature can help you feel more calm and focus on the present. For example, if you go for a walk to try and calm your thoughts, try walking barefoot across some grass or touching some trees and leaves in a park. [19] X Research source Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
  • Everyone has days during which their mind wanders more than normal and it feels impossible to get things done. It’s OK to take a day off work and stay home to help relieve stress, calm your mind, and stay healthy mentally. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 2

your mind keeps wandering

  • Persistent anxious thoughts can be a sign of a bigger mental disorder. If you can’t get your anxiety under control on your own, see a licensed therapist who can help you develop a treatment plan. [20] X Research source Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 1

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Control Your Mind

  • ↑ Ni-Cheng Liang, MD. Board Certified Pulmonologist. Expert Interview. 18 June 2021.
  • ↑ https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/mindful_breathing
  • ↑ https://rachelfintzy.com/20-tips-to-stop-your-mind-from-wandering-and-overthinking/
  • ↑ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-s-mental-health-matters/201604/5-ways-stop-your-racing-thoughts
  • ↑ https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_focus_a_wandering_mind
  • ↑ https://www.fastcompany.com/90300162/ask-yourself-these-four-questions-when-your-mind-starts-to-wander
  • ↑ https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/self-care/
  • ↑ https://adaa.org/tips
  • ↑ https://www.successconsciousness.com/blog/concentration-mind-power/how-to-keep-your-mind-from-wandering/
  • ↑ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-brain-work/200910/easily-distracted
  • ↑ https://www.k-state.edu/counseling/topics/career/concentr.html
  • ↑ https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/11/08/7-ways-to-pull-your-wandering-mind-back-into-the-present-moment/#785965da3314

About This Article

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How to focus a wandering mind, new research reveals what happens in a wandering mind—and sheds light on the cognitive and emotional benefits of increased focus..

We’ve all been there. You’re slouched in a meeting or a classroom, supposedly paying attention, but your mind has long since wandered off, churning out lists of all the things you need to do—or that you could be doing if only you weren’t stuck here…

Suddenly you realize everyone is looking your way expectantly, waiting for an answer. But you’re staring blankly, grasping at straws to make a semi-coherent response. The curse of the wandering mind!

But don’t worry—you’re not alone. In fact, a recent study by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert sampled over 2,000 adults during their day-to-day activities and found that 47 percent of the time, their minds were not focused on what they were currently doing. Even more striking, when people’s minds were wandering, they reported being less happy.

your mind keeps wandering

This suggests it might be good to find ways to reduce these mental distractions and improve our ability to focus. Ironically, mind-wandering itself can help strengthen our ability to focus, if leveraged properly. This can be achieved using an age-old skill: meditation. Indeed, a new wave of research reveals what happens in our brains when our minds wander—and sheds light on the host of cognitive and emotional benefits that come with increased focus.

What happens in the wandering mind?

For something that happens so often, what do we really know about this process of mind-wandering?

For thousands of years, contemplative practices such as meditation have provided a means to look inward and investigate our mental processes. It may seem surprising, but mind-wandering is actually a central element of focused attention (FA) meditation. In this foundational style of meditation, the practitioner is instructed to keep her attention on a single object, often the physical sensations of breathing. 

Sounds simple enough, but it’s much easier said than done. Try it for a few minutes and see what happens. 

If you’re like most people, before long your attention will wander away into rumination, fantasy, analyzing, planning. At some point, you might realize that your mind is no longer focused on the breath. With this awareness, you proceed to disengage from the thought that had drawn your mind away, and steer your attention back to your breath. A few moments later, the cycle will likely repeat.

At first it might seem like the tendency toward mind-wandering would be a problem for the practice of FA meditation, continually derailing your attention from the “goal” of keeping your mind on the breath. 

However, the practice is really meant to highlight this natural trajectory of the mind, and in doing so, it trains your attention systems to become more aware of the mental landscape at any given moment, and more adept at navigating it. With repeated practice, it doesn’t take so long to notice that you’ve slipped into some kind of rumination or daydream. It also becomes easier to drop your current train of thought and return your focus to the breath. Those who practice say that thoughts start to seem less “sticky”—they don’t have such a hold on you.

As a neuroscientist and meditator, I’d long been fascinated with what might be happening in my brain when I meditate. Being familiar with both subjective, first-person meditative practice and objective, third-person scientific research, I wondered what would happen if I put these two modes of investigation together. Could I get a more fine-grained picture of how this process works in the brain by leveraging the experience of these cognitive shifts during meditation?

I started by considering the default mode network, a set of brain areas that tend to increase in activity when we’re not actively engaged in anything else—in other words, when our minds tend to wander. Maybe it was this default mode network that kept barging in during my meditation, interfering with my ability to keep my attention focused. And maybe this network was what I was learning to “tune down” by practicing over and over. I wondered if I could test this scientifically.

Supported by funding from the Mind & Life Institute , and with the help of colleagues at Emory University, I started to test which brain areas were related to meditation. We asked meditators to focus on their breath while we scanned their brains: whenever they realized their minds had been wandering, they’d press a button. Then they would return their focus to the breath as usual, and the practice would continue. As they did so, we collected MRI data showing which brain regions were active before, during, or after the button press that corresponded to various mental states.

The study, published in the journal NeuroImage , found that, indeed, during periods of mind-wandering, regions of the brain’s default mode network were activated. Then when participants became aware of this mind-wandering, brain regions related to the detection of salient or relevant events came online. After that, areas of the executive brain network took over, re-directing and maintaining attention on the chosen object. And all of this occurred within 12 seconds around those button presses.

Looking at activity in these brain networks this way suggests that when you catch your mind wandering, you are going through a process of recognizing, and shifting out of, default mode processing by engaging numerous attention networks. Understanding the way the brain alternates between focused and distracted states has implications for a wide variety of everyday tasks. For example, when your mind wandered off in that meeting, it might help to know you’re slipping into default mode—and you can deliberately bring yourself back to the moment. That’s an ability that can improve with training.

The benefits of building focus

What are other practical implications of this knowledge? Recent behavioral research shows that practicing meditation trains various aspects of attention . Studies show that meditation training not only improves working memory and fluid intelligence , but even standardized test scores . 

It’s not surprising—this kind of repeated mental exercise is like going to the gym, only you’re building your brain instead of your muscles. And mind-wandering is like the weight you add to the barbell—you need some “resistance” to the capacity you’re trying to build. Without mind-wandering to derail your attempts to remain focused, how could you train the skills of watching your mind and controlling your attention?

In our study, we also wanted to look at the effects of lifetime meditation experience on brain activity. In agreement with a growing number of studies, we found that experience mattered—those who were more experienced meditators had different levels of brain activity in the relevant networks. This suggests that their brains may have changed due to repeated practice, a process called neuroplasticity. 

One brain area stood out in this analysis: the medial prefrontal cortex, a part of the default mode network that is particularly related to self-focused thoughts , which make up a good portion of mind-wandering content. It turns out that experienced meditators deactivated this region more quickly after identifying mind-wandering than people who hadn’t meditated as much—suggesting they might be better at releasing distracting thoughts, like a re-hash of a personal To Do list or some slight they suffered at work yesterday.

In a follow-up study, we found that these same participants had greater coherence between activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and brain areas that allow you to disengage attention . This means that the brain regions for attentional disengagement have greater access to the brain regions underlying the distraction, possibly making it easier to disengage. Other findings support this idea—more experienced meditators have increased connectivity between default mode and attention brain regions, and less default mode activity while meditating.

This might explain how it feels easier to “drop” thoughts as you become more experienced in meditation—and thus better able to focus. Thoughts become less sticky because your brain gets re-wired to be better at recognizing and disengaging from mind-wandering. And if you’ve ever struggled with rumination—re-living a negative experience over and over, or stressing (unproductively) about an upcoming event—you can appreciate how being able to let go of your thoughts could be a huge benefit. 

Indeed, the Killingsworth and Gilbert study I mentioned earlier found that when people’s minds were wandering, they tended to be less happy , presumably because our thoughts often tend towards negative rumination or stress. That’s why mindfulness meditation has become an increasingly important treatment of mental health difficulties like depression , anxiety , post-traumatic stress disorder , and even sexual dysfunction .

More on Mindfulness & Mind-Wandering

Learn more about how mind-wandering can make you unhappy

How mindful are you? Take our quiz!

Watch Jon Kabat-Zinn talk about mindfulness .

Reading all this might make you think that we’d be better off if we could live our lives in a constant state of laser-like, present moment focus. But a wandering mind isn’t all bad. Not only can we leverage it to build focus using FA meditation, but the capacity to project our mental stream out of the present and imagine scenarios that aren’t actually happening is hugely evolutionarily valuable, which may explain why it’s so prominent in our mental lives. These processes allow for creativity, planning, imagination, memory—capacities that are central not only to our survival, but also to the very essence of being human.

The key, I believe, is learning to become aware of these mental tendencies and to use them purposefully, rather than letting them take over. Meditation can help with that.

So don’t beat yourself up the next time you find yourself far away from where your mind was supposed to be. It’s the nature of the mind to wander. Use it as an opportunity to become more aware of your own mental experience. But you may still want to return to the present moment—so you can come up with an answer to that question everyone is waiting for.

About the Author

Wendy hasenkamp.

Wendy Hasenkamp, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist and Senior Scientific Officer at the Mind & Life Institute.

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7 ways to tame your wandering mind and achieve better focus

By Caroline Williams

17 May 2017

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Mind wandering has long been thought of as the enemy of concentration, but that’s not always true – the right kind of daydreaming can actually help you focus (see “How to daydream your way to better learning and concentration”) . Read on to discover how to take control of your wandering mind, and other simple ways to stay sharp when deadlines are looming.

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How to win at work

Make your work work better for you – from dealing with pesky colleagues to taking the perfect break and doing less for more money, 1. give your mind more to do.

Give your mind more to do: Research by Nilli Lavie at University College London has found that adding deliberate distractions – a jazzy border on a page or a bit of background noise – actually reduces distractibility . Her “load theory” proposes this works because attention is a limited resource, so if you fill all the attentional “slots” in your mind, it leaves no room for other distractions.

2. Bribe yourself

The prospect of a treat can keep people focused , but only when it is well-timed, studies show. Offering people small rewards throughout a boring task didn’t stop them from losing focus, but the promise of a larger reward that they would receive at the end of the task kept them alert. This approach probably works best with an accomplice to keep you from caving early, says Michael Esterman , at the Boston Attention and Learning Laboratory, who did the research. “It’s hard to fool yourself.”

Read more: State of unrest – Can fidgeting really help you concentrate?

3. test yourself.

We’re currently finding that there’s more than one way your mind can wander, and that knowing how to navigate your daydreams could save you come exam time. One trick is to make sure your mind is wandering about the stuff you need to learn . To do that, test yourself often. People retained more of a boring lecture if they paused to test what they remembered every 5 minutes. Their minds still wandered, but wandered on topic, rather than anything but .

4. Daydream during breaks

Stopping every now and again to give your mind a chance to wander can invigorate focus, says psychologist Paul Seli of Harvard University. “If you say to yourself, now I’m going to think about something unrelated, maybe problem-solve something else that is on your mind, and then come back to your task. That can definitely be beneficial,” he says.

5. De-stress

You might think that an adrenaline boost would focus the mind, but stress actually stimulates the release of hormones, including noradrenaline, which bind to receptors in the cognitive control circuits. This in turn makes it harder for them to keep tabs on mind wandering.

6. Get some zeds

A lack of sleep hammers mental performance in general, and reduces our ability to resist both internal and external distractions. And there’s an added bonus – sleep is also important for memory consolidation. In fact, recent research suggests that if you have an hour spare before an exam, a nap could be a more effective use of your time than spending it revising.

In one study, people forced to listen to a boring voice recording were able to remember more afterwards if they were allowed to doodle. But content is important. Doodling about something related to what you are trying to remember is more likely to qualify as intentional mind wandering, which can help you focus on the task at hand. Don’t be too elaborate, however – if your doodles become too engaging, the whole thing might backfire.

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your mind keeps wandering

  • Mental wellbeing

The science behind your wandering mind and what to do about it

Get the full scoop on the good, the bad and the not-so-ugly of zoning out.

Despite what your parents or teachers may have told you as a child, daydreaming , aka, when your mind wanders off task and into the wilderness of unrelated thoughts, good, bad and in-between, is not always a bad thing.

While until fairly recently neuroscientists thought that the electrical activity of the mind at rest was just neural background noise , it actually looks like all of that mental meandering likely serves a purpose.

In ancient times , being able to remember what happened in the past, and predict what might happen in the future probably helped our ancestors avoid catastrophe. And today this ability may be a major source of support and inspiration when it comes to creative problem solving and planning.

Is mind-wandering a default?

We all zone out far more than we’re probably willing to admit. In fact, according to a 2010 study , our minds wander around half (47%) the time we’re awake. And mind-wandering involves a system in our brains called the default mode network .

When your brain is at rest, but not asleep, i.e. not focused on anything in particular, your default mode network is at its most active.

This network consists of some important structures in the brain and although it’s known to be involved in things like thinking, it's deactivated when focussed on a specific task.

The default mode network is also active when you are thinking about yourself, about others, remembering the past or planning for the future, aka, letting your thoughts roam wild and free.

While some past studies have associated a wandering mind with a general decrease in mental wellbeing , more recent studies have demonstrated that daydreaming can improve performance on repetitive tasks , increase creativity, divergent thinking, and novel ideas and could even make some people feel happier as they indulge in pleasant, off-task musings to distract themselves.

Which means that letting your thoughts drift might actually help you reach a breakthrough or come to a new conclusion that changes your current project for the better. In fact, a study of writers and physicists indicated that while they came up with creative ideas on task too, the ideas they had while their minds were somewhere else (aka, not on the task at hand) were more likely to be associated with overcoming an impasse or having an "aha" moment.

This is why taking a break when you’re feeling blocked and doing something else (like going for a walk or recording your thoughts in Foundations ) can free the block and help you refocus.

Of course, your brain’s roaming isn’t always a good thing. When it leads to worry , overthinking , or worse still, rumination—things can quickly take a turn for the worse and ruin your mood (and your day).

A stressed woman (who's maybe ruminating) covers her eyes with her hands, as she sits in a chair upholstered with chevron fabric.

Ivan Aleksic via @ unsplash

Ruminating , a negative sort of mind-wandering where your mind keeps running off to the same negative place, again and again, can become intrusive and hard to reign in, especially when what we’re worrying about is something outside our control.

Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to replace your unhelpful thoughts and help you redirect your attention.

The not-so-ugly

And, as it turns out, daydreaming is a default behaviour , and our brains automatically do it whenever we’re not actively directing our attention elsewhere. But whether or not that default has a positive or negative influence on our wellbeing depends on where the mind tends to go.

Our brains are attracted to unresolved issues and can lean towards hope or worry, depending on the situation at hand, the person in question and their biological disposition and life experiences. Fortunately, we have a substantial amount of influence on how (and where) our minds wander. Read on for a few things you can do to help your mind wander in a more positive direction.

3 things you can do (when your mind wanders)

1. get mindful and meditate.

Mindfulness and meditation help us change how we relate to the present moment, and over time, the world and people around us. Compassionate meditation in particular (like the Loving-kindness meditation in Foundations ), can make for more positive mind-wandering. This sort of meditation can help people feel more caring towards themselves and others—both of which are tied to happiness.

Doing mindfulness meditations can also make it easier to redirect your thoughts in moments you need to concentrate, as part of the practice consists of noticing when your attention gets off track and gently directing it back to the present moment with a breath or a mantra. For more on mindfulness, read our post on evidence-based reasons to practise mindfulnes s.

2. Record your thoughts

Tame your unruly mind with this simple technique from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy . Make a regular habit of getting your thoughts down (on paper, or in your Foundations Thought record) and give your brain a break. It’s an excellent hack that can help shift your default .

Looking to learn more about this technique? Foundations' Challenge your thoughts program walks you through the basics.

3. Let your mind do what it wants

Instead of trying to force your brain to focus, give yourself a break. If your mind is wandering a lot, give yourself permission to take a few minutes off to see where it wants to go. Take five and let your thoughts go wherever they will.

And if mind-wandering is a recurring problem for you, try scheduling a regular time of day to give your thoughts free rein . Research shows that letting your focus move away from the task at hand helps relieve any boredom associated with concentrating for longer stretches and helps people return to what they’re doing with new ideas, feeling refreshed.

Do you get distracted while working and find your mind wandering ? Let us know at [email protected] .

A woman working at a table crowded with books looks away from her laptop screen.

It’s normal for your mind to wander. Here’s how to maximise the benefits

your mind keeps wandering

Psychology researcher, Bond University

your mind keeps wandering

Associate Professor in Psychology, Bond University

Disclosure statement

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Have you ever found yourself thinking about loved ones during a boring meeting? Or going over the plot of a movie you recently watched during a drive to the supermarket?

This is the cognitive phenomenon known as “ mind wandering ”. Research suggests it can account for up to 50% of our waking cognition (our mental processes when awake) in both western and non-western societies .

So what can help make this time productive and beneficial?

Mind wandering is not daydreaming

Mind wandering is often used interchangeably with daydreaming. They are both considered types of inattention but are not the same thing.

Mind wandering is related to a primary task, such as reading a book, listening to a lecture, or attending a meeting. The mind withdraws from that task and focuses on internally generated, unrelated thoughts.

On the other hand, daydreaming does not involve a primary, active task. For example, daydreaming would be thinking about an ex-partner while travelling on a bus and gazing out the window. Or lying in bed and thinking about what it might be like to go on a holiday overseas.

If you were driving the bus or making the bed and your thoughts diverted from the primary task, this would be classed as mind wandering.

A woman sits by a window gazing out onto trees outside.

The benefits of mind wandering

Mind wandering is believed to play an important role in generating new ideas , conclusions or insights (also known as “aha! moments”). This is because it can give your mind a break and free it up to think more creatively.

This type of creativity does not always have to be related to creative pursuits (such as writing a song or making an artwork). It could include a new way to approach a university or school assignment or a project at work. Another benefit of mind wandering is relief from boredom, providing the opportunity to mentally retreat from a monotonous task.

For example, someone who does not enjoy washing dishes could think about their upcoming weekend plans while doing the chore. In this instance, mind wandering assists in “passing the time” during an uninteresting task.

Mind wandering also tends to be future-oriented. This can provide an opportunity to reflect upon and plan future goals, big or small. For example, what steps do I need to take to get a job after graduation? Or, what am I going to make for dinner tomorrow?

A person washes a glass in a sink, with dirty dishes on the side.

Read more: Alpha, beta, theta: what are brain states and brain waves? And can we control them?

What are the risks?

Mind wandering is not always beneficial, however. It can mean you miss out on crucial information. For example, there could be disruptions in learning if a student engages in mind wandering during a lesson that covers exam details. Or an important building block for learning.

Some tasks also require a lot of concentration in order to be safe. If you’re thinking about a recent argument with a partner while driving, you run the risk of having an accident.

That being said, it can be more difficult for some people to control their mind wandering. For example, mind wandering is more prevalent in people with ADHD.

Read more: How your brain decides what to think

What can you do to maximise the benefits?

There are several things you can do to maximise the benefits of mind wandering.

  • be aware : awareness of mind wandering allows you to take note of and make use of any productive thoughts. Alternatively, if it is not a good time to mind wander it can help bring your attention back to the task at hand

A man writes in a diary.

context matters : try to keep mind wandering to non-demanding tasks rather than demanding tasks. Otherwise, mind wandering could be unproductive or unsafe. For example, try think about that big presentation during a car wash rather than when driving to and from the car wash

content matters : if possible, try to keep the content positive. Research has found , keeping your thoughts more positive, specific and concrete (and less about “you”), is associated with better wellbeing. For example, thinking about tasks to meet upcoming work deadlines could be more productive than ruminating about how you felt stressed or failed to meet past deadlines.

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How to Let Your Mind Wander

Research suggests that people with freely moving thoughts are happier. Easy, repetitive activities like walking can help get you in the right mindset.

your mind keeps wandering

By Malia Wollan

“Sometimes you just want to let your mind go free,” says Julia Kam, a cognitive neuroscientist who directs the Internal Attention Lab at the University of Calgary. Kam became interested in her subject 15 years ago as an undergraduate struggling with her own distracted thoughts during lectures. “I came into the field wanting to find a cure,” she says. But the deeper she got into research, the more she came to appreciate the freedom of an unfocused mind. “When your thoughts are just jumping from one topic to the next without an overarching theme or goal, that can be very liberating,” she says.

Researchers have found that people spend up to 50 percent of their time mind-wandering. Some internal thinking can be detrimental, especially the churning, ruminative sort often associated with depression and anxiety. Try instead to cultivate what psychologists call freely moving thoughts. Such nimble thinking might start with a yearning to see your grandmother, then careen to that feeling you get when looking down at clouds from an airplane, and then suddenly you’re pondering how deep you’d have to bore into the earth below your feet before you hit magma. Research suggests that people who do more of that type of mind-wandering are happier.

Facilitate unconstrained thinking by engaging in an easy, repetitive activity like walking; avoid it during riskier undertakings like driving. You’ll find it harder to go free-ranging if you’re myopically worried about something in your personal life, like an illness or an argument with a spouse.

For a recent study, Kam hooked subjects up for an electroencephalogram and then had them do a mundane task on a keyboard while periodically asking them about their thoughts. She was able to see, for the first time, a distinct neural marker for freely moving thoughts, which caused an increase in alpha waves in the brain’s frontal cortex. This is the same region where scientists see alpha waves in people doing creative problem-solving. We live in a culture that values work and productivity over almost everything else, but remember, your mind is yours. Make space to think in idle ways unrelated to tasks. “It can replenish you,” Kam says.

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A wandering mind isn't just a distraction. it may be your brain's default state..

Senior Writer, The Huffington Post

Mind-wandering bears similarities with the thinking processes underlying ADHD, anxiety and creativity.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a daydreamer, you probably spend a lot of time in a state of mental wandering ― it’s natural for your mind to drift away from the present moment when you’re in the shower, walking to work or doing the dishes.

In recent years, scientists have been paying a lot more attention to mind-wandering, an activity that takes up as much as 50 percent of our waking hours . Psychologists previously tended to view mind-wandering as largely useless, but an emerging body of research suggests that it is a natural and healthy part of our mental lives.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of California, Berkeley conducted a review of over 200 studies to highlight the relationship between mind-wandering ― often defined in psychological literature as “task-unrelated thought,” or TUT ― and the thinking processes involved in creativity and some mental illnesses, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression.

“Sometimes the mind moves freely from one idea to another, but at other times it keeps coming back to the same idea, drawn by some worry or emotion,” Dr. Kalina Christoff, lead study author and principal investigator of the Cognitive Neuroscience of Thought Laboratory at UBC, said in a statement.

“Understanding what makes thought free and what makes it constrained is crucial because it can help us understand how thoughts move in the minds of those diagnosed with mental illness,” she said.

The Role Of A Wandering Mind

Traditionally, mind-wandering has been defined as thinking that arises spontaneously, without relating to any sort of task or external input. But this definition is only a starting point: Without external focus, the researchers explain, the mind moves from one thought to another ― jumping between memories, imaginings, plans and goals.

This default “spontaneous mode” can be hemmed in in two ways: A person can deliberately turn their attention to a task, or, in the case of someone with a mental health issue, focus can happen because thoughts have gotten stuck on a persistent worry or pulled away by an environmental distraction.

On a neurological level, the brain’s default mode network ― a broad network that engages many different cognitive processes and regions on the internal surface of the brain ― activates when our minds wander. In contrast, when we focus our attention on a goal, plan or environmental stimulus, the part of the brain devoted to external attention is more active.

Specifically, the researchers pinpointed the memory and imaginative centers within the default mode network as being largely responsible for the variety of our spontaneous thoughts.

“You’re jumping around from one thing to another,” Zachary Irving, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Berkeley and study co-author who has ADHD, told The Huffington Post. “We think that’s the default state of these memory and imaginative structures.”

A Creative Mind Is A Wandering Mind

Creative thinking can be an extension of ordinary mind-wandering, the researchers explained, and a growing body of research has linked daydreaming with creativity . In highly creative people, psychologists have observed a tendency toward a variation on mind-wandering known as “ positive-constructive daydreaming ,” in which has also been associated with self-awareness, goal-oriented thinking and increased compassion.

The free play of thoughts that occurs in mind-wandering may enable us to think more flexibly and draw more liberally upon our vast internal reservoir of memories, feelings and images in order to create new and unusual connections.

“Mind-wandering in the sense of the mind moving freely from one idea to another has huge benefits in terms of arriving at new ideas,” Christoff said. “It’s by virtue of free movement that we generate new ideas, and that’s where creativity lies.”

This chart presents a visualization of different types of thinking, including variations of spontaneous thought.

What Mind-Wandering Can Tell Us About Mental Illness

This type of mental activity can provide an important window into the thinking patterns that underly psychological disorders involving alterations in spontaneous thought.

The mind of someone with ADHD, for example, wanders more widely and frequently than that of an average individual. In someone with anxiety and depression, the mind has an unusually strong tendency to get stuck on a particular worry or negative thought.

“Disorders like ADHD and anxiety and depression aren’t totally disconnected from what normally goes on in the mind,” Irving said. “There’s this ordinary ebb and flow of thoughts, where you’re moving from mind-wandering to sticky thoughts to goal-directed thoughts. ... We think of these disorders as exaggerated versions of those sorts of ordinary thoughts.”

So despite what your elementary school teachers may have told you, it’s perfectly fine to let your thoughts wander every once in a while. But if you find your mind wandering too much or getting stuck on negative thoughts, it may be time to seek help.

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your mind keeps wandering

A wandering mind

Here at Headspace, we frequently get messages from our users asking for help with one issue in particular: "My mind keeps wandering, no matter how much I practice. Why isn't this getting better?"

It’s an understandable question, particularly given most people’s belief that meditation is about achieving an elusive state of a totally clear, thoughtless mind. The thing is, a wandering mind is a human mind. And the roots of this lie in the evolutionary advantage it gave us as a species – one shared by no other species on the planet. You see, when our cognitive ability developed to the point where we could abstract our thoughts away from the present moment, we became able to anticipate future dangers and take preemptive steps to avoid them. At the same time we also developed the facility to be able to recall the past and learn from our previous experiences. There are structures in the brain which automatically check incoming information, comparing it to similar situations that we’ve experienced in the past, and prime us to optimize the current outcome by giving us a ‘gut feeling’ for what we should do. So far, so top of the evolutionary tree!

But what happens when the impending dangers that this cognitive ability evolved to handle (sabre-toothed tigers, unrecognized berries, extremes of weather when all you have for clothes are an animal pelt loin cloth) are no longer ever-present life threats? You know the answer: worrying about what you said in that meeting yesterday, imagining how the party next week is going to be a complete disaster, and so on. And our minds will go there again and again and again... usually focusing on the potential negative outcomes. This saved our lives for thousands of years! But, mindfulness isn’t about stopping these unique and remarkable cognitive processes through sheer force of will – that would be to vastly underestimate the power of our instincts. What mindfulness teaches you to do is spot when your mind has wandered off down one path or another, and be able to bring it back to the here and now. The more you practice doing this, the quicker you’ll notice when it’s wandered, and the easier it will become to get back to experiencing the present moment. The quicker you spot when your mind has wandered, the greater proportion of your time you’ll spend actually in the here and now, not because your mind wanders any less frequently, but just because you spend less time lost in the thoughts. And that’s what you’re aiming for. So, when your mind keeps wandering, don’t beat yourself up about not seeing any improvement – you are improving, precisely because you’re noticing that it’s happening. You’ve already taken the first step on the journey to a healthier happier life.

Be kind to your mind

  • Put your mind to bed with sleep sounds, music, and wind-down exercises
  • Make mindfulness a part of your daily routine with tension-releasing workouts, relaxing yoga, Focus music playlists, and more

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20 Tips To Stop Your Mind From Wandering and Overthinking

your mind keeps wandering

The researchers used a smartphone app to ask people at random intervals throughout the day when they were thinking about. Psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert discovered that people’s level of happiness declined shortly after they reported that their minds had wandered, rather than a lower level of happiness preceding the mind wandering. This may imply that when we become distracted from our present circumstance, we contribute to our unhappiness.

How often are you truly entirely immersed in the current moment, letting your mind take a rest from overthinking? Or are you worrying about the past, anxious about the future, or caught up in a fantasy world?

Often we can find ourselves re-running a conversation we had earlier today, last week, or even last year. “Why did he say that? What a fool I made of myself! She must think I’m an idiot!”

Or perhaps we worry about what might happen in that meeting at work tomorrow, a party this weekend, or getting our taxes done. “How will my presentation go? What if my ex shows up at the party? What if I miss a deduction on my taxes?”

We spin our wheels, knowing in our gut that analysis can lead to paralysis, but still unable to stop our whirling thoughts.

Some suggestions to combat mental wandering and overthinking:

  • Ask yourself: “Is this a productive thought?” Will yet another mental rehearsal of your upcoming meeting with your boss really help you? Or is it time to trust that you’re sufficiently prepared, and now your best bet is to trust your instincts? Keep in mind that when we can relax a bit that we can most easily access our intuition.
  • Put things into perspective. Will this situation you’re turning over in your mind matter in five years? Or are you blowing things out of proportion?
  • Know your body rhythm and schedule your activities accordingly. Some of us are morning larks, while others are night owls. Which are you? When do you tend to be at your best physically, emotionally, and mentally? (The time frames may vary for each of these three elements.) If you focus best in the morning, try to use this time to tackle challenging projects that might seem overwhelming later in the day. If you’re at the top of your game mentally in the evening, plan to take on important conversations or assignments at this time, when you’re mostly likely to be effective. One advantage to completing matters in the morning is that you can then go about the rest of your day with a sense of accomplishment (or relief), but you’ll need to balance this with what works best for your personal time clock.
  • Focus on your five senses. What can you hear, see, taste, smell, and touch right now? Such attention can help bring you back into the present moment.
  • Surrender the need to be perfect or omnipotent. There is no magical finish line which you will cross where you are “done” and have nothing more to learn. We are not meant to be perfect. We are continually growing and changing. We never know all of the facts – instead, we do the best we can with the information at hand. Just do your best each day, then let the matter go.
  • Accept that you cannot change the past. Maybe things didn’t turn out the way you wanted them to, or maybe you made a mistake – extract what possible lesson you can learn from the experience, then move on. Don’t let your past crowd out the present in your mind.
  • Accept that you cannot predict nor control the future. It’s a pretty safe bet, though, that worrying about the future will rob you of fully appreciating and living in the present moment.
  • Exercise. Take a walk around the block or down the hall, go out for a run or a bike ride, or lift some weights. Moving your body will help to generate endorphins (feel-good hormones), work off any possible anxiety, and clear your mind.
  • Accept that you don’t have to understand everything. You don’t always have to know why you have habitually done something in order to change your behavior. While a bit of contemplation can be helpful, overthinking can be an excuse not to take potentially uncomfortable (but effective) action.
  • Repeat phrases to center and calm yourself , such as I can deal with this; Relax; Be here now; One moment at a time; I am safe. Or just mentally count to ten, exhaling “one”, “two”, “three”, etc.
  • Do only one thing at a time. Multi-tasking can contribute to the flurry in our minds. Sitting and being mindful is not always possible. However, you can practice putting all of your attention on just one thing. This in itself would probably be a significant change, as most of us usually do several things at one time. How often have you simultaneously been on the phone while also racing down the freeway, preparing a meal, or surfing the Web? It’s impossible to focus 100% on one thing when you’re juggling various activities at the same time. Instead, you end up dividing your attention between multiple items, and this can result in information overload, which is a recipe for anxiety (and overthinking).
  • Acknowledge the problem, but focus more on the solution. Consider, “What is the best thing that can happen?”, rather than worrying about what might go wrong.
  • Consider what you’re depriving yourself of by fantasizing and overthinking. What ah-ha moments, synchronicities, or appreciation of the present are you missing out on? Is it worth it?
  • Consider what you might have to feel if you stopped overthinking. Is it possible that your constant mental gymnastics distract you from uncomfortable feelings or realizations? If this is the case, understand that you’ve been trying to protect yourself, but also recognize that any possible benefits of using this method do not outweigh the drawbacks.
  • Ask yourself, “What is within my control? What isn’t?” Focus on what you can influence. Items you can do something about include your attitudes, behavior, and choices. Yes, you can communicate your feelings and wishes regarding other people’s attitudes, behavior, and choices, but ultimately other people are free to do what they want. (You can choose to leave the relationship, though, if things don’t improve.) You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it. You can’t predict the future, but you can prepare for it in moderation, while spending the majority of your time staying mentally and emotionally in the present.
  • Compartmentalize worry time. If you’ve determined that the situation you’ve been mulling over really deserves a lot of thought, make an appointment with yourself to worry. Set a timer at the scheduled time, say for 15 or 30 minutes. During this appointment, “worry” single-mindedly about the issue. Make notes, if that helps you. Tear up your notes, if you wish. When the timer goes off, your worry time is over. If need be, plan another appointment for the next day or week, but in the meanwhile, let the worry go. You’re likely to learn that the world won’t come to an end.
  • Practice mindfulness , defined as nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. Such training can be offered in both group and individual settings. Practice observing your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations while maintaining the stance of an observer. In time, you will learn that stimuli from the outside world as well as from within you need not set you off into overthinking or mentally exiting the moment.
  • Practice deep abdominal breathing. Doing so will promote a relaxation response while also anchoring you in the present moment.
  • Take a class in improvisation . You don’t have to be a professional actor to benefit from the spontaneity and creativity that improv exercises can teach you. With improv, there is no such thing as failure, and you simply don’t have time to overthink something – your responses must be instantaneous.
  • Help someone else. Turning our thoughts and attention to another person or cause can often be the most effective way of getting our mind off our own issues and back into the “now”.

Filed Under: Anxiety , Emotion Regulation , General , Mental Health , Mindfulness Tagged With: mindfulness , overthinking , worry

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Nora Bradford

This Is What Your Brain Does When You’re Not Doing Anything

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The original version of this story appeared in Quanta Magazine .

Whenever you’re actively performing a task—say, lifting weights at the gym or taking a hard exam—the parts of your brain required to carry it out become “active” when neurons step up their electrical activity. But is your brain active even when you’re zoning out on the couch?

The answer, researchers have found, is yes. Over the past two decades they’ve defined what’s known as the default mode network, a collection of seemingly unrelated areas of the brain that activate when you’re not doing much at all. Its discovery has offered insights into how the brain functions outside of well-defined tasks and has also prompted research into the role of brain networks—not just brain regions—in managing our internal experience.

In the late 20th century, neuroscientists began using new techniques to take images of people’s brains as they performed tasks in scanning machines. As expected, activity in certain brain areas increased during tasks—and to the researchers’ surprise, activity in other brain areas declined simultaneously. The neuroscientists were intrigued that during a wide variety of tasks, the very same brain areas consistently dialed back their activity.

It was as if these areas had been active when the person wasn’t doing anything, and then turned off when the mind had to concentrate on something external.

Researchers called these areas “task negative.” When they were first identified, Marcus Raichle , a neurologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, suspected that these task-negative areas play an important role in the resting mind. “This raised the question of ‘What’s baseline brain activity?’” Raichle recalled. In an experiment, he asked people in scanners to close their eyes and simply let their minds wander while he measured their brain activity.

He found that during rest, when we turn mentally inward, task-negative areas use more energy than the rest of the brain. In a 2001 paper, he dubbed this activity “ a default mode of brain function .” Two years later, after generating higher-resolution data, a team from the Stanford University School of Medicine discovered that this task-negative activity defines a coherent network of interacting brain regions, which they called the default mode network .

The discovery of the default mode network ignited curiosity among neuroscientists about what the brain is doing in the absence of an outward-focused task. Although some researchers believed that the network’s main function was to generate our experience of mind wandering or daydreaming, there were plenty of other conjectures. Maybe it controlled streams of consciousness or activated memories of past experiences. And dysfunction in the default mode network was floated as a potential feature of nearly every psychiatric and neurological disorder, including depression, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Since then, a flurry of research into the default mode has complicated that initial understanding. “It’s been very interesting to see the types of different tasks and paradigms that engage the default mode network in the past 20 years,” said Lucina Uddin , a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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The default mode was one of the first brain networks characterized by science. It consists of a handful of brain regions, including a few at the front of the brain, like the dorsal and ventral medial prefrontal cortices, and others scattered throughout the organ, like the posterior cingulate cortex, the precuneus, and the angular gyrus. These regions are associated with memory, experience replay, prediction, action consideration, reward/punishment, and information integration. (The colored highlighting in the following figure indicates some of the outer brain areas that become more active when the default network engages.)

brain

Since its discovery, neuroscientists have loosely identified a handful of additional distinct networks that each activate seemingly disparate areas of the brain. These activated areas don’t act independently, but rather harmonize in synchrony with each other. “You can’t think about a symphony orchestra as just the violins or the oboes,” Raichle said. Similarly, in a brain network, the individual parts interact to bring about effects that they can only produce together.

According to research, the effects of the default mode network include mind wandering, remembering past experiences, thinking about others’ mental states, envisioning the future and processing language. While this may seem like a grab bag of unrelated aspects of cognition, Vinod Menon , the director of the Stanford Cognitive & Systems Neuroscience Laboratory, recently theorized that all of these functions may be helpful in constructing an internal narrative . In his view, the default mode network helps you think about who you are in relation to others, recall your past experiences and then wrap up all of that into a coherent self-narrative.

Marcus Raichle

The default mode is clearly up to something complicated; it’s involved in many different processes that can’t be neatly described. “It’s kind of silly to think that we’re ever going to be like, ‘This one brain region or one brain network does one thing,’” Uddin said. “I don’t think that’s how it works.”

Uddin began investigating the default mode network because she was interested in self-recognition, and many self-recognition tasks, such as identifying your own face or voice, appeared to be associated with the network. In recent years, she has shifted her attention to interactions between brain networks. Just as different brain areas interact with each other to form networks, different networks interact with each other in meaningful ways, Uddin said. “Network interactions are more elucidating to study in some ways than just a network in isolation because they do work together and then come apart and then change what they’re doing over time.”

Lucina Uddin

The neuroscientist Lucina Uddin investigates how different brain networks, including the default mode network, interact.

She’s particularly interested in how the default mode network interacts with the salience network , which seems to help us identify the most relevant piece of information at any given time. Her work suggests that the salience network detects when something is important to pay attention to and then acts as an off switch for the default mode network.

Researchers have also been examining whether mental health disorders like depression could be linked to problems with the default mode network. So far, the findings have been inconclusive. In people with depression, for example, some researchers have found that network nodes are overly connected, while others have found the opposite—that nodes are failing to connect. And in some studies, the default mode network itself isn’t abnormal, but its interactions with other networks are. These findings may appear incompatible, but they align with recent findings that depression is perhaps a cluster of different disorders that present with similar symptoms.

Meanwhile, Menon has developed what he calls the triple network theory . It posits that abnormal interactions between the default mode network, the salience network, and a third one called the frontoparietal network could contribute to mental health disorders including schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, dementia, and autism. Typically, the activity of the default mode network decreases when someone is paying attention to an external stimulus, while activity in the two other networks increases. This push and pull between networks may not work the same way in people with psychiatric or developmental disorders, Menon suspects.

Deanna Barch , who studies the neurobiology of mental illnesses at Washington University in St. Louis, is intrigued by the triple network theory. Investigating how networks are wired up differently in people with mental health disorders can help researchers find underlying mechanisms and develop treatments, she said. However, she doesn’t think network interactions alone will fully explain mental illness. “I think of understanding connectivity differences as a starting point,” Barch said. “It’s not an endpoint.”

The current understanding of the default mode network is surely not its endpoint, either. Since its discovery, it has pushed neuroscientists to think beyond the responsibilities of single brain regions to the effects of interactions between brain networks. And it’s driven many people to appreciate the inward-focused activities of the mind—that even when we’re daydreaming or at rest, our brain is hard at work making it happen.

Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine , an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

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Why Your Mind Wanders While Reading & How To Stop It

why your mind wanders when reading and how to stop it

This post contains affiliate links.

You’re reading a new book and after a few pages in you completely forgot what you just read. Turns out, your mind was wandering while you were reading. Sounds familiar? As an avid reader, I’ve had plenty of experiences like this and have found a way to live with it which I’m going to share with you.

Your mind wanders likely because you have a short attention span. By listening to music that is 50-80 bpm, incorporating rest breaks, and breaking the reading materials into sections, my mind wandered less and I was able to focus more on what I’m reading.

Ahead, we will look at some of the most common reasons why your mind wanders. We will also look at some strategies you can use to stop your mind from wandering while reading.

Why Your Mind Wanders While You’re Reading

Wondering what causes your mind to wander while you’re reading a book? Here are some of the most common reasons.

You’re Processing Too Much Information at Once

One reason why your mind might wander while you’re reading is that you’re trying to process too much information at once.

When you’re bombarded with a lot of information, your brain has trouble focusing on any of it.

To avoid this, try to break down the material into smaller chunks. For example, if you’re reading a chapter in a book, read one section at a time and then understand it.

Some books split a chapter into sections which makes it so much easier to read.

Or if you’re reading an article online, read one section at a time and then scroll down to the next section.

The Book Bores You

Another reason why your mind might wander while you’re reading is that you’re bored. If you find yourself zoning out or daydreaming, it’s likely because the material isn’t interesting to you.

If you’ve been reading a lot, you probably experienced this at least once.

I have multiple times. And even though The Intelligent Investor is considered by Warren Buffet as the best investing book of all time, I just can’t read it without my mind wandering.

You’re Reading In A Busy Environment

If you’re trying to read in a place where there are a lot of distractions, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to focus.

Your mind will wander because it’s constantly trying to process all of the different stimuli around you.

You Have A Short Attention Span

If you find that your mind wanders often, it could be because you have a short attention span.

There are several “tricks” that could boost your attention span a bit longer which we will talk about in the next subheading.

But ultimately, if you have a short attention span consider practicing meditation daily.

And since most of us have a short attention span (according to a study, our attention dropped from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to just 8 seconds today . Yikes! ), it’d probably help a lot if we could just get the key insights of the book and apply them to our lives.

Luckily, you can do that now.

Blinkist is an educational program that gives you the key insights into more than 5,000 nonfiction book titles in 15 to 20 mins each.

That way, you can skip through the fluff, get the information you need while you’re attention is full, and move on to the next book.

If you like what it does, you can save 20% off your first year if you sign up through this link .

You Read Too Slow

Jim Kwik, the author of Limitless , has a very good analogy for this.

Reading a book is like driving a car. If you drive slow, your mind wanders. You can sing along to your favorite music, drink some smoothies, or talk to your best bud.

But what if you’re driving on a race track? Suddenly, you’re in hyperfocus on the road.

His argument was, that it’s the same for reading. And frankly, for some books, I kinda agree.

Speed reading is a great tool to have when you’re an avid reader. And if you’re wondering why you read too slow, I listed the most common reasons in another article.

Related post: Can You Really Learn To Read Faster? (Based on Experience)

How To Stop Your Mind From Wandering

Now that we’ve looked at some of the reasons why your mind wanders while you’re reading, let’s look at some strategies you can use to stop it.

Find More Engaging Material

If you find that your mind wanders often, one of the best things you can do is to find more engaging material.

You can also try looking for material that’s more interesting to you. This could mean reading a book that’s more exciting or finding articles online that are better written.

Try Listening To Music

In the book Limitless , Jim Kwik shared a very simple tip to focus better—listening to music.

Studies have shown that listening to music with a beat of 50-80 bpm can help you focus.

Baroque music seems to be better at stimulating your brain to focus compared to other types of music.

But, if you can’t stand the sound of classics, stick to music without any lyrics on them to prevent your mind from singing along.

Take Breaks

You can also try taking breaks every 20 minutes or so. This will give your mind a chance to rest and reset.

There’s a method I use called the Promodoro and it has changed the way I read dramatically.

Basically, Promodoro is alternate bouts of 25 work (in this case, reading) and 5 mins rest.

I found that I am able to read the book faster and retain more information by reading that way.

During the rest, do absolutely nothing or just do something that relaxes you.

Don’t scroll through your Facebook or Instagram feed.

In my experience, the content from these platforms often leads me to mental wandering, and distraction. And in some cases, I’d even skip my next bout of 25 mins work just to continue scrolling.

Find A Quiet Place

Find a quiet place where you can focus on your reading. This could be in a library, in your bedroom, or even in a park.

The key is to find a place where you won’t be interrupted and where there aren’t a lot of distractions.

Eliminate Distractions

Eliminate as many distractions as possible. This means putting away your phone, turning off the TV, and closing any tabs that you’re not using.

The goal is to create an environment where you can focus solely on your reading.

Practice Meditation

If you find that your mind wanders often, it could be because you have a short attention span. One way to increase your attention span is to practice meditation.

Meditation has been shown to increase focus and concentration. It also helps to train your mind to be more present.

Start by meditating for 5 minutes a day and then gradually increase the amount of time you meditate each day.

How Can You Tell When Your Mind Has Wandered Off?

There are a few telltale signs that your mind has wandered off when reading.

First, you may find that you’re losing track of what you’re reading. You might have to reread the same section multiple times or have trouble following the plot.

Secondly, you may start daydreaming or thinking about other things. This can be a sign that you’re not engaged with the material.

Finally, you may feel restless or antsy. If you can’t sit still while you’re reading, it’s likely because your mind is wandering.

If you notice any of these signs, it’s a good idea to take a break and refocus your attention.

Is There A Way To Completely Stop Your Mind From Wandering While You Read?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to completely prevent your mind from wandering while you read. However, the strategies I discussed above can help you minimize the amount of time your mind spends wandering.

The key is to find what works for you and to be patient. It takes time and practice to train your mind to focus. But, if you stick with it, you’ll eventually get there.

If you find your mind wandering while you’re reading, don’t worry. It’s completely normal. However, there are a few things you can do to minimize the amount of time your mind spends wandering.

Try finding more engaging material, listening to music, taking breaks, practicing meditation, or eliminating distractions. Find what works for you and stick with it. With time and practice, you’ll be able to train your mind to focus.

your mind keeps wandering

Nicho Mauricio is the main author of improvementbuddy.com, a website dedicated to giving self-improvement advice. As an avid learner, Nicho shares what he learns about self-improvement one blog post at a time.

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Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D.

How to Stop Your Mind From Wandering During Meditation

Active meditation can prevent intrusive thoughts from sabotaging your practice..

Posted March 27, 2018 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader

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The virtues of meditation and mindfulness are being extolled almost everywhere. Research has shown the practice of meditation can have positive benefits on emotional well-being and physical health and has been indicated for managing serious conditions such as depression , anxiety , heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep problems, and chronic pain . Getting people to try meditation, however, can sometimes be a challenge, particularly for people who have very active minds. They will often say things like: I just can’t sit still. Meditating makes me anxious. I can’t turn off my brain. I’m just bad at it.

Most meditation teachers will tell you that having your mind wander during meditation is perfectly normal and that bringing your attention back to your meditation every time you notice it wandering is simply part of the process. While mind-wandering is indeed quite normal for beginning meditators and even some experienced ones, it can be very frustrating and can result in people giving up before they get to experience the benefits of meditation that they are seeking. There are also times when stopping certain thoughts is the goal of the practice itself. This is particularly true if you are caught up in a spiral of negative thinking and would like to use meditation to alleviate the ruminative process. When you stop flooding your brain with fear and worry about the future or resentments from the past, this has a profoundly positive effect of resetting your emotional state to calm and peaceful. Luckily, there is something you can do to substantially reduce your mind from wandering. It’s called active meditation or focused meditation.

The brain has a limited attentional capacity. This means that you can only think about a certain number of things at any one given time. One of the challenges with meditation is that as you are clearing your mind, you are creating an open space that wants to be filled. Sometimes when people are coping with stressful events, they turn to meditation to calm their mind and find that their mind floods with even more thoughts of what they are trying not to think about. Active meditation helps this problem by giving you a task to do that takes up all of your attention and occupies its working capacity, so that there is much less room for other thoughts to creep in.

Here is an example of an active meditation:

  • Pick one word from the list below that describes an emotion you would like to feel more of: Joy, Love, Happy, Peace, Calm, Hope .
  • Close your eyes and visualize the word in your head.
  • Pick a color that goes with the word and visualize the word in that color.
  • Fill the background with another color.
  • Now, with your eyes closed and writing in your head, write the word one letter at a time.
  • As you are writing the word, say the letters quietly to yourself in your head.
  • Write the colored word on the colored background over and over in your head while you say the letters quietly to yourself.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes and keep doing the exercise until the timer goes off.

If you find it challenging to do all the steps at once, do as many as possible to take up all of your focus. Most people report the activity fills their mind so that they have few intrusive thoughts, but if your mind does wander, don’t judge yourself or label yourself as doing it wrong, simply go back to the activity and focus on the vividness of the colors and seeing the word in your head. You can also add in more steps if you need to occupy more of your attention. For example, you can add the step of trying to feel the emotion of the word as you are writing it in your head.

Once you have done an active meditation a few times, you may find it easier to try a more traditional mind-clearing meditation. There are wonderful benefits to both, though in order to experience the benefits you must practice on a regular basis. Once a week won’t get you there, but 10 minutes a day is enough to start to feel the benefit in a matter of a few days. You should subtly start to notice you feel calmer and less stressed; within a week or two things that used to upset you may not bother you so much anymore. You will feel greater clarity in your thinking and ability to focus.

To add a meditation practice into your routine, it is best to set aside a regular time to do it every day. First thing in the morning is a great way to start your day off on a positive note; however, for some, mid-day is a time that offers a needed break, and right before bed can have a calming effect. You can also break it up into small brief meditations throughout the day, three to four minutes in the morning, three to four minutes mid-day, and three to four minutes in the evening can really add up. What is most important to know is that there isn’t a wrong way to meditate, it’s a matter of finding what works best for you.

Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D.

Jennice Vilhauer, Ph.D. , is the Director of Emory University’s Adult Outpatient Psychotherapy Program in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science in the School of Medicine.

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Does Your Mind Wander when You Need to Focus It?

You are busy with your work, reading, or listening to a lecture when you suddenly realize that your attention has wandered to other matters.

You have forgotten what you were doing and started daydreaming.

Instead of focusing on your work, on the book, or on the words of the lecturer, you were lost in a reverie about something else completely unrelated to what you were doing.

You sit at your desk at work, at a meeting, or in a classroom while your mind is miles away, busy with other things. Suddenly, you realize that someone has asked you a question. You see him or her staring at you, but you don’t know what the question is. This could be embarrassing.

I am sure you are familiar with such situations. This often happens to most people. The mind just wanders away.

Focus Your Attention

Learn How to Focus Your Attention

This happens when there is lack of focus .

The strange thing is you don’t even recall when your mind became distracted and for how long.

This happens to everyone, and sometimes, even in situations where it could be risky to lose attention, such as while driving.

Losing attention and allowing the mind to wander is quite a common daily occurrence. This happens at all ages and to all people.

Losing attention often occurs when you are bored, tired, or when doing something you don’t like doing.

It is of vital importance to keep alert and attentive and focus on what you are doing, especially in risky situations or in situations where attention is crucial.

When Do You Lose Your Attention and Your Mind Wanders Away?

When does your mind wander?

  • If you don’t like your work, your attention might frequently wander to other matters.
  • You might find yourself thinking about your last vacation or your upcoming vacation.
  • At times, you might start thinking about the party tomorrow or the movie you have seen yesterday.
  • You might think about something that someone said, which made you angry.
  • You might worry about all kinds of matters.
  • Often, you listen to conversations that are going on around you, watch what people are doing, or just think about unimportant and irrelevant matters.
  • The mind also tend to ruminate when you have worries and problems.

Losing your attention could be risky, if you are a driver or works with machinery. It could lead to mistakes and errors and to inefficiency in every kind of work.

It is less likely for the mind to wander, when you are busy with something that you love doing or are excited about.

The excitement, joy and interest do not allow your mind to wander away and keep it fixed on what you are doing.

This is most obvious with children playing a game that they like.

Children become engrossed in their game and become oblivious of everything else, but long as it interests them. However.

However, when they become bored and lose interest, their attention immediately wanders away to something else and they stop focusing on the game.

This brings us to the idea that you need to find interest in what you are doing, even if it is most boring and uninteresting.

It would be helpful if you think about the benefits you will gain from any activity or task. This will awaken some motivation, which would help you concentrate better on the task.

Another trick to help you is to give your activity or task a specific time frame. When you know that you are going be busy with a certain activity or task for a certain number of minutes, the time would pass more quickly, with less boredom and more focus.

Experiment with Attention Control

Let’s make an experiment controlling the attention.

1. Sit down comfortably in a quiet place.

2. Look at the square below, and focus your attention on it for about two minutes. Be careful not to strain your eyes. Blink, if you feel you need to.

3. Focus o on the square, and try not to think of anything else.

4. You can set an alarm clock to ring after two minutes.

Now, after you finished, I would like to ask you two questions.

  • What happened while you tried to focus your attention on the square?
  • Were you able to hold your attention steady? Probably not!

Your attention wandered to other thoughts, probably just a few seconds after you started to try to focus it. Then, you realized that you were not directing your attention to the square, and brought it back. This perhaps happened quite a few times.

This exercise proves how easily the mind wanders away. I am sure you realize by now, how important it is to be able to focus your attention on what you are doing.

You might say that you enjoy daydreaming and you enjoy when your mind wanders away. It is a sort of escape from a boring job or a boring task or a vacation.

It is a way to escape what you do not like. Actually, I am inclined to believe that a great percentage of people daydream part of the time at work, especially when doing some kind of automatic activity that does nor require much attention.

The mind likes to wander to something more pleasant and enjoyable than what you are doing at the moment, but it can equally, wander to negative thinking, worries and problems.

Developing the Ability to Control Your Mind

It would be most useful to develop the skill to control the attention.

  • This would increase your attention span and puts you in a better position to do a good job, and therefore, get a promotion.
  • With a well-developed ability, there is less likelihood of making mistakes at work.
  • You finish tasks in a shorter span of time.
  • At a lecture, you will not miss anything.
  • While driving, you will be more attentive of the road and how you are driving.
  • When with friends, at a meeting ,or with customers, you will not miss what’s going on, and would always be aware of what people are saying or asking.
  • This ability is also useful, when you meditate, helping you to focus and to clear your mind of unessential thoughts.

When you have more control of your attention , you avoid being absent-minded and thinking about other matters, in places and times when you should be alert and attentive.

4 Simple Tips to Stop the Wandering of the Mind

  • Try to be aware of the thoughts that pass through your mind. This would help you become aware when your mind is starting to wander, and therefore, be in the position of bringing it back more easily.
  • Try to focus on what you are doing. Don’t do one thing, while at the same time thinking of something else.
  • When you are busy with something, and an important thought pops up into your mind, write it down on a piece of paper, so that you would return to it later.
  • If you are tired or bored at work, while studying, or at any other times, stop what you are doing for a few moments, stretch your body, and take a few deep breaths.
  • When your mind wanders away to other matters, stop and ask yourself, “What can I do to make what I am doing more interesting?”
  • Have enough rest and sleep and exercise your body. This would give you more energy to stay alert.

In my book, Focus Your Attention , I have covered this issue and provided guidance and exercises to focus the atention.

This book teaches how to improve the concentration and how to focus on what you are doing. You will find in this book guidance, tips and simple exercises to improve your concentration, which will help you stop your mind from wandering away when you need to focus it.

Image source – DepositPhotos

About the Author

Remez Sasson

Join him on a fabulous journey to self-improvement, success, positivity, inner peace, and meditation through his website, articles, and books .

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IMAGES

  1. The Case of the Wandering Mind and How to Solve It

    your mind keeps wandering

  2. Mind Wandering Offers Countless Enriching Benefits

    your mind keeps wandering

  3. Mind Wandering: How It Helps and Harms Learning

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  4. New study to probe the secrets of mind wandering

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  5. Why Do Our Minds Wander?

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  6. The Wandering Mind: How the Brain Allows Us to Mentally Wander Off to

    your mind keeps wandering

COMMENTS

  1. How to tame a wandering mind: 12 ways to refocus your mind

    Physical activity, like a short walk or shaking out your arms and legs in between meetings, can interrupt the cycle of mind wandering and re-energize your focus. 💙 If the mind is wandering, try bringing it back to the present moment through movement. Check out Mindful Movement with Mel Mah. 7. Use grounding exercises.

  2. How to Tame Your Wandering Mind

    Find counselling to help with ADHD. The first step to mastering mind-wandering is to plan time for it. Use a schedule maker and block off time in your day to let your thoughts flow freely. You ...

  3. 3 Ways to Stop Your Mind from Wandering

    Download Article. 1. Slow down your breathing to occupy your mind. Concentrate your thoughts on controlling your breathing to bring your mind into sync with your body in the present moment. [1] Breathe in slowly while you count to 4-7, then breathe out slowly and count to 4-7 again, for example.

  4. How to Refocus a Wandering Mind (15 Practical Solutions)

    6. Use the "Just 5 Minutes" Method. Use the excuse of working for "only 5 minutes," after which you can stop. You'll notice that the assignment seems much simpler to complete. Similar to the "stupid easy" technique, this deceives your brain into believing a task requires less effort than it actually does.

  5. How to Focus a Wandering Mind

    Ironically, mind-wandering itself can help strengthen our ability to focus, if leveraged properly. This can be achieved using an age-old skill: meditation. Indeed, a new wave of research reveals what happens in our brains when our minds wander—and sheds light on the host of cognitive and emotional benefits that come with increased focus.

  6. 7 ways to tame your wandering mind and achieve better focus

    De-stress. You might think that an adrenaline boost would focus the mind, but stress actually stimulates the release of hormones, including noradrenaline, which bind to receptors in the cognitive ...

  7. The science behind your wandering mind and what to do about it

    3. Let your mind do what it wants. Instead of trying to force your brain to focus, give yourself a break. If your mind is wandering a lot, give yourself permission to take a few minutes off to see where it wants to go. Take five and let your thoughts go wherever they will. And if mind-wandering is a recurring problem for you, try scheduling a ...

  8. It's normal for your mind to wander. Here's how to maximise the benefits

    Try and take note of things your realise when your mind wanders. Ketut Subiyanto/ Pexels , CC BY context matters : try to keep mind wandering to non-demanding tasks rather than demanding tasks.

  9. Why Our Minds Wander

    Perhaps the trick with our minds, as with many other things in life, is balance: There is a time for focus and a time for mind-wandering. We can control, to some extent, when our minds wander, and ...

  10. How to Let Your Mind Wander

    Research suggests that people with freely moving thoughts are happier. Easy, repetitive activities like walking can help get you in the right mindset. "Sometimes you just want to let your mind ...

  11. A Wandering Mind Isn't Just A Distraction. It May Be Your Brain's

    In someone with anxiety and depression, the mind has an unusually strong tendency to get stuck on a particular worry or negative thought. "Disorders like ADHD and anxiety and depression aren't totally disconnected from what normally goes on in the mind," Irving said. "There's this ordinary ebb and flow of thoughts, where you're ...

  12. How Mind-Wandering Can Improve Your Thinking And Well-Being

    Try the following: 1. Give yourself permission to have downtime so your mind can wander. To think new, expansive thoughts, you need to rest your prefrontal cortex, the brain's executive function ...

  13. Let Your Mind Wander

    Mind wandering is a universal human experience rooted in evolution and brain science. Creative thinking and problem-solving happen when people's minds wander. Mind wandering also allows ...

  14. A wandering mind

    A wandering mind. Here at Headspace, we frequently get messages from our users asking for help with one issue in particular: "My mind keeps wandering, no matter how much I practice. Why isn't this getting better?" Start your free trial. It's an understandable question, particularly given most people's belief that meditation is about ...

  15. How To Tame Your Wandering Mind and Refocus

    1) Make time to mind-wander. Mind wandering isn't always a distraction. If we plan for it, we can turn mind wandering into traction. Unlike a distraction, which by definition is a bad thing, a diversion is simply a refocusing of attention and isn't always harmful. There's nothing wrong with deciding to refocus your attention for a while.

  16. Mind-wandering

    Mind-wandering is loosely defined as thoughts that are not produced from the current task. Mind-wandering consists of thoughts that are task-unrelated and stimulus-independent. ... people with higher working memory capacity keep their goals more accessible than those who have lower working memory capacity, thus allowing these goals to better ...

  17. 20 Tips To Stop Your Mind From Wandering and Overthinking

    Take a walk around the block or down the hall, go out for a run or a bike ride, or lift some weights. Moving your body will help to generate endorphins (feel-good hormones), work off any possible anxiety, and clear your mind. Accept that you don't have to understand everything.

  18. How to Keep Your Mind From Wandering

    Read your book with full attention. Drive your car with full attention. While conversing, keep your mind on the conversation and prevent it from drifting to the TV screen in front of you, to the noises around you, or to people coming and going. If you meditate, focus on the subject of meditation, and when your mind wanders, bring it back.

  19. The Solution to Your Mind Wandering Problem

    Research suggests mind-wandering may be detrimental to our happiness. Moreover, studies show it also has harms on our concentration, memory, and even our ability to read! Luckily, there are ways ...

  20. This Is What Your Brain Does When You're Not Doing Anything

    When your mind is wandering, your brain's "default mode" network is active. Its discovery 20 years ago inspired a raft of research into networks of brain regions and how they interact with ...

  21. How to Keep Your Mind From Wandering During Meditation

    5. Write down your thoughts. If there are a lot of things on your mind, it might be beneficial for you to write them down before your meditation session. That way, you won't be keeping your thoughts inside of you and you'll avoid obsessing over them. Write down all the thoughts you have without analyzing or judging them.

  22. Why Your Mind Wanders While Reading & How To Stop It

    One reason why your mind might wander while you're reading is that you're trying to process too much information at once. When you're bombarded with a lot of information, your brain has trouble focusing on any of it. To avoid this, try to break down the material into smaller chunks. For example, if you're reading a chapter in a book ...

  23. How to Stop Your Mind From Wandering During Meditation

    Here is an example of an active meditation: Pick one word from the list below that describes an emotion you would like to feel more of: Joy, Love, Happy, Peace, Calm, Hope. Close your eyes and ...

  24. Does Your Mind Wander when You Need to Focus It?

    The excitement, joy and interest do not allow your mind to wander away and keep it fixed on what you are doing. ... 4 Simple Tips to Stop the Wandering of the Mind. Try to be aware of the thoughts that pass through your mind. This would help you become aware when your mind is starting to wander, and therefore, be in the position of bringing it ...

  25. Utah Driver Practice Test 2024 4+

    Here are some features: • Hundreds of questions. • Similar to the actual Knowledge Test. • A modern design. • Review the answers. • Keep the past tests to track progress. • Option to practice the questions you previously answered incorrectly. • Practice more effectively by creating your own random quizzes.