Is mind wandering actually beneficial?

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In summary, to be a great mind wanderer you must concentrate on the task at hand and not let your mind wander.
  • #1
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Mind wandering is good??!

You must have read on various news sites http://discovermagazine.com/2009/ju...ing-attention-zoning-out-crucial-mental-state http://nervoussystem.suite101.com/article.cfm/is_a_wandering_mind_a_bad_thing and blogs recently that mind wandering is a good thing. The article from 'discover mag' clearly states that mind wandering breaks the 'chain' and distracts concentration. But the title states that 'zoning out is important'. I myself feel that it is clearly media hype and absolutely waste information.

Because if you finally decide that mind wandering is good and decide to practice it, To do it best you will have to concentrate on 'mind wandering' without letting your mind wander from the task of 'mind wandering'. How can you do that!?

What confuses me is that people that comment on these sites claim that they find solutions in mind wandering, etc. So should you not concentrate on what you are doing and let your mind wander away so that something else might be great solution comes to your mind? Isnt it true that 'he who comes to the sound of the flute, goes to the sound of the drum'?

Should nt you have control over your mind like many great people have. And also would like to mention, when you are free like sitting in a car and you think about something consciously, like what you want to achieve practically in the future, I think it is called controlled thinking and not mind wandering. Mind wandering is simply when you decide to do something(concentrate) and your mind refuses to do it and wanders to other things. Am I right?
 
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  • #2


No, it actually makes neuroscientific sense. When you are strongly focused on a problem, you rouse the set of memory circuits (I am talking loosely here) you expect to be relevant. And by the same token, suppress all the ones felt to be irrelevant.

But if you go away, relax, unfocus, then this suppressed background can emerge again and strike the telling connection you seek.

It is just like when you can't remember a name, or come up with a quick rejoinder, and then five minutes later, it pops into your head.

Used skillfully, it is not a random way of thinking. You can switch between tight focus and broader vigilant states "at will" - as a learned and practiced habit, that is.

For example, just now as I was searching for the next point I wanted to make, so I looked up and away to my left. We all learn to do this as a way to force our brains towards right-brain, contextual or "visual", thought styles. Looking right will by contrast increase activation of the left brain and tighten the focus.
 
  • #3


No, it actually makes neuroscientific sense. When you are strongly focused on a problem, you rouse the set of memory circuits (I am talking loosely here) you expect to be relevant. And by the same token, suppress all the ones felt to be irrelevant.

But if you go away, relax, unfocus, then this suppressed background can emerge again and strike the telling connection you seek.

It is just like when you can't remember a name, or come up with a quick rejoinder, and then five minutes later, it pops into your head.

Used skillfully, it is not a random way of thinking. You can switch between tight focus and broader vigilant states "at will" - as a learned and practiced habit, that is.

For example, just now as I was searching for the next point I wanted to make, so I looked up and away to my left. We all learn to do this as a way to force our brains towards right-brain, contextual or "visual", thought styles. Looking right will by contrast increase activation of the left brain and tighten the focus.
Thanks Aperion.

To switch from logical to visual thought style, I wouldn't call that mind wandering though. Visualizing is a part of concentration itself. When your totally into something you visualize, think logically, sense, etc. You must think visally I believe, but not without your command.

You can switch between tight focus and broader vigilant states "at will"

If you switch at will, I wouldn't call that mind wandering too, I would just call it thinking, because you switching at 'will'. Thought you are more vigilant (of outside surroundings I assume) as you say, but you also hold the thoughts subconsciously. So your subconscious is only filled with these thoughts. IF other thought enter the subconscious, the the outside states will have effect on these other thoughts and not the task you were willing. So your subconscious must be filled with only one chain of thoughts I assume.

What I have decided is,

you must decide to do something first.

Whatever you do you must do only that. Not let other thoughts and questions(mind wandering) enter your mind, as if you do, you won't be able to complete the task to your full capability, and also you won't be able to solve the questions you have or think about your thoughts completely as if you must think you must only think, whether visually or right brained thoughts.

At general level you must have a clear mind, no thoughts at all. Whatever situation you are at the moment in, you must be mindful of that, but no thoughts.

Then you must decide what to do, whether you want to think, perform a task or anything and just do that one thing at a time.

When you are free, like walking, etc. your mind will always want to be mindful of something. So you can think consciously or think about your questions. Is this what you call mind wandering if I have not understood the meaning of the word correctly?

Please give me some insight into this.

Thanks
 
  • #4


I actually think that the idea of the default network (as a neural signature of introspective states) and brain "wandering" are bad scientific constructs.

For instance, there is a presumption that it is natural for the mind to be able to concentrate on boring things. But attention is evolved for dealing with the novel and urgent. It is only humans who (socially) have developed the idea that we should be able to just will attention to a task, and keep it there.

So that is one confusion here - that mind wandering is some kind of surprising malfunction.

But then getting back to the creativity point, attentional states of the focused, task-fixated kind, are dopamine-controlled and involve heavy top-down "executive system" binding of lower level circuitry. The brain kind of does get locked down to do some anticipated activity.

Releasing that top-down influence allows instead a more creative bottom-up processing style. This is what they call the default system.

States of attention are serial. Attention moves in a series of flights and perches, as James described. And each perching lasts naturally for about a third of a second. So a few times a second, attention is alighting, in its most focused sense, on some new point. Plenty of opportunities for it to slip sideways from a task like reading to some more novel distraction. Or even for the effort to become tiring and a person to zone out - relax their top-down processing style.
 
  • #5


But then getting back to the creativity point, attentional states of the focused, task-fixated kind, are dopamine-controlled and involve heavy top-down "executive system" binding of lower level circuitry. The brain kind of does get locked down to do some anticipated activity.

I understand what you mean here. Many people may concentrate by 'force' in which I feel this situation must occur. I like to keep an open mind while concentrating, I mean interestedly understanding, thinking visually, using depiction and understanding peacefully.
Releasing that top-down influence allows instead a more creative bottom-up processing style. This is what they call the default system.

I also realize this. When you don t force your mind, the thoughts as if emerge from the background. It is good only as long as you are aware. Once you loose awareness, that is what I call mind wandering. You don't know what you re doing, and your mind is wandering how it wants. I cannot agree with that.

I agree with this article very much. http://www.themystic.org/treasure/wandering.htm". I think and experience that a controlled peaceful mind certainly brings in more creativity and is efficient(fast and no waste of energy). You don't and can't stop thinking, you are more aware of what you do and you select or decide your thoughts. Without control over the mind, how is success possible? Swami Vivekanand said a lot about controlling thoughts, Eintein disliked 'lazy thoughts', and most people agree with concentration until few articles.

Its like Einstein s quote nothing can prove you right but 1 single article can prove you wrong lol:biggrin:

So I stick with what I understand, experience and believe is right. Unless you decide to think about something yourself, it will be a matter of luck. So you have to decide what to think. Then what the articles mean I think, is to think more openly and relaxed(default system as you say), let the mind remember facts about the topic you have decided, think visually etc.

Also, Apeiron, I would be interested to know what you think and agree or disagree with the http://www.themystic.org/treasure/wandering.htm"I linked. It would make me more clear on what your perspective is exactly.

Thanks very much,
Kris
 
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  • #6


krisdude said:
Also, Apeiron, I would be interested to know what you think and agree or disagree with the http://www.themystic.org/treasure/wandering.htm"I linked. It would make me more clear on what your perspective is exactly.

My general position on this is Vygotskean. Concentration is an example of a language-scaffolded mental skill rather than a term for a natural, biological, function of the brain.

The brain will naturally attend/focus on what it finds interesting - that is novel, surprising, alarming, etc. And it will naturally save its effort and do as much as it can at a subconscious, habitual, automatic level of learned skill.

So concentration is a human term for a socialised action of attending even when something is intrinsically boring, or quite capable of being performed subconsciously. It describes an unnatural function in that we were not evolved to do it, but in society, it is advantageous to try to do it.

This is why concentration is hard, an effort. And why the mind will wander unless we are continually reminding ourselves to stick with the task.

A clear example of this is meditation. The task there is in fact to empty the mind - achieved by chanting or some other ultra simple activity. Nothing could be more unnatural I would say (though my view is coloured by zen buddhist training at age 10 when I thought it was the stupidist idea to sit in the tropical sun just listening to the hungry mosquitoes spiralling down for a feed).

I remember a comment from one famous zen master who admitted that the longest spell of mindlessness he achieved was around 10 seconds or something - so even to stay "wandered" is impossible for long.

So my basic message is no one should beat themselves up for poor concentration. It is not what they were designed for. If you can find yourself activities that naturally entrall you, then "concentration" - really attention - is not a problem.
 
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  • #7


Thanks for taking time and reading the link. I think yes concentration is a skill to be practiced, but it gradually becomes a habit and you gain more and more control over your mind. More controlled mind has 'powerful' thoughts, you think more consciously able to gain from it.

I also agree with the next point you state, you must do what you are interested in. But I also believe that once you have decided, you must concentrate. As it is advantageous.

I believe in meditation because it clears the mind of thoughts that I don't decide to think, they just come because I have nothing to do and that mind always wants to do something. When you gradually focus on something interesting(visualisation) the thoughts in the background seem to gradually go away and it feels very peaceful and infact powerful. It kind of becomes a habit gradually which you can call a controlled mind. Once you have control, you must do the task, as stated in the article- 'go from neutral gear to forward gear'. Maybe you dislike meditation because you didnt know why you are doing it and decide yourself. You were still a kid. I know what I want and have decided hence maybe it becomes easier for me to go deep.

Now I think that mind wandering is thinking about the past and future, it is no use doing it when performing a task. I set a time at night so I can think about past/ future anything if I need to. Also when you are less active(eg brushing), your mind will tend to think about something less actively/ subconsciously. You can simply give it a direction so as it becomes most constructive.

So Thanks for all the help. It has really been interesting talking to you and it has become much more clear now for me.

Kris
 

1. Is mind wandering really beneficial?

Yes, research has shown that mind wandering can have several positive effects on our overall well-being. It can enhance creativity, promote problem-solving abilities, and even improve memory retention.

2. How does mind wandering improve creativity?

Mind wandering allows our brains to make connections between seemingly unrelated ideas and thoughts. This can lead to unique and innovative ideas, resulting in enhanced creativity.

3. Can mind wandering improve problem-solving skills?

Yes, mind wandering can help us find solutions to complex problems by allowing our minds to explore different perspectives and possibilities. It can also help us think outside the box and come up with unconventional solutions.

4. Does mind wandering have any impact on memory?

Studies have shown that mind wandering can actually improve memory retention. When our minds wander, we are more likely to make connections between new information and our existing knowledge, leading to better memory consolidation.

5. How can we control our mind wandering?

While some amount of mind wandering can be beneficial, it is important to learn how to control it to avoid excessive distraction. Techniques such as mindfulness and meditation can help improve focus and reduce mind wandering. Engaging in activities that require concentration and focus can also help reduce mind wandering.

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