Greater the mind wandering and distraction, more restless and distressed we become

Mindful Living

Wandering mind is an unhappy mind , Focused mind is indeed a happy mind

Observe your mind carefully for just two minutes. You will notice that despite trying to stay in the present, your mind keeps wandering off to thoughts and physical impressions. Mind’s wandering increases when we perform boring tasks.

When we attend any lecture or meeting and the topic is either not relevant or not to our interest, our wayward mind will not be attentive to the subject at hand. We will invariably get lost in our own thought processes. We are either planning or anticipating the future, worrying about something, or reliving the past.

There is no shortage of upcoming tasks and duties to think about.

Even if we don’t have anything pressing to think about, we will slip into daydreams. We are lost in fantasies. If we arrive at the venue in a disturbed state, our mind will be preoccupied with related thoughts. In fact, on those occasions, it’s all the more difficult to stay in the present. Mind-wandering is a very natural phenomenon. It’s the very nature of our mind.

Unless it is focused, attentive, or engrossed in some activity, the mind is moving randomly and incessantly. When it wanders, we don’t remain on any one activity or task for very long, particularly when we are not engaged in any interesting or attention-demanding task.

The mind wanders mostly when we are busy performing routine, monotonous, or repetitive tasks. When we drive, eat, walk in the morning, read a book, or perhaps get trapped in a conversation with a boring person, the mind wandering increases sharply.

Mind-wandering allows one part of the brain to focus on the task at hand, while another part keeps a more interesting idea or goal in mind. We can also see the mind wandering in “multitasking.” We shift our attention from one task to another task. The mind is actually focusing on open goals or unfulfilled intentions, which are generally many at any given point in time.

Normally, 50% of the time our mind is not focused or attentive, in fact. it’s on wandering mode. When we are bored or doing routine or any other uninteresting work, mind’s wandering is as high as 70%. However, when we are engaged in mind-absorbing or concentration-demanding tasks, this percentage is low, as low as 10%.

When our mind is wandering, it means it’s an ‘autopilot mode’ or in default mode. During this time, many interconnected areas of the brain are active and they form a network, which is known as the default mode network (DMN). When there is a high activity in DMN, it means we are not focused on the present moments and thinking about all other things (except about the task at hand). In a way, DMN is the home of our ‘ego’. It’s also referred to as the “me” network of our brain. It lights up when we think about ourselves, daydreams, introspects, worry, or busy with ‘I’ thoughts. So, whenever we are not focused on any task or present at the moment then our DMN is activated. We are in ‘thinking mode’. Our thinking mind is at work.

We have developed an appetite to take in more and more things in a short period of time. Too many distractions and attractions on digital media are causing us to be less focused on other priorities. According to a recently published Microsoft Attention Spans Research Report, this digital lifestyle has made it difficult for not just students but all of us to stay focused, with the average human attention span shortening over a decade from 12 seconds to 8 seconds.

Whether it’s in the workplace, home, school, or educational institutions, there is increasing use of gadgets. The Report further says that in the digital age, it seems the ability to maintain focus is now a “superpower.” This weaker attention span could be an effect of the brain having to so rapidly adapt and change in the presence of technology. “We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it now is limitless, and the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention.” (Satya Nadella, CEO Microsoft)

Daniel Goleman, the author of a New York Times best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence, has recently written another book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, in which he very elaborately explains why it’s becoming so difficult for us to focus. He explains that attention is the thing that makes life worth living, and helps you develop more of it in every area of life: work, relationships, and your own attitude towards life and the planet. Not only are we becoming more distracted, less attentive, and less sharply focused, but there is also an adverse impact on our health and well-being.

It’s a known fact that when we are disturbed or distressed or worrying about something, then it’s very difficult to focus on the present. Mind’s wandering increases in those moments. We are not able to concentrate on anything other than the issue which is troubling us. On the other hand, a focused mind is a happy one. When we are busy with some absorbing activity such as playing a game, doing gym, reading an interesting novel or book, or playing a musical instrument, we are lost in that activity. During those moments, since there is hardly any mind wandering, so we are invariably happy and joyful. This condition is also known as ‘flow with time’. We are lost in that activity. We don’t know how time flies on those moments.

Many spiritual and religious traditions teach us that happiness is found by living in the present moment. These traditions also maintain that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Mind-wandering has also been associated with vehicular accidents. Unrelated, fragmented thoughts are common in people in low or depressed moods. It’s also a widely known fact that we are, in general, becoming more unhappy.

To address this problem, first of all, we should develop and then follow our passions to reduce mind wandering. Also, through the practice of mindfulness, we can increase our ability to remain focus or attentive for a longer time. To check, digital distraction, we should use Apps like Screen Time to reduce time spent on social media. We must become more self-aware so that whenever we are distracted or attention is diverted, we become conscious and return our attention to the task at hand. Awareness of getting distracted is the first step to limit the mind’s wandering. Despite our best efforts, we can’t reduce the extent of wandering beyond a certain point. However, on the practical side, there is no harm in allowing our mind to wander or distract as long as our performance is not adversely affected, or joy and happiness are not compromised.

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