Wandering minds are sometimes mistaken as daydreamers. Or they're usually left to the creative types. But what about the rest of you whose minds wander? Is it a waste of time, or is it beneficial?
New research shows that mind-wandering can be adaptive to our hyper-busy, hyper-social lives because "not all minds that wander are lost: the importance of a balanced perspective on the mind-wandering state."
The paper authored by Jonathan Smallwood of the Max Planck Institute of Human Cognitive Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany, and Jessica Andrews-Hanna of the The Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado combines the assembled knowledge on mental wandering.
They found that mental wandering may lead to negative experiences
depending on the content of the thought. Like if your mind begins to wander in the form of depressive ruminations--thinking of the ways that fate has vexed, hexed, and jilted you--then the user experience of your commute is probably going to get worse.
But if you're good at navigating your wandering thoughts
, it can be life-affirmingly constructive.
1. It can help you project your past and future selves
- like mental time travel. The ability to look back on our past experiences allows us to integrate them into our present time, allowing us to make wiser decisions. Self-generated thought also allows us to consolidate our memories into a sense of self. 2. It can help you make successful long-term plans
, by anticipating what the future will be like. This way you can align your present actions to it, for example if you are planning to build a career, or sculpt a more healthy lifestyle for the time you hit 40. 3. It can fuel creative inspiration.
Sometimes not thinking about solutions can lead you to an idea of a solution when you least expect. If you're working on a simple task like brushing your teeth, letting your mind wander allows for connections to arise. Of course, if you're doing something complicated like maneuvering through a bustling street, you might want to put your thoughts on hold.