The Wandering Mind

I have a problem. Perhaps we all have this problem…I don’t know, just guessing on that. I think too much. HA!-you say. How is that a problem? Let me tell you a story. This story happens all the time, wherever I am, doing whatever I do.

Yesterday I was at dinner with my family. My daughter was trying to tell me something…I don’t remember what it was because I wasn’t really paying attention. I responded with words like “oh, really” and “ok”. My dead end responses were to get her back to eating and to get me back to my incessant thinking. You see…I was off in my mind trying to solve all of the problems of my life. Problems, mind you, that did not need thought at all in that moment. Here is the map of what my mind thought about:

…I hope the viewing of my house is going well…

…Oh, don’t forget to finish the laundry when I get home…

…will the viewers care if there is unfolded laundry near the dryer?…

…hmmm, will the Red Sox finally start winning…

…when can I get out and hit some golf balls…

…Crap! Don’t forget to email that manager when I get back to work on Monday…

This is only a sampling of what my mind thought about. As you can see none of it was really solving anything. Also, none of it needed to be thought about during a nice night out with the family!

Perhaps you know what this is like. Perhaps you do this as well. Perhaps instead of thinking too much you scroll through your preferred social media app on your phone.

Past and future thinking is one of my worst habits. It is one of the reasons why I deal with anxiety on a regular basis. Too much of this line of thought draws me out of the present moment and puts my mind in a worry or depressed state.  I have brought this up in other posts and now I have a new scientific study that would support this.

This study was done by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University.  In this study they used an iPhone Web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects feelings, actions, and thoughts throughout their day.  The end of the study revealed that people spend about 47 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are presently doing and this is what makes them unhappy.

“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.  Mind wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities.  This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the non-present. Mind wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness.  In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.  Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to be here now.  These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” –Killingsworth/Gilbert

Stopping the incessant thinking takes practice. There are a few things I practice that have provided temporary relief. Unfortunately, there is not a permanent solution to this issue. One must practice on a regular basis to see results. Here are my top three:

1. Sit still for at least a half hour every night. This allows the mind to unwind. Sitting still does not mean tuning into TV, internet, or phone. It means not doing anything for a half hour.

2. Meditate. Yep, I do this. Not as much as I like but it provides relief. The goal in meditation is not to stop thoughts but to let them pass. Letting them pass can be hard because I am used to attaching to them…and thinking them out. Just let them go like clouds passing in the sky.

3. Pause and use all of my senses. This one can be tricky since I have to remember to do it. Yet, when I do remember, I pause what I am doing and engage my senses. What am I seeing, smelling, hearing, touching? The amazing thing about noting your senses is it draws you immediately to the present moment.

I may not be perfect keeping my mind in the present moment…but I am getting better. And that alone makes it worth the effort.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Dorota Dylka via Unsplash

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