Unwanted Mind Wandering Shifts Focus
Mind wandering is believed to be an evolved trait that helps us to plan for the future and reflect on the past. The downside is that this mental time traveling can hijack our ability to be present in the here and now. Dr. Amishi Jha published the article “mindfulness can improve your attention and health” in Scientific American which outlines the negatives of mind wandering and some suggestions on how to combat this unwanted mental time-traveling.
You know the feeling, when your daughter is jabbering on in her angelic voice and you realize to your dismay that you missed the first half of her run-on sentence. It’s not that you don’t care, or that you don’t love her, or that she is boring you, it’s that your mind has wandered to ruminating over the details of the argument you had with your mother last night, or has skipped forward to planning what to make for dinner. Not only has your sweet angel felt the pang of disconnect, but your cortisol levels have surged as your mind has wandered.
Mind wandering is defined as “mental simulations that have the power to transport our attention out of the present moment while simultaneously altering our cognitive, emotional, and physiological responses in the now”. Depending on where you travel to, this can simulate negative or positive responses in your mind and even body. The pituitary gland can release stress hormones in response to this mental imagery. As you may have guessed, unwanted mind wandering is highest when we are stressed.
Mindwandering can contribute to increased sympathetic nervous system stimulation, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, decreased focus, decreased attention, decreased social connection, heightened stress levels, and decreased mood. When we first begin working together, whether in health coaching or ABM Neuromovement most of my clients admit to feeling unsatisfied with their attention levels. I always tell them not to worry, this is an area that can be improved.
So now that your clear on the downsides to mind wandering, let’s discuss how you can combat mind wandering?
Combat Mind Wandering with Mindfulness
The antidote to mind wandering is mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined by Jha as “a mental mode characterized by attention to the present moment without evaluation or emotional reaction to it”. Jha studied the effects of various interventions ranging from rest, computer coding to mindfulness-based attention practices. Upon review of the studies she concluded that mindfulness-based attention practices had the greatest potential to fortify the mind enhancing focus and attention and thus to prevent mind wandering under stress. She also noticed a dose-response effect, in other words: the more that mindfulness was practiced the more participant’s benefitted.
Tips to Combat Mind Wandering
- engage in a mindfulness based practice for 15 min/day 5 days/week
- try focused attention practices (body scans, breath awareness)
- or try receptive attention practices (open monitoring of what enters and exits consciousness)
- when your mind wanders simply redirect it to attending
- remain non-judgmental of your current capability
- turn off notifications on your phone
- decrease time spent engaging in activities that encourage mind wandering (social media, news)
- limit time spent with individuals who pull you out of the moment (planning, complaining etc.)
- increase time spent with those who pull you into the moment (children!)
Practice Makes Perfect
One key point that Jha noticed was that there was no benefit to learning about mindfulness. In other words, reading this blog will have no benefit to your attention or focus. The benefits can only be gained by engaging in mindfulness-based attention training.
The functional movement meditations available at movementRX.com are focused attention practices that begin with a body scan and continue on to focus on a specific movement pattern. The lessons are audio-only which encourages you to connect with your sense of self rather than watching another person on a screen. Finally, the teacher reminds you to bring your attention back to the here and now without criticism or judgement.
Ready to fortify your mind and enhance your wellbeing?
Try 2 free sessions now at www.movementRX.com. or contact me to learn more about Health and Wellness Coaching to decrease stress levels or Transformational Movement Lessons.