How often have you caught yourself sitting at your desk at work, at a meeting or in a classroom, while your mind is miles away, busy with other things? Most of us can recall this familiar situation instantly. But the strange part is we don’t recall when our mind became distracted and for how long. Mind wandering is natural. Practice of focus meditation or concentration meditation helps in learning to allow thoughts, feelings and impulses—to come and go in the mind as we cultivate a way of releasing ourselves from the grip of any older state that occur from time to time.
What Happens When Our Mind Wanders?
A wandering mind is a common and frustrating occurrence that leaves us unable to focus on the task or project at hand. For most people it is a way to escape what they do not like. Our mind starts to think about task-irrelevant contemplating incidents of past or something that might occur in the future or will never happen may be.
While the mind likes to wander to something more pleasant and enjoyable than what you are doing at the moment, it can also wander to negative remuneration, worries and problems. As a result, the overall productivity suffers, and stress levels increase.
What Can You Do to Tame It?
We may never be able to eliminate our mind’s propensity for wandering. But there are lots of mindful ways that can help improve concentration and focus. Mindfulness helps us pay attention to our present moment experience with awareness and without any kind of emotional reactivity of what’s happening. Here are seven such mindful ways to tame a wandering mind.
1. Focus on one task at a time
Your attention is divided while performing several tasks at the same time which may result in inaccuracy and low quality output. And it will take more time to correct the mistakes and errors in such cases. On the other hand, focusing on a single task and letting the mind to work in an organized and obedient way which will prevent incidence of mental-wandering.
2. Do something physical
The idea is to override your internal dialogue with a physical activity. And it actually works pretty well. Take a shower, clean the house, exercise, go on a walk. Exercise of course has many added benefits—like regulating the brain’s stress response and encouraging the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus—which means that anxiety and mood will be more regulated over the long-term.
3. Focus meditation
Practicing concentration meditation or focus meditation trains various aspects of attention. For centuries, meditation has provided a means to look inward and investigate our mental processes. Mind-wandering is actually a central element of focused attention (FA) meditation in which the practitioner is instructed to keep her attention on a single object, often the physical sensations of breathing. The idea is not to curb all the thoughts but reminding ourselves that we can allow the thoughts to come, and we can allow them to go without getting swept away with the story or emotion they may carry.
With constant practice, it becomes easier to drop your current train of thought and return your focus to the breath. Thoughts will become less sticky as the brain will get re-wired to be better at recognizing and disengaging from mind-wandering.
4. Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep hammers mental performance in general, and reduces our ability to resist both internal and external distractions. And there’s an added bonus – sleep is also important for memory consolidation. In fact, recent research suggests that if you have an hour spare before an exam, a nap could be a more effective use of your time than spending it revising.
5. Talk to someone
Being stuck in your thoughts can be harmful especially when they are negative. Talking to someone can help welcome an outside voice and perspective which can aid in your understanding of your thoughts. This is also why counselling, chatting to a friend helps in calming the mind.
Sometimes, there’s too much stuff floating around in your mind that is causing your mind to wander frequently. If this is the case, consider spilling everything in your head onto a journal to free up some space.
7. Interacting with nature
Short encounters with natural items are associated with positive feelings. There’s lots of evidence that spending time out in nature helps mood, well-being, and stress levels. But not everyone can take a walk in the wilderness when they’re feeling overwhelmed. Interestingly, a new study reported that just a momentary interaction with an item of nature had a big influence on mental health. So if you’re having a moment of disconnect, take a little escape to walk on some grass, or pet an animal. Practice focus meditation amidst nature.
Wandering of mind isn’t all bad, in fact it allows for creativity, planning, and imagination among other things. However, while it’s natural for the mind to wander, it is imperative to learn to become aware of these mental tendencies and to use them purposefully, rather than letting them take over.
About the author:
Suhasini Jha is a Mumbai-based ex-journalist who has previously worked with Firstpost and Moneycontrol.