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How and Why to Let Your Mind Wander
January 22, 2024
Complete absorption by young children is the number one foundation of transformational learning, and yet it cannot be scheduled in. We need to slow down and be present for that magic to emerge.
-Wendy Ostroff, developmental psychologist

“From a biological and a psychological standpoint, we’re almost never doing nothing,” according to Erik Dane, a Washington University associate professor of organizational behavior. He and other experts believe that simply slowing down enough to give your mind a chance to wander and reflect can be all the “nothingness” you need to feel less harried.

Studies show mind-wandering enhances creativity and may significantly support problem-solving and learning. Dane and his colleagues found that, for professionals, “problem-oriented daydreaming,” related in some way to the challenges they faced, could be particularly helpful in solving problems.”

“Because mind-wandering promotes creativity, it can also have a positive effect on mood. The more creative you are, the more joy you can experience, and vice versa,” neuroscientist Moshe Bar added.

“The whole goal is to shift into more of a reflective space,” says psychiatrist Elisabeth Netherton, “It’s not even so much driven by what you’re actually doing but by the head space you’re in.”

“The world around us is filled with clues, opportunities and possibilities,” Dane said, but we only see them “if we’re able to loosen ourselves from the grip of autopilot.”

You help create conditions for mind-wandering when you:

  • Avoid multitasking.
  • Set your cell phone aside
  • Engage your hands.
  • Let go of goals.
  • Make it part of your daily routine.

P.S. Children need time to ‘do nothing,’ too! Wendy Ostroff writes, “Children need to spend time in that in-between space, in order to figure out how to handle problems, including the problem of how to spend time. Likewise, children need to practice endurance and patience in order to master these complex skills. Even boredom is important for kids to navigate. In fact, research shows that transcending boredom leads to enhanced creativity and motivation (Elpidorou, 2014).”


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Comments (2)

Displaying All 2 Comments
Kirsten Haugen · January 23, 2024
Eugene, OR, United States

Melanie, I agree it's a lost art! I can't recall the book or article, but I remember reading that most executives (who were the study's participants) reported their most valuable insights most often came during a shower or while walking or running outdoors.

Melanie Coyne · January 22, 2024
Anacortes, WA, United States

Doing nothing is a lost art. This reminder helped me to consider how to re-engage with mind wandering.
Our children are not expected to develop this ability.

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