Mind-wandering is often a regular (and at times disruptive) influence in our everyday lives. We all do it; our attention strays and suddenly we’re thinking about everything but the task at hand. Mind-wandering can be helpful; it has been shown to enhance creativity and problem solving. Plus, when stuck in traffic or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, mind-wandering can also be an effective means of coping with the frustration or boredom that can accompany these mundane tasks.
When we’re trying to meet a deadline, study for a test, or pay attention to our dinner date’s story about his time in the peace corps, though, mind-wandering can be more annoying than adaptive. Some mind-wandering is normal, but it can have negative consequences on our ability to perform cognitive tasks, like working memory, fluid intelligence, and standardized tests. Your cat doodles may pass the time, but they do little to stave off the embarrassment of being called on by your boss to summarize the points she just made during an important meeting.
“This quarter’s numbers? Right, um, well, they looked purr-fect to me, boss.”
So how do you stay focused when you just can’t seem to concentrate? Read more to learn how to reign in a wandering mind.