Of Mind Wandering and It’s Accompanying Myriad Of Benefits
An idle mind might be a devil’s workshop, but it’s still a ‘workshop’ nonetheless. Most of you can relate to this. You are in class, an important meeting, church or even at the movies. Then in the course of whatever it is that you’re supposed to be doing, you slowly, steadily but surely start to drift away.
Before you know it, you’re either daydreaming, hypnotising or deep into some idyllic, chloroformic kind of trance. And not unless something or someone jolts you awake, you might continue slipping into oblivion until your mental acuity takes over from the autopilot mode. Welcome to the land of mind wandering.
Mind Wandering Devices and Software
It is no secret that it is only human to lose focus every once in a while. We both know that very few people can concentrate on a task (even it is high-performance gaming or mind-blowing sex) without at drifting off at one point or another.
Therefore, in a bid to tap the under-utilised energy of a wandering mind, top neurologists in conjunction with software developers have come up with useful mobile applications that can be used to brainstorm, study complex information and improve decision-making passively.
The idea behind the development of these gadgets and apps swings on the hinges of the fact that an unfettered brain (like during mind wandering) has the potential to generate intuitive ideas and conceive valuable solutions to everyday life problems.
Mind wandering wearables
You will be pleased to know that tech enthusiasts have worked a way of integrating the much publicised wearable technology into this neurological field of mind wandering. The following is a list of the top wearable EEG and brain wave devices designed to take advantage of the energy of a distracted mind.
1. Brainlink Headset
Brainlink is one of the few affordable headsets designed to read your brain activity with a reasonable degree of precision. What’s more? It can connect with your tablet and smartphone via Bluetooth and can also take advantage of the more than 20 apps on Android play store designed to help you focus or drift (whichever way you choose to look at it.)
The headset is best suited for children who have difficulty concentrating in class or even outdoors. On this note, when using such a device, a parent can view their child’s progress or improvement courtesy of a cloud brainwave database.
2. Versus Headset
Ever imagined of moving things around with your brain? Great, now you can, courtesy of the all new Versus.
Unlike other devices, Versus is designed to help you play around with your brainwave. Like BrainLink, Versus has a headset form factor and can sense and record your brain’s activity with a decent degree of accuracy. At the same time, the headset can channel your brain energy to useful functions such as moving cars in a high-end interactive auto-racing game.
And with kind of brain wave manipulation training, you can easily learn to control and produce the desired brain activity needed to be more alert of your environment or thoughts.
This is another EEG headpiece that can be connected to your phone or tablet via wireless Bluetooth technology. But unlike the two above, Muse is ingeniously designed to give you real-time feedback whenever your mind wanders or drifts off into idealism. This way, you can easily identify what distracts you and in effect train yourself to focus better and for longer. In addition, after each session of using the headset, you can view the results of your concentration exercise in the form of charts and graphs.
As far as compatibility with other apps goes, you can use Calm app ( an Android app ) to see your progress over a given time and even analyse areas or improvement.
Essential Reading: Muse Headband – To Quiet the Mind, Summon Muse
This headset stands out from the rest from the way it is designed to make the user relax while at the same time can be used to play music like any other conventional headset. However, unlike the usual headset, the Melomind headphones can measure how relaxed you’re at any given time, give valuable feedback concerning this results or relay it to your smartphone for further analysis.
Narbis is a revolutionary eye glasses set that is designed to assist you in understanding better how your brain’s patterns work. Contrary to what most of us think or know, the individual brain behaviour is as different and unique as our fingerprints. How your brain works or responds to external stimuli is quite different from how the next person’s brain works. Thus, the company behind the development of Narbis claims to use software technology and programs developed by NASA to help people see exactly where their minds begin to drift off.
How it works
In a nutshell, the functionality of Narbis relies on sensors which are connected to the lenses of the glasses. Usually, these lenses are clear and fully transparent when your mind is focused but will get darker whenever the mind wanders off.
For smartphone and tablet enthusiasts, you can connect Narbis with your PC, tablet or smartphone and make use of the dedicated Narbis app to choose between different training programs.
Further, according to online reviews and the company’s website, you should begin seeing improvement of your brain’s overall performance and functionality after three weeks of using this app.
The best thing about this technology is that you can still train your brain and hone your concentration skills while watching TV, reading a book or working on your computer.
Do you long for the day that you could control how you feel regardless of the external circumstances? Turns out that you will soon be able to induce strong feelings of calmness or energy using the upcoming Thync. But before you start celebrating, have it at the back of your mind that Thync is still under development and it will be a couple of months before the company officially launches it.
7. Brain Control
Liquid Web, the start-up behind Brain Control is one of the companies making waves in the medical wearable technology sector and is particularly known for this device that has popularity in assisting people with ALS and other communication and movement disorders. The brain-computer interface found in Brain Control can also be used to interpret electrical signals corresponding to various brain activities thereby allowing the user the ability to control computers and other external devices using their thoughts.
If the ongoing research that is being carried out by the team behind the innovation and development of Brain Control is anything to go by, then very soon ALS patients will soon be in a position to control and communicate their feelings.
8. 4D Force
4D Force is one of the newest entrants in the wearables market that has gained a reputation for being as eye-catching as it functional. Not only it is ergonomic and fits well around the head (it’s a headset), but it is also crafted to measure brain wave activity precisely using the most surreptitious and non-intrusive of methods. It is also unique in the way it uses dry but flexible electrodes to fit perfectly around the skull making it considerably more luxurious and comfortable to wear over long periods.
Apart from tracking your mind wandering rate, the device can also be used for therapeutic purposes for kids with ADHD.
Mind Wandering Apps
If you are not a fan of heavy gadgetry and prefer the companionship of your trusty smartphone or tablet instead, here are some of Android and iOS apps to help your mind wandering processes:
Mindomo is actually more of a mind mapping tool that taps the useful energy of a distracted mind. You can switch this app on wherever you feel bored and get lost in the spider web of your own thoughts. After such a spell, you can then analyse the images, texts or even sketches on what you subconsciously gnawed on when you were not paying attention.
2. Ideament (formerly Idea Sketch)
Ideament is currently available for iOS and Windows Phone, and is one of few mind wandering apps that also generates results in a list-style format. So if you’re the type that doesn’t fancy amorphous and conventional mind maps, then will easily fit into your daily routine. By generating a neat list of your subconscious thoughts, maps and well-defined sketches to wherever your mind takes you with this Android app.
Unlike your regularly mind-mapping tool, MindBoard churns out freehand diagrams that can later be exported to Word, PDF, PowerPoint or any other image processing software.
Two faces, same coin
Ever since I can remember, absent-mindedness and poor concentration levels were highly condemned and chastised, especially in class or at work. And if you happen to ask professors, teachers or college lecturers, they will easily tell you that there is nothing as irksome as a student who ‘has left their brain back at home.’ In industries, employees (particularly factory floor workers) are trained to devote their entire attention to the immediate surroundings. There is a professional principle that most companies subject their workers to – leave your family issues at home where you will deal with them at the end of the day.
The same way, military forces are taken through several mentally taxing drills to sharpen their attention prowess and mental alertness. There is simply no room for daydreaming and fantasising.
But it turns out that everything we know, or think we know about mind-wandering is wrong. And what is even more surprising is that letting your mind drift and stray regularly has far much more mental health benefits than harm. But how is this so? How is letting your mind stray and in the process limit your productivity and concentration levels useful? Well, let’s see.
The stranger than fiction benefits
What makes you happy?
Why are human beings such a difficult lot to please?
Why is it that regardless of your financial, physical or psychological status something will always be at fault in your life?
The same thing that will most likely gnaw your soul to the point of no contention.
Matt Killingsworth – Track Your Happiness
Going by a recent interesting study shared by the celebrated Today’s Talk host, Matt Killingsworth, a novel approach based on the study of happiness, through a special app “Track Your Happiness”, mind wandering has a positive effect on someone’s mood regardless of their individual emotional or physical wellbeing.
At the same time, the study, whose data was collected from over 15,000 people across 80 countries, showed that mind wandering and occasional daydreaming factor in significantly into the happiness equation. If you’re wondering how this is even remotely possible, well, here’s how.
Human beings are blessed with this rare ability to let their mind stray while at the same time maintaining their physical awareness – at least to some extent. The aptness to shift the focus of our attention to something else other than our immediate surrounding and present is positively amazing. It allows us to plan, learn, reason, recollect and re-analyse past events and occurrences passively.
And while a majority of people today think of mind wandering as an annoying and mentally distractive habit of losing focus whenever we’re tackling a seemingly boring task, experts claim that occasional daydreamers make the best decision makers.
Apparently, brain researchers claim that an occasional mental drift, especially at the middle of a mentally arduous task, helps restore the mind’s orientation that, of course, makes performing the task at hand easier and more manageable. Think of it this way; whenever your mind strays you get this momentary break from the present drudgery. That short break might be what an exhausted brain needs to get its groove back on track.
However, given our fast paced lifestyle (obsessed with achievement, success and characterised with numerous deadlines), it takes more than just a string of studies to convince the masses that mind wandering is healthy. That’s why it was necessary to carry out a psychological test of creativity to prove the above findings. And as it the results would have it, it seems as if individuals who daydreamed regularly and had lower concentration spans were generally more creative than their more attentive counterparts. Scientists attributed this to the ‘Eureka effect’ that suggests that allowing an idea to incubate passively is the most crucial phase in any creative process.
Great ideas appear when we least expect them
If you have ever attended any higher education physics class, then you must be familiar with the household or rather ‘physics laboratory’ name – Sir Isaac Newton. As the legend has it, the great scientist discovered or got an insight into the law of gravity as he was daydreaming and drifting away slowly under an apple tree.
The inception of this idea didn’t occur to him as he was busy crunching numbers or solving complex algebraic sums. It didn’t even occur to him when he was analysing or going through past studies, manuscripts and journals are written by inventors before. He got the idea while absentmindedly relaxing after a good lunch. That alone speaks volumes about the power and benefits of daydreaming and letting your mind wander every once in a while.
University of California Mind Wandering Experiment
To back up this observation, a team of brain researchers from the University of California (Santa Barbara) led by one Benjamin Baird conducted an extensive test to certify that indeed absentmindedness strikes a chord with someone’s creative boost. So Benjamin, assisted by a colleague – Jonathan Schooler – asked the participants of the study to brainstorm on the alternate ways of using an everyday object, e.g., a spoon or toothpick (other than the intended meaning, of course). The entire test or activity required that the participants do two of these sessions, and in between they were allowed a 12-minute break. During this break, they were to either to rest, tackle a demanding memory task or simply engage in a reaction time activity that was purposely designed to stimulate mind wandering.
After that break, the participants were to take part in two more sessions (take different kinds of breaks) – just to eliminate the chances of individual bias. And the results were simply startling.
In as much as all groups of participants performed relatively well in the above creativity test, it was noted that people who engaged in the mind wandering tasks performed over 40% better than those from other groups.
creativity is rarely a by-product of logical thinking. It is mostly the outcome of daring to be different. Daring to ‘wander off’ from the known norm and explore the subconscious realm.
After careful analysis, the researchers were under the impression that the reason the unfocused individuals were able to portray better creativity was mainly because being mindful (the exact opposite of mind wandering) meant that you had to subconsciously pilfer and filter irrelevant information not related to the task at hand. And so in the process of doing that, it meant that you had to switch off your innate ‘meta-awareness capabilities’ and devote your entire attention to the task at hand. Which, of course, means that lose the angle needed to ‘think outside the box.’
This is actually supported by the fact that strictly speaking; creativity is rarely a by-product of logical thinking. It is mostly the outcome of daring to be different. Daring to ‘wander off’ from the known norm and explore the subconscious realm. Think of it this way.
Logical reasoning calls for ‘convergent reasoning’ – i.e., finding one correct answer or solution to an already defined problem. On the other hand, creativity calls for the exact opposite. It demands divergent thinking, openness and ‘not-so-correct-answers’ to an ill-defined difficulty. It calls for a restless mind that can disengage from the present perception and shift attention to a subconscious reality. In fact, those are some of the qualities of a highly creative mind.
Mind Wandering and Memory Formation
Contrary to what most of us think, your brain is typically at its most active state when daydreaming. Yes, that’s right. It doesn’t make sense, but neurological tests have shown that activity in the hippocampus cortical part of the brain spikes during mind wandering. They came to this conclusion after studying participants who were asked to stare intensively at pairs of contrasting images for several minutes. In between the sessions, they were asked to think about ‘anything they wanted’. And so using fMRI, the brain researchers found out that memory consolidation in this two parts of the brain was better when during mind wandering than when the subjects were busy focusing on something.
At the same time, thanks to the better memory consolidation, subjects who were taken through the mind wandering drill were able to recall the images they studied before better and more vividly than those who performed a taxing memory task during the break.
Lila Davachi – one of the scientists who oversaw the study – explained this phenomenon in this perspective: “What most of us fail to understand is that your brain is always working. But it is working for you (for the greater purpose of your subconscious) when you’re absentminded and resting as opposed to working on the task at hand. That means that rest is very vital for memory consolidation and cognitive function than any other active task.”
From the modern man’s perspective, this is something that most of us can’t appreciate much given that technology and an economically – oriented lifestyle demands that we keep working round-the-clock. However, in as much as you’re ever so busy with class or work, just remember that taking a short coffee break after a few hours’ concentration spell might be just what you need to retain the new information you’ve just taken in.
Since distraction is here with us to stay, we might as well find a useful purpose for it.
As much as mind wandering has been linked to improved creativity and innovative thinking, we cannot forget that it is often a direct result of melancholy and unhappiness. If anything, we often tend to drift more often when we’re sad, troubled or have something gnawing at our soul. Nonetheless, this doesn’t necessarily mean that mind wandering evokes neurotic or melancholic moods. It only implies that you’re likely to find yourself straying more ( mentally of course) whenever unhappy or discontent than when in a good mood or satisfied.
And being a double-edged sword, it also means trying to avoid wandering off during such times is likely to impair your creativity and subconscious prowess. That’s the reason it is advisable to take advantage of the aforementioned apps and wearables to channel the energy of your distracted mind to something useful and constructive.