The Wandering Mind


In a stunning study, it was  revealed that our minds are unfocused a staggering 47 percent of the time. That means that on average, we spend half of our waking hours daydreaming, obsessing over our schedules and the neighbor’s dog, planning what’s for dinner or wondering about people or past events we have factually no control over.

What a waste of time it is.

And not just that. The constant ruminating, worrying and analyzing makes us essentially unhappy. If you want to find out what you are doing all day long and whether it makes you happy or not, you can use a specifically designed app for that purpose.

Another study examined how meditation can help with the wandering mind. The method used was to focus on the breath. Whenever the meditator realized that his or her mind had trailed off, the attention was gently redirected to the breath.

The researcher asked meditators to focus on their breath while neuroscientists scanned their brains: whenever they realized their minds had been wandering, they pressed a button. Then they would return their focus to the breath, and the practice would continue. At the same time, MRI data were collected, showing which brain regions were active before, during, or after the button press that corresponded to various mental states.

The study, published in the journal NeuroImage, found that during periods of mind-wandering, regions of the brain’s so called default mode network were activated (that is the area in the brain that is associated with passive, non-focused mental states). Then when participants became aware of this mind-wandering, brain regions related to the detection of salient or relevant events came online. After that, areas of the executive brain network took over, re-directing and maintaining attention on the chosen object. And all of this occurred within 12 seconds around those button presses.

Meditation, as was shown, can increase attention span, improves working memory and can even improve test scores. It also helps with depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder and sexual problems.

A regular meditation practice, even if only for ten minutes a day, will make you happier.  Consider how much time you spend commuting, watching TV or sitting at the computer. Ten minutes a day can go a long way to increase your sense of well being.


About Gerti Schoen LP

Gerti Schoen Gerti Schoen is a psychotherapist for couples and individuals in private practice in NYC and Ridgewood, NJ. Her work has been informed by psychoanalytic thought, Imago Relationship Therapy, Mindfulness, Shamanic healing and Internal Family Systems Therapy. Before becoming a mental health professional, she had a fulfilling career as a journalist and writer in Germany. She has published two books, The Gentle Self and Buddha Betrayed.