It’s probably no surprise that the human mind has a tendency to wander. Scientific research has discovered that this trait is almost ubiquitous among humans, and most of us experience it regularly..
While the neural basis for mind-wandering remained something of a mystery until recently, research has begun to uncover what triggers it. Research psychologist Peter Killeen found that the neurons in our brain can function with their own energy for only about 12 seconds before needing to refuel. If they can’t source more lactate or glucose – their favorite fuels – the neurons begin functioning at a reduced level. Other areas of the brain start calling for attention, and we experience a deficit in our attention. In other words, our mind starts to wander.
Constant mind wandering is a source of frustration for many people. In their study “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind,” researchers found that that experiencing a regular lack of concentration has a negative impact on overall mood and state of mind. In short, people were less happy when their minds wandered.
Luckily, research into ways of combating this phenomenon is also plentiful. And while we may never be able to eliminate our mind’s propensity for wandering, there are lots of simple techniques that can help improve concentration and focus.
It may seem counterintuitive, but consuming a bit of caffeine or adding a deliberate distraction (like instrumental music) has actually been found to reduce distractibility. Research also shows that meditation and breathwork improve focus. Try a breath-counting meditation to cleanse distracting thoughts and boost concentration power, or practice a Naam Yoga hand trick by applying pressure to the space between your second and third knuckles (index and middle fingers) for an instant sense of calm.
If all else fails, grab a stick of your favorite spearmint gum. Not only does chewing gum increase alertness and improve attention span, but researchers also found that the menthol in spearmint helps relieve stress that can cause mind wandering.
Next time you’re feeling a little distracted, try out some of these techniques and see if you can bring your mind back on task.
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Shellenbarger, S. (2014) The Power of the Doodle: Improve Your Focus and Memory. wsj.com
Bond, Annie, B. (2001) 8 Tips to Focus Your Mind. care2.com
Melnick, M. (2013) 20 Scientifically Backed Ways To De-Stress Right Now. huffingtonpost.ca
Goleman, D. (2015) Three Ways to Focus the Wandering Mind. mindful.org
The Globe and Mail. (2013) Can gum chewing really help students focus? theglobeandmail.com
Organic Facts. (2017) 8 Surprising Benefits of Spearmint. organicfacts.net