How to stop the thoughts.
How to make the worry go away.
How to quiet the mind when we lay our heads to rest at night.
Our minds are busy places. We can accept that our minds are busy places. And when we do, we can deepen our awareness to notice this without the stress that accompanies us wanting things to be different than they are. With presence, we can recognize, allow and make space for what is here. We can see it clearly without the editorializing and decide if we'd like to engage or not.
Mind wandering is a hot topic as the science of attention continues to evolve. It is that off-task thinking that so often makes us go, "what the heck, I'm not focusing on what I'm supposed to be focused on" -- if we notice it at all. Our minds are built to wander and this is part of what has kept us alive as a species. We all have had those experiences where the mind wandering initiates a really important adjustment that helps us meet a goal.
Yet, for many, if not most humans, we get irritated about our lack of focus. We get lost in our memories, planning and rumination. Being stuck in that type of mind wandering feels bad. It activates our nervous systems and leaves us exhausted, anxious and somewhere else.
Missing out on what is here right now because we're caught in the trap of our mind wandering leaves us moving through life as the director of a screenplay we haven't read. We piece together snippets, rely on incomplete information, make guesses and perhaps feel incomplete. Noticing this is often what brings people to mindfulness practice.
In the book, Peak Mind, Amisha P. Jha, a neuroscientist at the University of Miami, studies how attention works in our brains. She writes,
Across our increasingly targeted experiments, there were zero circumstances in which participants maintained their focus 100 percent of the time. Studies from all over the globe find the same pattern. We all do it. You cannot simply decide to pay attention “better.”
Her research does show evidence that mindfulness training was the only brain-training tool that consistently worked to strengthen attention. Mindfulness helps to protect our attention as daily stressors, poor moods and perceived or actual threats degrade it. It is a simple tool with powerful results.
We can't get rid of the mind's tendency to wander - let's let go of that myth. Instead here are some ways to bring mindfulness to mind wandering
Experiment with playing a recording where every 10 minutes a bell chimes to remind you to come back to presence as you try to accomplish a focused task. I put a 30 minute one on the website and called it Bell Reminders.
Pair things you already do with a mindfulness check in. Ask yourself, "where are my thoughts?" You can check in when you take a drink of water, walk through a doorway, or stop at a stoplight in the car.
Similarly set reminders on your phone: Am I on task, am I not? Begin to build some awareness around your mind wandering.
Track mind wandering on paper. Note the time of day, task of focus and where you were instead. This will help you begin to notice where you go and what distracts you the most.
Learn to recognize mind wandering. Have your noting labels ready: thinking, wandering, wondering, daydreaming, unskillful thinking, worry, distractions...
Practicing mindfulness each day will naturally make you more aware of the content and patterns of your mind wandering.
Accept that perfect focus is a myth.
Any tips you'd like to add for bringing mindfulness to our busy thinking minds?