Mind Wandering: How to keep your mind focused
Written by Kerstin Lakits, Jun 23, 2022
Written by Kerstin Lakits, Jun 23, 2022
Mind wandering is nothing bad per se. If our minds never left the known realm and started wandering around, then our lives would be boring, monotonous and not very creative.
Mind wandering describes thoughts that are not related to your present exercise. Neurologists define them as thoughts that are not tied to the immediate environment.
Example: Mind wandering is suddenly thinking about the birthday party of your friend while you’re working on your seminar paper. Your thoughts are not related to your task, they wandered elsewhere.
Typical forms of mind wandering include ruminating, daydreaming and worrying. Everybody knows this: You’re studying with concentration for the upcoming exam and suddenly thoughts such as „What if…” come up. Your concentration is gone and your brain is following this new train of thoughts.
Our brain is prone to jumping to new thoughts if the information is new and interesting. That’s why daydreaming is so seductive. These thoughts are much more interesting than our study material. Furthermore, mind wandering happens so quickly and automatically that we only notice it when we’re already in the depths of it.
Fortunately, there are some tips and tricks to control your hyperactive brain.
These distracting thought processes are a natural feature that has served us and secured our survival. Therefore, you can’t simply turn off a habit that has helped you for thousands of years. Moreover, every single human suffers from this. So, don’t beat yourself up and get angry at your brain cells.
Since mind wandering is a subconscious and automatic behaviour, we often don’t even notice it, but you can change that. During mindfulness training you practice to focus on the present moment. This is a helpful skill, especially in our multitasking oriented and digital society. There are tons of inspiration and information online about mindfulness training.
The easiest exercise that you can do anywhere is consciously shifting your focus onto your breath. Pay attention to your inhalations and exhalations and see how they affect your body. As soon as you notice that your mind has wandered, bring your attention back to your breath. Soon you’ll realise that the interruptions are fewer.
Distracting thoughts pop up suddenly and immediately pull you away from your task. Therefore, you need a quick and powerful defence. Create your own mental coping mechanisms. Look for a motivating and positive affirmation that you can use against mind wandering. This affirmation will bring you back to your task.
If your brain is tired and exhausted, it’s harder to focus on your task. Therefore, study breaks are extremely important to allow your brain a moment of rest, so that it can continue to work with focus.
Even without distractions your mind can start wandering around. However, every distraction increases the likelihood that your brain finds more interesting and new information. Therefore, you should get rid of potential distractions (e.g. smartphone, toys…) and turn off disruptive features (e.g. push notifications).
A mind wandering meditation has a special focus on mindfulness and mind wandering. On the one hand, you develop the skill to notice distracted thoughts and to bring your focus back. On the other hand, you get the opportunity to consciously let your mind wander during the meditation.
Get rid of distractions in your study environment, set motivating goals and train your brain with mindfulness training and meditation.
It’s completely normal that your brain is constantly on the lookout for new information. This used to protect us from predators and other dangers. Today we find this feature annoying when we’re trying to study and work. However, it also makes our lives interesting, exciting, creative and innovative.
Mind wandering is sometimes annoying, but completely normal. These tips will surely help you to avoid distracting thoughts while studying and working with concentration. Here are more tips for effective studying! This prepares you well for your next exam!