How to “Space Out” Productively

New research demonstrates that letting your mind wander can make you a more creative person and effective decision-maker…when done correctly and consciously.

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn


What’s the Latest Development?

Everyone has had an idea or solution pop into their head during moments when it’s least expected. Studies have long provided evidence linking “spacing out” to increased creativity and better problem-solving. However, recent findings point to the possibility that mind-wandering represents an “interesting middle place” in the brain. According to a study done by researchers at the University of British Columbia, when the mind drifts, two areas of the brain that were previously thought to activate themselves separately from each other actually begin functioning simultaneously. “You see a relationship between these two networks in the brain that many people didn't think was even possible — and that almost nobody thought was a common mental state.”

What’s the Big Idea?

There are ways to take advantage of what some grandmothers liked to call “wool-gathering.” Doing something that requires no real mental effort is one: “There's…some evidence that people who are doing a non-demanding task are more likely to think about the future while their minds are wandering, and this can lead to ‘productive planning.’”  Another involves maintaining some level of “meta-awareness” that you’re letting your mind drift. Yet another suggestion, practicing meditation, may seem counterintuitive, but one researcher claims that “actually concentrating on one piece of stimulus [a blue square, an audio tone] may lead to a more useful sort of blank mindedness.”

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