Mindfulness may get your wandering thoughts back on track: Study

Ohio: A new research has found that 30 percent to 50 percent of our daily thoughts are spent on mind wandering, and excessive mind-wandering can lead to many negative outcomes in our professional and personal life.

The study has been published in the ‘Journal of Cognitive Enhancement’.

“While zoning out for a few minutes during a meeting may not hurt, it can impact you negatively if it goes on for long periods of time,” said Lynley Turkelson, a University of Cincinnati doctoral student and lead author of a new study on mindfulness and mind wandering.

“When distracting thoughts or feelings come up, mindfulness helps us gently set them aside and refocus on what is right in front of us,” said Turkelson.

Methods of practising mindfulness vary but include practices such as breathwork and meditation.

For example, Turkelson said, one can practice mindfulness by paying attention to the experience of eating a favourite food, “You may start by noticing the smell of the food before you eat it, what it feels like as you bite into it, how it feels in your mouth, and the taste. Or perhaps you pay attention to the flow of breath in and out of your lungs or on the sensations you experience in various parts of the body.”

For the study, Turkelson, a doctoral student and fellow in UC’s Department of Psychology, and co-author Quintino Mano, PhD, a UC associate professor of psychology, conducted a systematic review of research that looked at the relationship between mindfulness and mind wandering.

What they found is that while mindfulness — the ability to intentionally focus attention on the present moment — can be effective for reducing mind wandering, results did differ depending on the research methodology. For instance, people were sometimes unaware when they were distracted, so asking them to report their own mind wandering was not reliable. The study results showed it’s better to measure mind wandering in other ways, such as using computer-based testing.

“During COVID, people are facing even more distractions than normal, so it is important to find research-based ways to decrease mind wandering and improve attention,” said Turkelson.

Turkelson said that their systematic review looked at the research on this topic and synthesized the results so that researchers knew how consistent these findings were, as well as what still needed to be studied to improve our understanding of how mindfulness helped with mind wandering.

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