Let’s face it. Our minds wander, constantly. Research indicates that we mind-wander almost half our waking hours. We all have a bit of ADHD in us. That same research tells us that most mind wandering makes us unhappy. Although healthy mind wandering can enhance creativity, most of the time it doesn’t help. So, how can we minimize mind wandering and stay on task? In this post I suggest four practical ways to keep on task and win the mind wandering battle.
Four Ways to Combat Mind Wandering:
First, it’s important to understand why our minds wander. In short, our brain simply tires, and quite quickly. The fancy word for what causes mind wandering is called the neuroenergetic theory.
- Our brain cells (neurons) need energy that comes from two kinds of sugars – glycogen, a form of glucose, and and another sugar called lactate.
- Neurons get this energy from the brain’s maintenance cells, called glia cells, and specifically from one type of glia cell called an astrocyte.
- After 12 seconds of mental effort, our neurons literally begin to run on empty. So, they need more fuel to fire efficiently and maintain focus and attention. They first look for lactate and if they can’t find it, they look for glycogen.
- If they can’t fill up with some sugars, they don’t fire effectively, attention suffers, and we mind wander.
So, the key is to keep our brains fueled and alert. How do we do that?
- Get enough sleep at night. Sleep actually helps restore the supply of glycogen to the brain’s maintenance cells, the glia. Regular skimping on sleep will reduce this energy source and thus inhibit your ability to stay focused throughout the day. More here about the brain benefits from sleep.
- Take a short nap. Napping less than 20 minutes in the middle of the day provides many brain benefits. A nap can enhance memory, improve learning by clearing out information in your brain’s storage area making it ready for new learning, and make us more alert.
- Wisely use caffeine. Moderate use of caffeine actually keeps the sleep neurotransmitter (adenosine) from making you sleepy because it mimics it, though without the sleepiness. More here about using caffeine.
- Take regular work breaks during the day. Long stretches of work with no breaks diminishes our willpower, reasoning ability, performance, and attention. It’s called decision fatigue. Read more about decision fatigue here. Taking breaks does the opposite. Resting your brain will improve creativity, productivity, and focus. I use an app called Time Out to dim my screen every 70 minutes. I then take a short five minute walk and get back to work. It works wonders
So, you can win the mind wandering battle with a few simple choices. Try one of these next week and see what happens.
And, reflect on what this Scripture says about our minds.
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. (Is 26.3)