On Wandering Thoughts

More research and writing is coming out in support of daydreaming, that aimless mental activity that happens when you’re not using your brain for Facebooking or playing a video game or watching TV. When you try to multitask, says Daniel Levitin in Mother Jones, “your brain starts to produce cortisol—the stress hormone. And you do not want this. This is something that makes you feel mentally cloudy and edgy and unhappy.”

When you disengage from busy tasks, on the other hand, and you let your mind wander, your brain gets a much needed rest. But many people don’t like to let their minds wander.

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The New Yorker magazine asks, “When our minds turn inward, is it a pleasing experience?” Many people, when left alone with their thoughts, would rather give themselves a painful electric shock. For some, sitting and thinking, while doing nothing, is a frightening experience. Thoughts and feelings you might not otherwise think and feel can arise.

But spending some time with those troubling thoughts and feelings can help you get unstuck, solve problems, enhance creativity, and help you understand more about yourself.

In the New Yorker, Ferris Jabr concludes: “proclaiming that we’re unable to enjoy our own thoughts suggests that our mental weather is always supposed to be pleasant. But unhappy thoughts often serve the same purpose as bodily pain, alerting us to problems that need to be resolved before they get worse. The human mind is not meant to resemble a postcard from paradise forever fixed in a state of tropical bliss. It’s a vast and perplexing wonderland whose entire topography can change in an instant. We could try to navigate that inner world in a way that circumvents the unpleasant and irksome. Or we could face the looking glass, press through, and wander.”

For more on the value of daydreaming, watch: