How often during a normal workday do you catch yourself zoning out? I’ve never actually counted but for me, it’s quite frequent. I like the feeling that washes over my mind when I’m zoning out. In many cases, it’s a luxury to be able to allow your mind waves to shift into a disengaged state.
To be clear, there is a distinction between zoning out and daydreaming. Zoning out also known as mind-wandering is the process of thoughts wandering or shifting from the immediate task at hand while daydreaming is the short-term detachment from your current surroundings into a series of thoughts, usually about things you would like to happen. Of course, you might be doing both when you get bored or completely uninspired by your current work and zone out which could lead your mind to shift into a daydream and start to think pleasant thoughts about futuristic events. (A two for one!)
Research from psychologists suggests that most of us spend about 47% of our waking lives letting our minds wander, so we’re all in the same boat. And I can imagine the remaining 53% is spent on activities that require total attention whether it be mental or physical engagement.
The good news from research is our mind’s wandering state is linked to our brain’s ability to set goals, make discoveries and maintain a balanced life. It appears to be linked to our creativity in some way.
There was a 2012 study by Drs. Jonathan Schooler and Jonathan Smallwood (two of the world experts on mind wandering) in which the researchers asked four groups of participants to engage in a creativity task. One group did the task again right away, while the three other groups took a 10-minute break. Some rested quietly, others did a challenging memory task, but the final group did a boring task designed to elicit mind wandering. Then they tried the creativity tasks again and somewhat surprisingly: the mind-wandering group did 41% better than the other groups on the repeated tasks.
Psychologists believe that mind-wandering creates an unconscious link to parts of our brain that are inaccessible to our conscious waking thoughts much like what happens when we’re asleep and dreaming.
So there you have it, all the good news about zoning out and daydreaming. It’s good to know that your slacker self might not only be responsible for your creative thoughts and ideas but also for planning your future and keeping your life in balance.