Harnessing the Power of Mind-wandering and Quiet Contemplation for Creativity and Clarity

By Yin Nwe Ko

We often hear or read the words to do more and to think less about something. Now, the title of this article seems clumsy to read as we all have hardly read it in our lives for ages. However, queer things and advanced opinions rise into our society minute after minute. Some of the opinions are considered on whether it will be possible for them or not to perform or practise. What people think to be impossible really comes into existence in a few years, we have found many times in the world. Therefore, let us take notice of the main theme of the original author here…
The urge to leap into planning can be strong in the quieter post-Christmas days and weeks with a new journal in hand and an empty year ahead to fill with ideas, goals, and ambitions. However, while there’s no harm in planning, it could be wise to pause first and allow yourself some time for quiet contemplation. When we turn down the noise and clear some mental space, we give our minds the chance to wander, and, according to the experts, that is when creative thinking happens and our deepest, most intuitive thoughts and ideas come to the surface.
While you might like the idea of doing nothing, you probably do not do it very often, if at all. We live in a world where being busy is considered better, we work hard and fill our free time with more things to do. With all this ‘stuff’ and stimulation, it’s not surprising that our minds are rarely free to wander and be curious. Moshe Bar, a renowned neuroscientist and author of Mind-wandering: How It Can Improve Your Mood and Boost Your Creativity (Bloomsbury Tonic), says that he regularly encourages his kids and friends to “just lie on the sofa and stare at the ceiling for as long as they want to.” In doing so he’s trying to rid them of the guilt they feel for not doing anything observable and experience the benefits of ‘Mind-wandering’, which he describes as the vehicle for planning and where good ideas come from. “We know a great deal about the brain network (known as the default mode network or DMN) that mediates these important processes, and it is most vigorously active when we are doing nothing,” he explains.

It is not surprising that when we are bombarded with a constant stream of information and stimulation, we find it harder to think clearly or come up with ideas. Bar likens it to an engineering term known as ‘signal-to-noise ratio’ – “Basically, the less noise there is the more salient the signal” and explains why improving your chances of getting a clear signal for your creative thoughts to reach your conscious mind is so important: “Hidden inside the space that is our thoughts are the new ideas, insights, clear decisions, and other mental treasures thrown at us from the subconscious,” he says. “And it’s much harder for us to notice them when they’re embedded in cluttering noise.”
It is not only external noise but internal chatter in our minds. “A quieter mind is clearer in that it lets us see the fruits of our thinking better,” explains Bar, acknowledging that when we suddenly try to do nothing, we often find the mind starts racing – and not necessarily with helpful or positive thoughts. It is perhaps unsurprising then that people often turn to distracting activities rather than sitting quietly. “So much attention has been paid to ways to unplug from the bustle, but the greater challenge can be freeing ourselves from the distractions within which disrupt our attention and intrude on the quality of our experience even when we are in a perfectly quiet place.”
Even though humans are the only species that can engage in internal thinking we seem to be increasingly uncomfortable with our own company and thoughts. In one famous study, subjects chose to give themselves mild electric shocks as a preference to sitting quietly in front of a white wall. However, recent research from the University of Tübingen published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that when people were instructed to sit and wait with no stimulation available to them, even though almost all showed an initial reluctance to it, they enjoyed it and found it more beneficial than they had expected.

When we are embarking on a new project or have a piece of work we need to finish, the natural urge is not to take a break and to sit down until it is finished. However, the brain does not always cooperate, which can lead to feelings that we are inadequate or lack creativity and ideas. “The mind will tense and become tense and uncooperative if dominated by thoughts of having to do something quickly, making it impossible to perform to one’s full potential,” explains Ryunosuke Koike, author of The Practice of Not Thinking (Penguin).
So, if we can give up the guilt associated with doing nothing, practice quietening down unwanted thoughts, and allow our minds to wander freely, then we can allow new ideas, solutions, and nuggets of inspiration to spring to mind. As Moshe Bar says; “Learning to do and think less is an important skill that can be practised and one for which you will be rewarded.” Here are some ways to encourage your mind to wander freely and constructively…

Move your body
Often focusing on the body can help clear the mind. Any physical activity outside in nature is good, whether it is walking, running, gardening, or a breath-focused practice like yoga or meditation. Some people find that during routine tasks, such as housework, mowing the lawn, or decorating, their minds will wander in a productive way. “My dad likes to think while folding laundry,” says Moshe Bar.

Enjoy pockets of silence
A bit like being bored, silence is something many of us find uncomfortable and resist by watching TV, playing music, or avoiding being on our own. The mind responds to stimuli so if you are always surrounded by noise, it will be harder to focus – try doing some mental arithmetic while loud music is on or in a busy restaurant and see how much longer it takes than when you are in a quiet environment. Introduce pockets of quiet into your day – you do not have to be alone, and you can spend time with others without talking or watching, or listening – perhaps reading a book together or walking together silently.

Clear mental clutter
Our minds are never idle and self-chatter is pretty much continuous, composed of inner monologue, where we rehearse conversations and narrate our experiences, and dialogue where we have conversations with ourselves, and negotiate moral and practical issues. “We can’t control what’s happening inside our brains,” says Bar, “but we can observe it and decide what to do with it.” If you find that when you try to switch off, intrusive thoughts keep coming to mind, he suggests a technique called labelling. Every thought can be labelled along the following: Is it positive, negative, or neutral? Is it about me or others? Is it concerning the past, present, or future? For example, if you are worried that something you said might have offended someone, you can label it negative, me, past. Once you engage with this exercise, thoughts start to disappear as soon as you have finished labelling.

Notice the ordinary
Former monk Ryunosuke Koike says that trying to notice ordinary things rather than those that arouse strong emotions helps to focus an overthinking mind. “The mind looks for short-term pleasure gained through stimulation. One example of how to resist this is while walking down a street. Don’t ignore the things around you, pay attention to how the small details in your field of vision change while you’re in motion. Make a conscious effort to look and you’ll begin to see many things that you may have previously ignored in a new light and thereby boost your concentration. As you become more acutely aware of the little things many people overlook, your attentiveness and sense of perception will deepen and your mind will be clearer.”

Rediscover daydreaming
Remember daydreaming as a child, staring out of the window during class, or lying on your bed just looking at the ceiling? Now think about when you last gazed out of the window on a bus or train or just waited in a queue instead of pulling out your laptop/phone/book. If you consciously stop yourself from reaching for a distracting activity when you have some downtime or even when you’re walking (put those headphones away) or on the loo (yes, we all do it!), you’ll find that daydreaming habit will come back to you. And the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it until you don’t automatically reach for something to do when you stop for a moment.

Meditate away impatience
You don’t need any meditation kit, and you can do it anytime, anywhere. If you find yourself getting frustrated and impatient while waiting, for example, try closing your eyes, concentrating on your breathing, and perhaps repeating a mantra to yourself such as “I am calm”. You will feel refreshed and relaxed instead of angry and irritated.
I think my esteemed readers have visualized the main theme of the article now. As for me, I like almost all opinions, especially the final paragraph which I enjoy most. Some of them might be difficult to perform in person, but they can be partially accepted. Nevertheless, it will be profitable for us to gain some kind of knowledge from reading and contemplating it.

Reference: The Simple Things (January 2023)

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