We all hear a lot of talk these days about distraction: smart phones, email, social media, and TV. And it’s true, these technologies can make it hard to focus and to be present.
But there’s an even more powerful form of distraction – one that we often overlook. It doesn’t come from technology or anything in the external world. It comes from our own mind – from the thoughts that carry us away from the present moment and into the past and future.
It’s what psychologists call mind wandering. And if you really stop to think about it, this is a uniquely human phenomenon. It’s an ability that allows you to time travel in your own mind.
Unlike all other species of animals, you have the ability to be physically here but mentally in a completely different place. You could be sitting here watching this video but thinking about an argument you had 20 years ago or a big event that you have to go to six months from now.
And here’s the thing about mind wandering. It’s both a virtue and a vice. This capacity allows us to plan and learn from past mistakes. It’s also been linked to generating creative insights. But researchers at Harvard recently discovered that frequent mind wandering often stands in the way of happiness.
In a 2010 study, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert used a technique called “experience sampling” where subjects are texted questions throughout the day to measure both how often people mind wandered and what affect this had on their level of happiness.
They came to two stunning conclusions. The first is that the average person mind wanders – a lot. It turns out that we spend somewhere around 47% of our day lost in this stream of thinking.
The second is the most surprising. They found that our happiness has less to do with the activities we are engaged in and more to do with whether or not we are mind wandering.
And that’s the big take away. Present moment awareness leads to happiness. When you shift from mind wandering to what’s happening right here, right now, you feel less stressed, more at ease and happier.
When it comes to Life Cross Training, this practice is just the beginning. We have developed an entire inner technology for training these powerful habits of wellbeing. To learn more, go to StartHere.life where you can buy the book Start Here and sign up for our free 4-week e-course on mindfulness.