Have it ever occurred to you, that you try to focus on something, but your mind keeps wandering in all kinds of direction but not where you need it to be? I’m sure you know the feeling. Rest assured, because this is normal and also has positive side effects.
In the book The Wandering Mind by Michael C. Corballis, he explains this in detail. In this article I’d like to give you a brief insight into his theory and maybe you’ll even decide to read the book with its complete insight.
Corballis explains that a wandering mind is normal and that this distributed state is essential to any kind of creative thinking, ideation and problem solving practices. He refers to three levels in a person’s memory, which are:
1. Basic skills
Basic skills are for instance what you automatically recall in order to survive. You remember that you need to eat when you’re hungry and you recall how to walk. These are different from talents we acquired and trained however. If you learned a secondary language at some point but have not used it in a long while, you might have lost the fluency in it.
Knowledge is a pool of data and information with contextual relationship mapping. You know that boiling water is hot because it requires a temperature of 100°C to make water boil. This is the level where the most creative mind wandering happens, when you draw connections in your very personal database network.
3. Episodic memory
Picking up on the boiling water example above, if you don’t know at what temperature water boils, you can touch it to try it out or you recall a past experience of touching water and being burned by it. The episodic memory is a collection of experiences made and are the ones that most define your sense of who you are.
You can already tell that everything that happens in your mind, even when you think that you don’t think, there is always something going on these memory levels. This is also why people get ideas about important things, even though they might be doing trivial tasks such as having a shower or ironing clothes. It might occur that a person see’s a certain pattern that maybe triggers memories subconsciously, which might lead to your mind making the right connections and suddenly you have an idea.
What’s the lesson?
Razor sharp focus can calculate and process an unidirectional structure of thought. The wandering mind is distributed and “all over the place”, which makes it a creativity tool. Not being able to focus is okay. Your brain requires these free roaming creativity phases. It will certainly result in better ideas. Nobody has a good ideas while trying hard to have a good idea. Ideas hit us more likely when we are doing something completely different. So don’t feel bad about a wandering mind. Enjoy being able to have your mind on a journey!