The Value of a Wandering Mind

People hate to be bored, especially children and teens. Adults, though, hate being bored as well. When boredom hits, people pull out the cell phone to play a game, check the mail, read an article…anything to escape the boredom. But a series of experiments suggest a different course of action may prove just as effective if not more effective than the cell phone. In this study a group of university students were asked to sit for 20 minutes in a room without their belongings. They could think about anything they wanted to think about, but were not to sleep, walk, exercise, look at a phone, or check the clock. Before they started, they predicted three things:

  1.  how much they might enjoy waiting and thinking,
  2. how interesting or boring it might be prove, and
  3. if they might be so engaged as to lose track of time.

After the 20 minutes of waiting and thinking, each participant was asked to report how engaging, pleasurable, interesting, or boring the experience actually was.

Interestingly, the participants reported being much more engaged and interested than they had predicted. They had underestimated the pleasure and value of waiting and thinking.

The researchers found similar results when students were asked to predict if waiting would be more enjoyable with or without computer access. Then they were randomly assigned to 20 minutes with or without computer access.

Although the students predicted that having computer access would prove more enjoyable, the groups enjoyed the experience equally, whether they had computer access or not. In other words, 20 minutes of mind wandering thought was as enjoyable as 20 minutes of computer access.

In a similar vein, previous studies have suggested that allowing your mind to wander actually improves mood, strengthens a sense of connection, enhances creativity, and strengthens goal setting.

What does this mean for you and your family? The next time you’re bored while waiting in line, waiting for the bus, waiting for a program to start, waiting… forget about your phone. Let your mind wander. Enjoy the opportunity to let your mind go free. Think about anything you like. You might just find you enjoy thinking.

Let me add one more thing. Share your thoughts with your spouse and family. It will likely stimulate some interesting conversation. More importantly, you will nurture your family intimacy with that conversation… and all starts with enjoying the thoughts of your wandering mind in the “boredom.”

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