We've offered tips ranging from using unplugged earphones to motivational wallpaper in an effort to help you stay better focused, but now studies suggest that it's also "crucial" to let your mind zone out.
Photo by taylorkydd.
Discover Magazine references several studies on the importance of zoning out, including a University of Santa Barbara case that asked participating students to read from—what else—War and Peace and to tap on a computer key when they weren't thinking about the book. On average, the students reported wandering off topic 5.4 times in 45 minutes. Depending on the experiment, we may spend even more time—up to 50 percent to be exact—not thinking about the task-at-hand.
All of which, the article says, is a good thing.
The regions of the brain that become active during mind wandering belong to two important networks. One is known as the executive control system. Located mainly in the front of the brain, these regions exert a top-down influence on our conscious and unconscious thought, directing the brain's activity toward important goals.
Of all the ways to let your mind wander, zoning out is considered to be "the most fruitful type". It was also found that sad thoughts allow for more wandering than happy ones. In either case, wandering may help the mind search and find solutions more effectively than constantly trying to keep it in focus.
Benefits aside, this does not mean you should strive for a permanently zoned out state. As the article cautions: "It is one thing to drift away for a few lines of War and Peace. But if you're pondering where you'll be in five years as you drive through a busy intersection, you may not be around in five years to find out."
The Brain: Stop Paying Attention: Zoning Out Is A Crucial Mental State [Discover Magazine]