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Attention wandering: why it’s causing you more harm than you realise and how meditation can help

47% of the time you’re not here.

Have I got your attention? Read on...the chances are, according to research,  I might not keep it! Of course physically you’re always here but a fascinating study has shown that most of us spend almost half our time with our mind elsewhere. (Click here to read an article about this research).

So what's the research all about?

Using an iPhone app that checked in with people at varying times, it looked at what they were doing at that moment, rated their happiness, and then importantly what they were thinking about.  The results were pretty interesting because they showed that, as mentioned above, almost 47% of the time the participants were NOT thinking about what they were actually doing in that moment.  

Most of us can probably relate to that

When we think about it, we’re often ruminating over the past or anticipating the future - we find it hard to be right here.  Running through how a conversation might go, replaying an event, and on it goes - and often our default loop is for negative experiences or things we worry about. 

What that looks like in your life

How many times have you driven home only to realise that you don’t actually remember the drive? As if somehow you just teleported home.

I remember moving house and one day, almost 3 months after I moved, I found myself at my old address before I realised. I had driven there on autopilot and had to turn around. 

Or how about when you're eating a bag of crisps (or whatever your snack of choice is!); you reach in and find just the crumbs and yet you don’t even really remember eating any? 

Worse still, how many times have you tuned out during a conversation without realising and suddenly discovered you have no idea what the other person just said?  Particularly mortifying when you realise the expectant pause is for you to reply to a question you didn’t hear.

So what, I hear you say? 

It’s seductive to think that it’s really not such a big deal. Some thinking can be helpful and sometimes the situation you’re in sucks so why would you want to be present?

The research however shows that our mind wandering doesn’t make us happy. In fact, less than 5% of your happiness in a given moment is because of WHAT you’re doing and almost 11% is down to whether your mind has wandered - when your mind stays present you feel happier. 

And the research goes further to show that this seems to be CAUSED by the mind wandering. So it’s not that our mind wanders because we’re not happy in the activity we are doing (which is what you might expect). Instead, our mind wanders and that causes our happiness reduces.

Why does this happen?

The trouble is that our brain, when unchecked, is a thinking machine that never stops.  Just like our nose smells, our ears hear and our eyes see...our mind is just doing its job and thinking. The trouble is, we don’t realise that and so we don’t think we have any control over it.

What does it feel like?

When you first turn inwards in meditation it can be astounding just how crazy it is in there. The noise is deafening with our thoughts tumbling from one thing to another without any feeling of conscious control.  I remember during my first few meditations thinking (ha, of course I was thinking!)  “Geez Laura, you’re a crazy person!”.  But that’s ok. Being able to sit with that is what we are here to do in our meditation practice. 

Learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable

The more we do that, the easier it gets. That restless quality that happens when we first try to meditate makes way for something deeper.  Something more essential and somehow more “real”. It’s effortless - but only when we learn how to get out of the way! 

What are we really doing?

What we do in meditation is connect that essential part of us, the “You” that’s underneath and separate from the thinking, to the “doing” part of you that’s active in the world.   

Your being and your doing in union. And it feels good. In fact, it's how we're supposed to be.

So how do we do that? 

The truth is, you will almost certainly have already experienced it many times.

All of us have things in our lives, whether now or in the past, that allow us to achieve that state of effortless flow.  Maybe it’s when you are running, or drawing, or absorbed in some other passion.  You’ll know you’re there because time will seem to no longer exist. You’ll lose all sense of your body because it suddenly seems in complete sync with what you are doing.  It seems like effortless effort, and it feels amazing. 

Superpower your life

The beauty of meditation is that suddenly we get to choose to switch that wonderful state of being on. We can learn how to connect our being and our doing, no matter what our doing happens to be.

We develop the superpower of making anything we experience a meditation. That’s when we see our creativity soar, our joy magnify and our lives begin to hum with purpose.  

Being aware of being aware

Learning meditation is about more than those few minutes with your eyes closed. It’s about connecting to that deeper you that’s dying to be in the driving seat.

Are you ready to connect your being and your doing? 

I’d love to help you find the way. Click here to find out what I offer.

What activities make your being and doing connect? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

If you'd like to see more of the science and research on meditation, there's some handy links on the 'Why Meditate' page. Click here to check them out.


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