Chase Mielke

Author. Speaker. Well-Being Expert.

Wandering Minds Find Trouble

Where were you just now?

I don’t mean that in a creeper way. I don’t even mean geographically. I mean mentally where were you just now? I bet we could flip a coin: Heads, you were present with what you were doing. Tails, you were thinking about something else. 

Data would back me up on this prediction. Researcher Matt Killingsworth surveyed 15,000 of people across nations and demographics and asked them to respond to randomly generated cues:

1. How do you feel?

2. What are you doing?

3. Are you thinking about something other than what you’re doing? (And if “yes,” is it a pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant thought?)

Compiling over 650,000 points of data, Killingsworth and his team found that we are present in the moment — wait for it — 53% of our waking hours. For the non-mathletes in the room, that means half of the time we are awake, we aren’t even present with what we are doing. Driving. Eating. Conversations with our loved ones.

There’s a philosophical issue with this. Moments are unique. Moments come to an end. I see this every day with my children. Earlier, for example, I was holding my two month old baby. She was cooing and smiling. I thought about how I will never get this moment again — that I should cherish it and be present. And then my mind wandered to the lecture video I had to post for my students. Then my department head texted me about curriculum for next year. Both internally and externally, I had distractions pulling me from a beautiful moment with my daughter. 

The need to be more mindful takes more than just a philosophical toll on our well-being, though. It’s measurable. One surprising find from Killingsworth’s research is that moments after a person’s mind wanders — even if they were daydreaming about something good — their well-being diminishes. Why? Because a mind left to roam wanders into trouble in the form of rumination or worry. 

It’s critical that we learn skills for recentering our attention to the moment in front of us. Here are a couple ways I can help:

First, I’m sharing with you the entire second chapter of The Burnout Cure, which describes the science and practice of mindfulness. You can check it out here:

Secondly, I am inviting you to join me for a free webinar on June 1st: Mindfulness for Normal Humans. I’m going to describe how I cultivate mindfulness as a parent, a teacher, a business owner, and monkey-minded human being. I’ll also talk about how I’ve successfully introduced mindfulness to hundreds of students and educators. Please join along and invite your students, your colleagues, your friends and family.

Stay golden. Stay present.


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