The Mind that Wanders

Once you reach a certain age, or your parents do, a mind that wanders can be a worrying sign.

But having the opportunity to let our minds wander — by choice — is a gift. I am learning that it is, paradoxically, also a discipline.

As many of you know, I have been on a partial sabbatical this summer, taking time off from facilitation assignments to write a book and focus on one-on-one coaching. Slowing down reminded me that I hadn’t been in a space to daydream for a long while. It felt luxurious to let my mind drift and to make leisurely mental connections between things that were gently occurring to me.

Daydreaming is a form of rest. In their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Emily and Amelia Nagoski assert that we need to be resting 42% of the time! It actually makes us more productive than digging in. They echo the work of Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, whose book Rest: Why you get more done when you work less is a useful guide to leveraging rest as a productivity hack. The 2022 Global Resilience Report identifies relaxation as one of the top five critical success factors for resilience. (In case you’re curious, sleep is distinct from relaxation and comes in at number one!) Many other writers, including Margaret Heffernan in Uncharted: How to map the future together and IDEO’s Tom and David Kelley in Creative Confidence showcase the benefits of daydreaming as pathways to creativity and imaginative thinking.

It’s strange to think of daydreaming as useful — seems like an oxymoron. But if these benefits are true, shouldn’t we do more of it? Which leaves us scheduling daydreaming — also oxymoronic.

Yet that’s what it takes. Time off is a privilege. It is also one that requires planning and commitment to make happen.

Perhaps you’re not in a position to take a summer sabbatical — and if you’re in the northern hemisphere, it’s a bit late for that anyway! But I have learned that if my thinking is going to stay fresh in my practice, I also cannot wait until next summer to create the mind space that daydreaming requires. My challenge is to clear that space even as things pick up speed and the calendar gets full.

Those leisurely mornings by the lake already feel like a distant memory, but I look forward to figuring out what the urban, faster-paced equivalent will be that allows my brain to focus less and drift more.

I’d love to hear what you’re trying that works. And if you too have been away and are scurrying to match the faster pace of September life, welcome back.

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