Unpacking Our Thoughts To Reduce Mind-Wandering

Mindfulness meditation helps us to form a new relationship with our thoughts. Find out more.
Tom Evans is an author and meditation guide from the UK.
mind wandering meditation
Tom Evans is an author and meditation guide from the UK.

Tom Evans explains how we can reduce mind-wandering and improve our focus.

The (Seemingly) Uncontrollable Process Of Mind-Wandering

One of the peculiarities of the normal human mind is that it can only hold one thought at a time.

Think about this sentence and you will find what ever you are thinking about gets replaced by that very thought. Think about what you had for breakfast this morning and that notion about the singular nature of human thought gets replaced yet again by the image of cereal, toast, fruit or bacon and eggs perhaps. Note in passing how thoughts can be verbal, visual or auditory as well as coming as smells, tastes, and feelings.

During the course of each day, our minds will focus on the task in hand for some of the time at the least. There will be times though where we mull over past conversations or past events. Our minds might wander forwards in time to what we’re having for supper or what we are up to at the weekend. We are also prone to be interrupted by others and our own thoughts that appear out of the blue.

Our internal dialogue or chatter might replay conversations where we wished we’d come up with that sharp, witty answer. Alternatively, we may be rehearsing a speech or talk we are doing in the future or an awkward conversation we’ve been meaning to have with our boss.

The human mind, while a wondrous thing, is a wandering time machine that constantly slips in and out of the present moment. What’s more, it does this all by itself.

We can be writing an email or doing the washing up and, all of a sudden, our imagination can whisk us back to a beach on a past holiday or forward in time to an evening out we’ve planned with friends. We might even think about someone only for the phone to ring, or an email to appear, from that very person.

So how do we control this tendency for our mind to wander all by itself so that we can increase our efficiency and improve our focus? Surely, we have no control over our minds…

Differentiating Between Internal And External Thoughts

This is where the practice of mindfulness meditation comes in. It helps us form a new relationship with our thoughts. When we do this, we have a better chance of controlling the wonderings and wanderings of our minds.

Upon waking, our brain begins to generate internal thought forms in the form of an internal dialogue. This stops when we fall asleep but does continue in the form of dreams. These internal thoughts leak out into the world in our speech or by way of written words like these.

Our brain also receives external thought forms which come from three main sources:

  1. The first is via our primary senses — what we see, hear and feel modulates our thoughts.
  2. Secondly, we take inputs from other parts of our neurology which in the form of feelings, such as instincts, intuitions, hunger and being in love or unloved.
  3. The third input is flashes of inspiration and enlightenment. These often pop in unannounced and unexpectedly, sometimes while out walking, or in the shower. 

For a moment, while you are reading these words, notice how this is similar to running an internal dialogue in your head. 

Next, pause for a moment, stop reading, close your eyes, and ask yourself how you feel about the idea that not all thoughts are necessarily what you think of as your own.

Does that make you excited, fearful or skeptical?

Whichever feeling bubbles to the surface, you have just experienced an unconscious murmur which starts in a lower mind center and percolates through to your brain for interpretation.

Some thoughts that come in can take over the mind and we can enter what sometimes called a ‘mindfall’. If you get awoken in the early hours with a brilliant idea, it can be impossible to go back to sleep as you run through all the ramifications. If somebody oversteps the mark and crosses a boundary, thoughts of righting that wrong can consume our waking days. If you fall either in or out of love, any thoughts of creativity can fly out of the window. (In this case, not only are you in a mindfall but a ‘heartfall’, too!)

When we realize ideas are on tap all the time, meditation is the key to accessing an unlimited source of creativity.

Where Meditation Comes In

When I was first introduced to meditation in my mid-40s, my first reaction was that I was too busy to “waste” 10 or more minutes every day. I quickly discovered, however, that when I ‘made room’ for daily meditation in my life, all sort of wondrous gifts came my way.

I found those moments of quiet each morning made my days go by so much more smoothly. Quite simply I got the investment of time back many times over by increased productivity and enhanced creativity. After just a few weeks, I found I could more easily retain a ‘quiet mind’ during the day.

When I started meditating, I was fearful I wouldn’t be able to ‘do it right’ and would never be able to make my mind go quiet.. But I learned that meditation is not necessary about having no thoughts at all. While this is indeed possible, meditation is better used to arrive at a different relationship with your thoughts.

Quiten for a moment and listen to one of these guided meditations by Tom Evans:

  1. Be Calm for Longer Tom Evans 15:55
  2. Ten Minutes of Mindfulness Tom Evans 10:01
  3. Being Calm Tom Evans 10:30
  4. A Body Scan With A Difference Tom Evans 13:33

Meditating To Unpack Our Thoughts

The quieter mind resolved in me becoming less bothered by interruptions from external and internal thoughts. Also, while I could still empathize with the plight and moods of others, I found I was not being sucked into dramas that were not of my own making. My detachment allowed me to help people who were struggling with more clarity and objectivity.

So, the first step to take is to realize that not all thoughts are generated inside the brain. Our brains act as receivers of thought forms, too.

After practicing meditation for just 10 minutes a day for a week, we become better equipped to enter and remain in the meditative state with our eyes open. When we do this two things happen:

  1. Firstly, time seems to expand so we get more done with less of it. I call this EMT or Extended Me Time.
  2. Secondly, both external and internal interruptions reduce in frequency and volume.

This increases our efficiency and makes our meditation time an essential part of our days.

Stop mind-wandering during work or study. Discover hundreds of free guided focus meditation practices for increasing your attention and memory.

If you are working on something and your mind wanders, simply ask the new thought to go away and come back later when you will have time to deal with it. Don’t worry that you might forget it. If it’s important it will come back to you at the most perfect and relevant time.

Read more: Find out how to meditate properly to truly experience and embody the many benefits of meditation.

Meditation. Free.