Want to know what Steve Jobs thought was the ultimate key to achieving success?
“Focus and simplicity… once you get there, you can move mountains.” – Steve Jobs
I believe this belief is more important today than it was years ago. Information and entertainment are available easily at your fingertips. So, it’s no wonder we all have such a wandering mind nowadays.
Thanks to the internet and smartphones, attention is practically a currency we should be more budget-minded about. In fact, a person who can stay focused is not only more likely to get more done but also be more satisfied at the end of the day because of it. Don’t you agree?
Going further, a person who’s focused will more easily achieve their goals—anything from losing 20 pounds to getting a promotion at work is within reach of this type of person.
Peruse the section below to know everything about the wandering mind and how to control it.
Table of Contents
- What Is a Wandering Mind?
- What Causes a Wandering Mind?
- Is It Bad to Have a Wandering Mind?
- How To Control a Wandering Mind?
- 1. Find Your Totem
- 2. Promise a Reward
- 3. Enter the State of Flow
- 4. Make It Stupid Easy for Your Wandering Mind
- 5. Empty Your Mind With Journaling
- 6. Use the "Just 5 Minutes" Method
- 7. Recite a Focus Mantra
- 8. Use the "Multi-Yawn" Approach
- 9. Find an Easy Win
- 10. Create a "Wins" List
- 11. Add Stakes to the Mix
- 12. Meditate
- 13. Take Frequent Short Breaks
- 14. Talk to Others
- 15. Practice More Sleep
- Bottom Line
What Is a Wandering Mind?
A wandering mind, as the name suggests, flits around like a fly. It keeps asking questions, thinking, worrying, creating problems, imagining, and coming up with effective solutions. This not only happens while you are relaxing but also while driving, eating, or cooking.
A wandering mind is a hotbed of negative and vain thoughts. A Harvard study reveals that wandering minds are directly related to unhappiness. 
“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.” – Killingsworth and Gilbert, Psychologists of Harvard University
A wandering mind makes it harder for you to focus and deal with issues effectively. It will also prevent you from completing important tasks by focusing on tasks unrelated to the important ones and falling asleep. Other common names of mind wandering are daydreaming flights of fancy or fantasy.
What Causes a Wandering Mind?
While the exact cause of mind wandering hasn’t been understood, research studies in laboratory settings have shown that there is a network of neurons that have been linked to mind wandering. This network interacts with some regions of the cortex which deal with behavior and emotions.
This network is usually active when a person is at rest or working on tasks that don’t require you to pay attention. Changes in this network’s default mode have been linked to changes in brain activity and a wide range of mental diseases such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Is It Bad to Have a Wandering Mind?
Having a wandering mind harms your productivity and performance in different ways. Plus, it affects your quality of life. Here are a few reasons compiled by cognitive science that suggest that mind-wandering is bad for you:
- Lack of awareness: When you are preoccupied with your thoughts, it’s difficult to be aware of your environment. This usually leads to accidents like banging on people or objects, falling, and ignoring traffic signs. Lack of awareness is one of the leading causes of accidents on most roads.
- Failure to comprehend: An employee or student may fail to understand what’s being explained to them. And this will lead to huge errors. It’s more difficult for someone with a wandering mind to read, listen to, or follow their daily tasks.
- Poor focus: A wandering mind reduces your capacity to focus on important tasks. And this can be interpreted as a lack of interest in being uninvolved in tasks. It also makes it more difficult for you to persevere with tiresome, dull, or time-consuming chores. And when you work on a task at random times, you’ll end up making careless mistakes.
- Depression: One of the common consequences of a wandering mind is anxiety and depression.
How To Control a Wandering Mind?
Here are 15 ways to tame and refocus your wandering mind to get more things done.
1. Find Your Totem
Do you recall the totem from the film Inception? When they touched it, it served as a reminder that they weren’t dreaming and helped to keep them in the present.
You can use this idea to stay focused as well. Find a “focus totem” that will act as a regular reminder to prioritize your job and put an end to daydreaming. In the best-case scenario, it should be something you can touch and see.
Both the chess piece and the spinning top that was used in the movie are smart ideas. To help you concentrate, you might also wear a ring, use a family photo, or utilize a small trophy (in fact, a green lantern ring might be kind of cool for this).
2. Promise a Reward
Incentives are an obvious way to go. And if you want to learn how to refocus your mind, then promising a reward would have great results.
Any journey that culminates in gold makes you want to keep going for the rewarding experience. In general, rewards should be in proportion to how difficult or time-consuming the activity is. For example:
- Finish a quick house chore = a piece of chocolate
- Complete an annoying administrative task = 10 minutes of Youtube
- A successful day of being in the state of flow = a whole movie on Netflix
Pretty simple stuff, right? But you’d be surprised how often you forget to reward yourself for doing solid work on the regular.
3. Enter the State of Flow
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, a notable psychologist in positive psychology, suggests the idea of the state of flow by saying that when someone is extremely concentrated on a specific activity, one’s mind is fully occupied because the human nervous system is incapable of processing too much information. 
One technique to achieve a long-lasting feeling of contentment is to enter the flow state, which stops your mind from daydreaming.
Imagine you’re a musician who is writing a piece of music. It is easy to envision that your thoughts will be entirely consumed by musical notation, leaving you with little time to consider what to eat for lunch. Most of our anxieties and concerns are put on hold when we are in a state of flow because we are fully present.
Going into flow is like learning to ride a bike:
Pick a Route You Enjoy
If you choose the routes you like when you ride a bike, your journey will be more joyful. You also need to locate something fascinating about the task you’re going to work on to achieve flow.
People frequently get their hands filthy right away without appreciating the intriguing aspects of what they are doing. They are really rare to experience flow without seeing something interesting.
Spare Time To Warm Up
Each process requires time. Both learning to ride a bike and experiencing flow require practice. For instance, you might warm up your body for 15 minutes with stretches and exercises before riding a bike.
Your thoughts are similar.
It needs some time to get into the state, and it takes even longer for you to be fully immersed, so you need to be patient. You may not be able to reach the state of flow right away, but you still need to wait until your mind has warmed up. You won’t even be aware of time passing after you’ve reached the state of flow.
Keep the Wheels Rolling Till the End
For the wheels to keep turning, you cannot stop. The bike will eventually halt when you stop exerting force, and you will be unable to continue your voyage. When you’re in the flow state, you shouldn’t stop in the middle, either.
Just as you should know your path and destination when riding a bike, you need to be clear on what you want to accomplish and what you are working for. When we lose focus, we are quickly sidetracked by various things, which makes it very difficult for us to focus.
The first step on the path to genuine happiness is to enter the flow state, or to put it another way, to be attentive. The happy times you have experienced, the present circumstances you find yourself in, or the bright future you daydream about don’t bring happiness. Happiness is a mental state.
4. Make It Stupid Easy for Your Wandering Mind
I don’t know about you, but if I feel that my task requires more effort than I want to put forth, I become immediately disinterested. Procrastination and distraction are the results of this. However, you can counteract this by dividing challenging work into manageable chunks.
Here’s an example of what seems simpler: 3 pushups instead of 30.
Even though it seems simple, there are instances when our brains need to be “persuaded” that we are only exerting minimal effort in order for things to go forward.
But here’s a wonderful thing about this strategy: You are capable of exceeding your ridiculously simple standard, and you most likely will. You don’t have to, but from my experience, once you begin going in this way, it’s simple to go above and beyond your initial, minimal objective.
5. Empty Your Mind With Journaling
Sometimes, there’s too much stuff floating around in your brain that is making your mind wander. In that case, it can help to spill everything in your head onto a journal to free up some space. You can use a pen and pad for this or something digital like Evernote.
There are two basic ways to go about it:
- Freestyle – where you just write whatever randomly flows through your brain without thinking or pausing. This is great if you’ve got a million different ideas racing through your brain.
- Focused – where you create prompts or an outline to streamline your thinking, and you just respond to the questions or format. This is best when you want to grasp a certain topic.
6. Use the “Just 5 Minutes” Method
Use the excuse of working for “only 5 minutes,” after which you can stop. You’ll notice that the assignment seems much simpler to complete. Similar to the “stupid easy” technique, this deceives your brain into believing a task requires less effort than it actually does. After all, even the most difficult work may be completed in 5 minutes, which is psychologically doable for everyone.
The secret is always to give oneself permission to stop after 5 minutes. That’s what enables your brain to recognize the approach as legitimate and enables it to go over the mental barrier that causes it to want to stray and concentrate on things other than your task.
7. Recite a Focus Mantra
I like to think of mantras as a totem you can take with you anywhere you go. They serve the same purpose—reminding you to stay focused—but can be done anywhere and anytime.
I find the most powerful type of mantra to be based on reality. I learned this approach from Dr. Jon Fader—a performance coach who was on “Good Morning America”—and his book Life as Sport: What Top Athletes Can Teach You about How to Win in Life. He calls this “objective optimism.”
You basically develop a mantra based on your own particular accomplishment in life. In this way, the mantra has more weight than just fluffy positivism; it also has the weight of actual success.
- You could say, “Just another day of heading to the gym—easy” if you’re having trouble getting yourself to the gym despite having technically gone there a lot of times already.
- After accepting a promotion, if you experience imposter syndrome, merely tell yourself, “I’m here for a reason,” to help you remember that you are the real deal and that others have noticed your efforts.
- I’ve done all the work,” to remind yourself that your prior efforts have developed the greatest version of you for the event, if you’re anxious about an approaching sporting event but have trained carefully for it.
As you can see, mantras that are founded on facts and are encouraging are the most effective. So simply identify an important victory in your life that you can prove and turn it into an empowering mantra.
8. Use the “Multi-Yawn” Approach
Being fatigued is one of the best ways to become distracted. Additionally, there are instances when you’ll be so worn out that you’ll pretend to be working while actually being continually distracted.
I like to produce as many loud, pleasurable yawns as possible. Olympic competitors occasionally practice this prior to major competitions.
They become more at ease. As a result, improving their performance. And it functions just as effectively for us common people. You can imagine how effective this can be because, in my experience, it has a similar effect to a nice nap (and actually works best when done simultaneously).
9. Find an Easy Win
Nothing is as satisfying as success. Therefore, it can be helpful to choose a few straightforward chores you can complete quickly. By doing this, you’ll build momentum and increase your productivity.
The sense of accomplishment will keep your attention on the subject at hand and concentrate your distracted mind. Use this if you experience “resistance” to starting your work.
10. Create a “Wins” List
Being confident in one’s abilities and ability to succeed in life is inspiring in and of itself. A running “wins” list can be useful in light of this fact to demonstrate your aptitude.
Just record all of your everyday victories, no matter how tiny. And if you find yourself losing concentration, look at that list to reaffirm your abilities.
11. Add Stakes to the Mix
Would you be more motivated to accomplish a task if you stood to lose $20 if you didn’t? Of course!
Your focus, motivation, and capacity to get things done will be higher than ever if you try to find ways to put something on the line when it comes to finishing your duties.
If you’re at work, for instance, you may include a coworker by threatening to purchase their lunch if you don’t finish a task by midday.
At home, you could say you’ll also mow the lawn if you don’t remember to wash the dishes before the day is over. Or you could just use something like Beeminder or TaskRatchet, which actually charges you cash for failing to complete a task or goal on time. (It’s scary but effective)
All are viable methods, so just give one of them a shot.
The mind can be trained to concentrate on meditation. Numerous studies show that practicing meditation can enhance one’s capacity to focus and pay attention.
When practicing focus attention meditation, you concentrate on something that may be internal to your body or external. You also train yourself to keep your attention on your center before letting it stray and returning it to your focal point.
Even when you are not doing meditation, repetition improves your ability to focus and refocus on your task. Additionally, regular mindfulness meditation strengthens the brain’s “attentional monitoring systems.” 
13. Take Frequent Short Breaks
When you choose to fix an issue while relaxing and thinking about anything unrelated to your assignment, after this exercise, your ability to focus will be improved if you return to your tour work.
Therefore, focus your thoughts on one specific topic instead of letting your mind roam during a break from work or after a lecture. This task can help you focus.
14. Talk to Others
Because there is no clear structure to the monologue and no outside voice to assist put things in perspective, being stuck in your thoughts can be harmful.
Additionally, they offer perspective; the effort of organizing your ideas into a comprehensible narrative itself aids in your understanding of them, which is one of the reasons that counseling, chatting to a friend, and even writing are all successful at calming the mind.
Some of the most absurd concerns can fade as they acquire shape. In addition to providing feedback, talk therapy also has the advantage of assisting you in creating more tangible tools to create a new relationship with your thoughts on your schedule.
15. Practice More Sleep
In general, poor mental performance and diminished ability to withstand internal and external distractions are consequences of sleep deprivation.
Additionally, sleep is crucial for the consolidation of memories. In fact, according to new research, if you have an hour to spare before an exam, taking a sleep can be a better use of your time than studying.
Action Steps to Focus the Wandering Mind
Focusing is undoubtedly among the top three strategies for succeeding in life among all those available. If you don’t get your work done and focus, you won’t achieve anything in life. A daydreaming mind won’t lead to success.
But if you follow these ten focus tactics, you’ll have an advantage over the competition and be on your way to a healthier physique, a more lucrative job, and an all-around better life.
|The Harvard Gazette: Wandering mind not a happy mind
|Daring to Live Fully: How to enter the flow state
|NCBI: The Mindful Brain and Emotion Regulation in Mood Disorders