Reduce Mind Wandering and Negative Mood with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“being in a mind-wandering state – instead of aware of present moment activities – is not such a happy state. We are generally happier when we are not mind-wandering.” – Susan Smalley
We spend a tremendous amount of waking time with our minds wandering and not on the present environment or the task at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. Mindfulness is the antithesis of mind wandering. When we’re mindful, we’re paying attention to what is occurring in the present moment. In fact, the more mindful we are the less the mind wanders and mindfulness training reduces mind wandering.
You’d think that if we spend so much time with the mind wandering it must be enjoyable. But, in fact research has shown that when our mind is wandering we are actually less happy than when we are paying attention to what is at hand. There are times when mind wandering may be useful, especially in regard to planning and creative thinking. But, for the most part, it interferes with our concentration on the present moment and what we’re doing and makes us unhappy. Hence, it makes sense to study the relationship of mindfulness to mind wandering and negative emotions.
In today’s Research News article “Does Mind Wandering Mediate the Association Between Mindfulness and Negative Mood? A Preliminary Study.” (See summary below). Wang and colleagues recruited meditation naïve college students. They completed measures of mindfulness, positive and negative moods, and mind wandering during a 15-minute breath following meditation period. Correlations and sophisticated mediation model analysis were conducted on the students’ responses.
They found that the higher the levels of mindfulness the higher the levels of positive emotions and the lower the levels of mind wandering and negative emotions. Hence, more mindful students had more positive and less negative emotions and less mind wandering. The mediation analysis revealed that mind wandering partially mediated the relationship between mindfulness and negative emotions but not positive emotions. In other words, mindfulness was directly related to less negative emotions and also indirectly by being related to less mind wandering which in turn was related to less negative emotions.
This is a correlational study, so no conclusions can be reached about causation. But there is evidence from other studies that mindfulness training improves mood. So, it is likely that mindfulness caused the greater positive emotions and lower negative emotions in the students in this study. These are interesting results that add to the understanding of how mindfulness affects human emotions. They show that mindfulness influences mood directly and also improves negative mood via reduced mind wandering.
So, reduce mind wandering and negative mood with mindfulness.
“mindfulness training may have protective effects on mind wandering for anxious individuals. . . . meditation practice appears to help anxious people to shift their attention from their own internal worries to the present-moment external world, which enables better focus on a task at hand.” – Mengran Xu
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Yuzheng Wang, Wei Xu, Capella Zhuang, Xinghua Liu. Does Mind Wandering Mediate the Association Between Mindfulness and Negative Mood? A Preliminary Study. Psychological Reports, Vol 120, Issue 1, pp. 118 – 129, 2017. 10.1177/0033294116686036
The aim of this study was to assess the relationship between trait mindfulness and mood and to examine whether the relationship is mediated by mind wandering. Eighty-two individuals (M age = 24.27 years, SD = 5.64, 18 men, 22%) completed a series of measures including the Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, the Profile of Mood States Questionnaire, and Meditation Breath Attention Exercise. Results showed that the level of mindfulness was significantly correlated with positive and negative mood, and the association between mindfulness and negative mood was mediated by mind wandering. This study indicated the important role of mind wandering in the relation between mindfulness and negative mood. Limitations and future research directions are discussed.