Naturally, not all focus is overrated. However, American business is so hyper-focused on results, goals, objectives and checking the box, that the gift of mind wandering has lost its luster. Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” We need to take advantage of the network in our brain that allows us to explore internally the worlds we want to visit, the innovations we want to launch, and the way we want to show up to others.
This part of our brain that helps us transcend ourselves is called the default network, an area of rich insights in the field of social and neuroscience. The default network is the most active brain system when individuals are left to think uninterrupted. It also increases activity during mental explorations like remembering, considering hypothetical social interactions, and thinking about one’s future. This is the network of the brain that allows us to envision what it’s like to be in a different place, a different time, a different person’s head, or a different world altogether. And, it is unique to humans.
You activate the default network when you review industry numbers or quarterly results, then imagine what it would mean to capture twenty percent of market share. You smile. thinking of the business opportunities or your bonus. Or, you activate it when you read a Harry Potter book and imagine what it would be like to have an invisibility cloak or the ability to walk thru walls.
One study I read said, “… that the fundamental function of the default network is to facilitate flexible self-relevant mental explorations—simulations—that provide a means to anticipate and evaluate upcoming events before they happen.”
One of the important reasons to understand the default network is because we so quickly enter this mind wandering state and oftentimes do not “listen in” to the messages we are sharing with ourselves in the process. Listening to your self-talk, the conversation you have with yourself when you mind-wander, allows you to recognize when you are ruminating in a negative way–or encouraging yourself to risk, to try, to dare in a positive way. If you can catch yourself in a negative rumination and shift to a positive frame of reference, you can increase your creative thinking and formulate breakthrough ideas. You can also greatly decrease your stress physically and emotionally.
One client referred to this shift as a “discovery point.” He noticed he was feeling anxious, agitated and impatient. He paused to consider what had he just thinking about (without realizing he was in his default mindset) and realized he was rehashing a conversation with an employee. He was getting worked up again and projecting into the next negative exchange. Wisely, he caught himself and decided to change his internal conversation. After determining what he was anxious about and what annoyed him, he felt more in control. He also immediately recognized a positive shift in his physical state. In doing this, he was using his “control network” to adjust his thinking to impact his behavior, thus progressing toward his stated goal of getting results through his people in a positive way.
Your turn: How often do you let yourself enjoy the benefits of your default network by mind-wandering, daydreaming, imagining? What benefits have you discovered? Remember that not every moment needs to be productive! How aware are you of settling into a negative frame of mind and re-living situations or conversations? I invite you to capture your thoughts and re-imagine a positive outcome full of possibilities. Positively reframe your thoughts and notice how you physically feel and respond.
I’d love to hear from you about what you discover. How has this made a difference in your life?