THE ALTERNATIVE TO MINDFULNESS: What?! It is good for your brain

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Last month, presenting a workshop in Mainz, Germany to a fantastic global audience (such as from Argentina, France, Lithuania, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and UK) I shocked them first by starting with some rude jokes, which fortunately did make them laugh (phew!) and also by sharing the idea that it is not always useful to have a 100% focused mind.

This could have been especially challenging to promote, as I was speaking about the neuroscience of mindfulness and the many applications of this popular practice, including how it can positively impact the learning process, which was of particular interest to the teachers of children and adults who were attending.

I’d never win the Where’s Rachel hiding? in a photo puzzle competition, would I?

However, if you have been a Brighter Thinker for a while you will have realised that I enjoy challenging conventional wisdom and do not like to follow the crowd.  To achieve brain-friendly peak performance this is essential!

Allowing your mind to wander enables your brain to activate its Default Network which rather like the idling state of a car keeps it ticking over.  Basically, whenever your brain is not focused on a task, it will resort to mind wandering, hence why default is used to describe the process.

Like many things in neuroscience, the Default Network was discovered by accident; however it is proving vital to optimum brain health with malfunction influencing the onset of Alzheimer’s and Schizophrenia.

However, mind-wandering is not in fashion at the moment and keeping your brain and mind occupied at all times is.  The many distractions of the new digital world are rather handy in keeping up this illusion.  This is why I regularly suggest to my high-achieving clients to schedule time to sit and just ‘be’ and allow their mind to wander. After all, regular enjoyment of a mind-wandering discipline is how many geniuses throughout history are reported to have made major breakthroughs in their endeavours!


If you are terrified of simply sitting alone with your thoughts and seeing where your mind will go, then you really need to do this exercise.

If both your work and personal diary are full of back-to-back commitments, then increase your potential for brain-friendly peak performance by including this strategy. I bet some of your meetings can be deleted to make room… you know, the ones where you don’t have to attend :).

Schedule ten minutes to sit without distraction and be comfortable simply thinking, mind-wandering and day-dreaming.  Gradually work up to one hour.  Yes, you read that right, one hour.  I find that late at night works for me.   However, having specific sessions during the working day e.g. two x 30 minutes may work better for you.  Depending on your role and responsibilities, trust how much time is ideal, as you may require a lot more over a week.  You get paid to think and be creative, so ensure that you make time – and are delegating the doing!

Supplement this with other opportunities such as:

Sitting on the train/plane looking out the window

Enjoying your favourite drink whether in a cafe or bar etc

Walking in nature

…without looking down at your digital dummy!

The benefits are that you will:

  • increase your confidence
  • get more used to your own company
  • notice what thoughts are knocking around your head (and if they are less than encouraging and therefore need to be addressed, pronto!)
  • increase your creativity
  • potentially have an insight towards solving a current challenge.

Indeed, whilst taking some thinking time to work on my business earlier today, I looked away from my notes to gaze off into the distance.  Aware that my eyes had automatically narrowed (reducing visual input), I zoned out and my brain had gone quiet and was definitely doing its own thing in the Default Network… then AHA! I experienced a burst of energy making a connection to form a new idea of how to help my amazing clients.  You will hear about this breakthrough next month!  Woo hoo!

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Tell me what you test out and what happens at and let’s celebrate your success!