Katelyn Holub

blogging about music, art, and creativity

Allowing Your Mind to Wander Is More Valuable Than You Think


Last summer, I was getting ready for work one morning when a new melody popped into my head. I hummed the tune to myself so I wouldn’t forget it as I rushed about. Just before I dashed out the door, I whipped out my cell phone and made a quick recording of me singing the melody so that I could return to it later when I had more time. While I loved the new melody I thought up, I couldn’t figure out where it came from and why I thought of it at such a chance time as when I was brushing my teeth.

Have you ever noticed how some of your greatest ideas pop into your head when you are least expecting them? It may seem like our ideas are coming at random times, but when we allow our minds to wander we open our awareness to new possibilities and increase our creativity.

*Photo Credit: Zach Dischner, Creative Commons

*Photo Credit: Zach Dischner, Creative Commons

There are two basic states of mind: focused attention and mind-wandering. Research by cognitive scientists has revealed that our “default” mode is mind-wandering. We innately prefer to drift from thought to thought rather than ponder any one idea deeply.

That’s why if we are not careful, we can find ourselves losing our concentration while we are trying to focus on our work. I know all too well what it’s like to read a paragraph or two only to realize I have no clue what I just read. Sometimes I wind up reading the same sentence over a few times just because my mind has drifted on to some other place.

While having focused attention is important for a lot of tasks, it can be the enemy of creativity.

When we allow our minds to wander we free ourselves from the devil’s advocate playing in our mind, cynicism, and judgment. As Daniel Goldman puts it in his book “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence,” allowing our mind to wander brings us “utter receptivity to whatever floats into the mind.”

*Photo Credit: William Warby, Creative Commons

*Photo Credit: William Warby, Creative Commons

Having a wandering mind with freely roaming awareness can allow us to make new connections and associations. Often the ingredients for our next great idea are already in our mind—they just need to be connected, combined, and drawn to the surface of our consciousness.

Instead of trying to force creativity or being hard on ourselves when our mind wanders (both are creativity roadblocks), what if we could allow ourselves to relax our minds and see where our open awareness takes us? We can, and this freely roaming awareness is invaluable to our creativity in many ways.

Have you noticed increased creativity when you are daydreaming or allowing your mind to wander?  


Author: katelynholub

I'm a law school graduate, singer-songwriter, believer, blogger, and general adventurer.

4 thoughts on “Allowing Your Mind to Wander Is More Valuable Than You Think

  1. Great argument for why allowing one’s mind to wander is beneficial. Definitely know that feeling of having to read a paragraph over and over again being a fellow law school graduate, and realizing I didn’t absorb any of it as my mind had drifted to something more creative.

  2. heh Katelyn, nice article. I really enjoy those moments of creativity. You never know when those special moments are going to grab you.

    Recently I have been trying to come up with some new guitar music, allowing myself to wonder in and out of idea’s and see what sticks. Unfortunately nothing was grabbing my attention, though I do record a lot of my playing for future reference. [Because you never know or why something that didn’t grab your attention one day , then grabs your attention another da. But the other day I was organising a drum machine program for a friend who I have been jamming with to help him with his playing and while I was testing the program to see if it was working properly I came up with this simple drum beat and played a riff to it that was to say the least, I fell in love with.

    It is always a good indication, If you listen to a new idea days later or weeks later and it still exciting and you can see the potential for growth as a song, then you know you are on the right track. I played it to my friend and we had a great time jamming to it.

    I tried singing something over the top of it, but at this stage I have no words , so I’m using a hummed melody and vocal sound fx to give me some ideas. The little ideas for melody, and the few words I have been using are nothing like the songs I have written in the past and that is exciting for me.

    The initial beginnings of this new song was completely random and unexpected as you were mentioning in your article, but there comes a time during the writing process [for me anyway] that I will have to focus my attention on creating other parts of the song, be it lyrics or music or arranging, kind of like connecting the dots. I believe a mixture of the two methods of creativity is what has helped me write my songs, 1. recognising when it strikes [random creative thought] and 2. Organising the time and space to allow your mind to wonder [but focusing your attention on the thoughts that are generated] to allow those creative thoughts to enter our conscious thinking.

    Creativity is a very complex process. It still amazes me how it works, but I find it interesting how creative people generally have the same methods or at least recognisable methods compared to other creative people.

    I think in part, it comes down to if you have an understanding and control of those methods and if you have them working for you.

    I’ve seen friends of mine who have those good random ideas and can write them down, but when the time comes to organise a more controlled environment to allow random thoughts to enter the conscious mind to complete a song , this is where they fail, because it’s hard work and they get frustrated with the process and also if they don’t get the results they want.

    At this point in time, the most important ingredient in the writing process I believe, is to walk away from your project and come back tomorrow or when your ready and reward yourself with what you have accomplished for that day.

    • Hey, Darryl. I think you are right that songwriting involves both times to focus and times to let our minds wander and see what ideas come to us. For me, I sometimes have to remind myself that it is okay to leave my music for awhile and come back to it later. When I focus too much on getting one chord or harmony just right it doesn’t always yield great results. It definitely takes patience to get through the creative process!

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