The Neuroscience Of Mind-Wandering - Deepstash

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The art and science of mind wandering

The Neuroscience Of Mind-Wandering

Our brain’s executive system is active during any goal-oriented task, where there is a level of focus required.

During a period of passivity, the large scale brain networks become the default mode networks and work in tandem. This is our period of rest, where the entire brain is in a relaxed but highly active state.

This period is when we let our brain generate spontaneous thoughts while not being focused on anything.

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The Goldilocks Principle
The Goldilocks Principle

Just like the fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, where the preferred porridge has to be neither too hot nor too cold, and the preferred bed has to be neither too soft nor too hard, we have to find our sweet spot which has the right amount of stress, anxiety, challenge and thrill, while not being paralyzing or life-sucking.

Demanding jobs carry with them worry, stress and anxiety, but not having anything to worry about in a job is also detrimental to our well-being.

The Optimal Level of Stress

Whether it is the stress that is taken by schoolchildren or workplace challenges, we have to find an optimal level where there is just the right amount of pressure. There is a balance that has to be achieved for stress levels (which comes from external factors) and anxiety (which is usually through our internal thought mechanisms).

Stress to some extent is beneficial as it releases hormones like cortisol in the brain, increasing your performance in the short term while enhancing brain functions.

Healthy Levels Of Anxiety
  • If we are occasionally stressed out or worry prior to a big presentation, we are well within the healthy levels of anxiety and it can be our motivation as well.
  • If we are unable to sleep at night, have constant health issues or are unable to eat, then we are in the unhealthy stress/anxiety territory and need to take corrective action.
Practice with direction
Practice with direction

We tend to think that practice means endless repetition of the same task, where the goal is to progressively become an expert. The most efficient route to expertise is not mindless practice, but deliberate practice.

The talent fallacy

People believe that expert performance means the performer must be endowed with talent. This is only true for some individuals.

The difference between expert performers and regular people is that experts have spent a deliberate effort to improve their performance in a specific area. They practice with the objective of mastering it.

The promise of deliberate practice

Deliberate practice is focused, systematic, and purposeful.

  • It is designed specifically to improve performance.
  • It can be repeated a lot.
  • Feedback on results is continuously available.
  • It's highly demanding mentally.
  • It's not much fun.
Our values
Our values

Our values are our preferences about what we consider appropriate courses of actions.

They strongly influence our decisions. Therefore we should take the time to consider what our personal values are.

The transmission of values

Personal values can be ethical, moral, ideological, social, or even aesthetic. Values are mostly transmitted through parenting, but our cultural environment also plays a role.

For instance, American parents tend to value intellectual knowledge; Swedish parents value security and happiness; and Dutch parents value independence and the ability to stick to a schedule.

The four personal value orientations

There are four different personal value orientations based on our "terminal values " - our desirable states of existence, and "instrumental values" - the means by which we achieve our end goals.

  1. Personal-competence. "I value wisdom (terminal), which I believe can be achieved through independent thinking (instrumental)."
  2. Personal-moral: "I valued true friendship (terminal), which I believe can be achieved through honesty (instrumental)."
  3. Social-competence: "I valued equality (terminal), which I think can be achieved through ambitious work (instrumental)."
  4. Social-moral: "I value national security (terminal), which I believe can be achieved through obedience (instrumental)."