Have you ever been caught staring blankly at someone or something; and suddenly snap out of it when you realise other people might have noticed that you’re spacing out? It’s something that has happened to me quite a number of times. I could either come off as a deep-thinker or… well… weird?
In a society that values productive and goal-driven behaviour, spacing out can be seen as irresponsible loafing. However, as it turns out, psychological researchers have dubbed it as “mind wandering”.
So, what is mind wandering? I’ll try my best to form a relatable analogy. Imagine you were reading a book but then, your mind started wondering about what you should be having for dinner. Or, you were just sitting and gazing at a lamp, but you suddenly wondered whether you left the tap upstairs running.
I don’t see myself as a quick learner or an extrovert that can easily strike up a conversation without seeming insincere. Thus, I tend to contemplate about the most random things most of the time. This isn’t a huge secret so I have to admit, I do think of myself as a bit of an oddball. I don’t know if anyone has thought of it this way but have you ever gotten these random thoughts that go: “I wonder if I said something out of place”. This is why spacing out can sometimes be useful. We get to think about what to say before speaking, or, we contemplate on what not to say to people next time. Furthermore, we must also remember that self-love is important and accepting that nobody’s opinion should make us feel less than what we really are.
Another great thing I’ve realised about mind wandering is that it can aid us in our observational skills, which is especially useful for people pursuing a degree or career that requires noting down others’ behaviour.
Also, it helps that even psychology researchers such as Dr. Jonathan Schooler and Jonathan Smallwood found that mind-wandering (or spacing out) facilitates creativity. Their study discussed and argued that mind-wandering can actually be considered a goal-driven activity, though not directly applicable to the task at hand.
So, is spacing out good or bad for us? Is it weird?
Well, that would depend on two things.
First, context: mind-wandering while you’re doing something mundane like relaxing in your bathtub, could lead to a creative breakthrough. One shining example would be Sir Isaac Newton who discovered the law of gravitation (gravity) while relaxing under an apple tree. However, mind-wandering when you’re in an important job interview would be seriously damaging. So, be cautious about when you decide to let your mind wander. There is a time and place for everything.
Second, content: our uniqueness as human beings is the ability to visualise and plan for the future. For example, replaying memorable moments from your past or visualising your future dream house, can be considered constructive. Rummaging through dark and difficult memories, however, is the worst possible thing you could do while mind wandering.
Overall, I think to space out or mind-wandering definitely has its benefits but – if you catch yourself spacing out mid-conversation with someone, do be honest and sincerely apologise right away. Simply say: “I’m terribly sorry, I honestly do want to focus on you and it’s not your fault at all, but could you please repeat that last sentence?”
At the end of the day, if you think spacing out has been beneficial in your life and hasn’t irritated anyone too much, keep on being yourself. Don’t be too worried about people thinking its weird. After all, you can take it from Gandalf, with a little help from JRR Tolkien who famously said, “Not all those who wander are lost.”