The Art of Zoning Out

I often find myself staring into space, daydreaming or “zoning out” when I am bored with nothing to do. Sometimes I feel guilty when because I feel I am wasting time. Recently though I read a great article from in the Science of Us section about the benefits of zoning out. I highly recommend checking out this article and the links to the research.

I think that as a society we are obsessed with the idea of being more productive. There are many books and guides to help us be more mindful, present, and productive. Experts encourage us to follow their systems to squeeze something into every second of our day. This isn’t bad, but I would like to make the case for zoning out.

We’ve all done it: we go to the store and find ourselves wandering down an aisle that we don’t remember walking down. We drive and miss our exit because we were caught up in our thoughts. We’re sitting in class only to realize the teacher was lecturing for ten minutes and we have no idea what they said. We zoned out. Then we feel guilty about it and try to get back to the present moment.

We don’t need to feel guilty. In the paper referenced in the NYMAG article, Scott Barry Kaufman, scientific director of the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, states that these moments are extremely helpful for creative problem-solving, dealing with difficult issues, and more. The personal reward and insights that we gain from these moments outweigh the lost time or inconveniences we may experience as a result of zoning out.

There is no right or wrong way to zone out. No guides or how-to articles that outline the steps to zone out. In fact, we can’t even make ourselves do it. This art happens at a subconscious level. However, we can learn how to make the most of these insights and be sure that we are present when it matters. Here are some ideas for the art of zoning out:

  • Carry a small notebook and jot down any insights that you have after you zoned out. You never know when you may zone out and solve a problem you’ve had on the back burner. Be prepared to capture the solution on paper.
  • We often zone out out after long periods of work at a desk or on a long commute. This provides time for your mind to wander and regroup after focusing on a task for a long time. Let your mind run free and watch what happens!
  • Don’t judge yourself. If you realize you’ve been zoning out, don’t get upset or feel bad. These are moments for anything to happen. Let go and let it happen. The benefits may surprise you.
  • Allow yourself to zone out. Don’t interrupt these moments of creativity and colliding ideas. As Melissa Dahl writes for, quoting Scott Kaufman, “Mind-wandering happens when we’re doing something kind of mundane and unchallenging; even scrolling through your Twitter feed counts.” It can happen anywhere at any time. So just let it happen.
  • Zoning out leads our minds to ponder future events. As Melissa Dahl stated so eloquently in her article, “When our minds wander, they tend to be pulled to the consideration of unresolved issues, or to the planning of future goals. And it’s during that spaced-out state that creative insight happens.”

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