If your mind is constantly wandering, you might have more trouble reaching long-term goals, according to a study done at the University of Waterloo.
Researchers did three separate studies, and found that frequently spacing out—daydreaming, ignoring your boss, you get the idea—is actually correlated with the grit that’s necessary to reach long-term goals. The researchers defined “grit” as effort and interest a person can sustain as they work toward a goal. Anyone who’s ever had a long-term goal—especially a fitness-related one—is likely familiar with grit. Whether it’s hitting the gym more often or eating clean, achieving goals isn’t easy. So people who can’t remain focused on daily tasks are less likely to stay passionate and keep persevering to reach them, the logic goes.
In all three of the studies, researchers focused on grit because it’s an important trait that has been known to predict success in the workplace and the classroom. In the first two, they measured people’s mind-wandering and inattention tendencies along with their grittiness. In the third, students were asked about their mind-wandering habits during class, then filled out questionnaires to measure their grit.
“Those who often can’t keep their minds on their tasks—such as thinking about weekend plans instead of listening to the lecturer in class—tend to have more fleeting aspirations,” Brandon Ralph, the lead author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at Waterloo, said in a press release. “We’ve shown that maintaining concentration over hours and days predicts passion over longer periods.”
In light of these study results, researchers want to find ways for people to practice staying focused (and spacing out less). Ralph is particularly interested in the potential of mindfulness and meditation.
“It’s clear that mind-wandering is related to the ability to focus in the moment as well as on long-term goals,” Ralph said. “As we move forward in this work, we’d like to see if practices such as meditation can assist people in achieving their goals.”