Spacing Out Comes with One Very Negative Side Effect

Spacing out has some negative impacts on your life. (Photo: Getty Images)
Spacing out has some negative impacts on your life. (Photo: Getty Images)

Most people space out at some point during their day. And while it’s totally normal for your mind to wander here and there, new research shows that people who are regularly spacey might have some issues down the road: They’re less likely to stick to their long-term goals.

The research, which was published in the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, involved three different studies that tested nearly 400 people on their mind-wandering habits, as well as how much grit, i.e. resolve, they had. For the first study, participants were asked to fill out an online questionnaire about how often their mind wandered in everyday life and how much grit they had. In the second study, the researchers had participants fill out another questionnaire but measured how aware people were of their mind-wandering. In the third study, scientists asked another group of college students to report on their mind-wandering habits during class and then fill out questionnaires to measure their grittiness.

Overall, the researchers found a strong link between people whose minds wandered often and a failure to meet long-term goals. On the flip side, people who were better at concentrating were more likely to persevere with their goals, and had a stronger passion for them.

Lead study author Brandon Ralph tells Yahoo Beauty that there can be a waterfall effect with regularly spacing out. “Frequent mind wandering may disrupt your attainment of immediate goals (e.g., paying attention during a lecture), which may in turn hinder your ability to achieve a related long-term goal (e.g., doing well in a university course),” he says. “It’s these local disruptions to your engagement with an activity that we think may have an effect later on, on your overall likelihood to stick to that activity.”

Miami-area licensed clinical psychologist Erika Martinez, PsyD, who is not affiliated with the study, tells Yahoo Beauty that a person’s brain also is only capable of handling so many things at once. “Your brain is not very good at multi-tasking — there is no such thing in the brain,” she says. And, when you shift back and forth to different thoughts or tasks, you lose productivity as you go. If you’re a spacey person, “eventually, it gets to the point where your efforts are diffused by too many tasks and you’re not able to execute even one of those tasks,” she says.

Of course, Ralph points out that his study found a correlation between spaciness and difficulty meeting long-term goals — not causation. Meaning, it’s possible that spacey people just tend to have less grit, not that spacing out actually keeps people from meeting their goals.

But, if you know you tend to be more spacey than the average person and you’d like to reel it in a little, Ralph recommends practicing mindfulness training. That typically means teaching yourself to reorient your thoughts back to what you’re doing as soon as you know that your mind is wandering. Over time and with practice, this can become second nature and help keep spaciness in check.

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