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  • People often avoid sitting and thinking, preferring to distract themselves with a smartphone.
  • According to new research, this may be because people believe that thinking will be boring.
  • However, researchers say this activity may be more enjoyable than people expect.
  • Studies have found that letting your mind wander can enhance your creativity and problem-solving.
  • Experts say taking time to ‘unplug’ from your devices can help you relax and rest as well.

When people have a few moments to kill, they often pull out their smartphones to check their email or read the news.

“We tend to think that ‘just thinking’ or ‘just waiting’ is boring,” said Kou Murayama, PhD, who co-authored a new study recently published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

By contrast, Murayama and his colleagues found that people actually enjoyed being alone with their thoughts much more than they expected.

“In the modern digital world, it’s so easy to ‘kill time’ when there is free time,” Murayama said. “But it may be a good idea to immerse ourselves in thinking in such a situation.” Distraction-free downtime may be more pleasurable than people may believe, he explained.

Murayama added there may be other benefits to mind wandering beyond simple enjoyment. He said previous studies have found that spending time letting your mind wander can help people to be more creative and better at solving problems.

He noted that if we avoid quiet reflection times, we may miss out on these benefits.

To arrive at their conclusions, Murayama’s team did six experiments that included a total of 259 people. The study participants were university students from Japan and the United Kingdom. There were varying numbers of people who took part in each experiment.

In the first of these experiments, the researchers compared how much people enjoyed their time just sitting and thinking for 20 minutes with how much they believed they would enjoy it going into the study. They were not allowed to have any distractions, like reading, walking around, or checking their smartphone. Afterward, they were asked to rate their enjoyment of the session.

The other experiments were similar in nature but with variations. For example, in one experiment, the study participants were asked to sit in an empty conference room, while in another, they were seated in a dark, tented area where they couldn’t see anything. The amount of time they were asked to sit and think also varied.

In another experiment, one group predicted how much they would enjoy thinking while another predicted how much they would enjoy checking the news. Although the group engaged in thinking estimated they would not enjoy it as much, the two groups ended up enjoying their respective activities just about equally.

With each experiment, the overall conclusion remained the same; people enjoyed thinking more than they predicted that they would.

Murayama did note, however, that people did not rate thinking as being extremely enjoyable. It was simply more enjoyable than they thought it would be. He further explained that not all thinking is necessarily entertaining. For example, some people may be more prone to negative thinking when they are free from outside distractions.

Murayama said that their work needs to be replicated among other populations since the study participants were all college students in Japan and the U.K.

In light of the fact that people probably won’t be as bored with their thoughts as they think, Hanna M. Garza, PhD, LPC, CAMF, clinical director for Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso, encourages people to take some time to unplug and relax.

“Every person faces many challenges, stressors, and responsibilities on a daily basis,” Garza said. “Human beings need to have time to recharge their batteries in order to be productive again.”

Garza suggests that one way to do this is to take a break from your mobile device.

“At work, make it a priority to take your lunch and disconnect from your phone,” she said. “Turn off your phone during meal times, especially when eating meals with your family members.”

She further suggests putting your phone on Airplane Mode when you intend to rest and relax so you won’t be disturbed.

Finally, she recommends planning ahead so you can enjoy your downtime without being stressed about upcoming responsibilities.

Studies show that letting your mind wander may offer a number of benefits, including enhanced creativity and problem-solving.

And according to new research, many people may enjoy unplugging from their devices more than they realize.

While distraction-free time may help some individuals to reset, the additional time spent thinking may not always be beneficial for those who are prone to negative thinking.

Still, experts suggest that periodic breaks from your smartphone and temporarily unplugging from the busyness of life can help recharge your batteries and benefit your well-being.