Book Notes: Mindwandering by Moshe Bar

Arun Thiagarajan
3 min readAug 25, 2022

This book provides insights about our thought patterns, mindwandering, why our minds wander and how we can mindwandering can improve mood and boost creativity.

My Notes

People mindwander a good portion of their awake time. We spend time thinking about the past and the future.

When our mind is wandering, there can be different thought patterns (or thinking styles). A few common thought patterns are associative thinking, obsessive thinking, ruminative thinking and intrusive thoughts.

In associative thinking, our minds wanders by making associations. For example, a thought about ice can take you to snow, which can take it to your last winter vacation which you spent with your family, and from family, your mind can take it to you child’s school event etc. Our mind is a web of associated memories and the mind wanders from one memory to another memory.

The other thought pattern is ruminative thinking where we come across the same thought again and again. Ruminative thinking can lead to depression and anxiety.

A broad and wide associative thinking can improve mood and boost creativity because creativity is connecting dots and making novel associations.

There are two easy ways to improve broad and wide associative thinking: 1. manic reading 2. reading a sequence of unrelated words (ex: car, spinning mill, ball, wheel, chair, school). A good mood is associated with increased creativity since our mind can make more novel associations in good mood.

One of the activities in mindwandering is simulation — simulating scenarios, experiences etc. Things we are not familiar with and have not anticipated (novel experiences) might pose a threat to us. Hence, evolution made us attracted to novelty.

The more experience we have, the more we experience our life through the lens of memory i.e for each new experience, we try to assign it to a template. Experiencing through the lens of memory is called as top-down approach while experiencing through senses, without any influences of memory is called as bottom-up approach.

When we are experiencing through the lens of memory more and more, novelty reduces. Prejudices and biases gets re-enforced on the new scenarios too. For example, your new office is awesome on the first day because we are not experiencing it through the lens of memory but as days go on, memory is accumulated, we start experiencing the office with the familiar lens of memory.

Vivid simulations can help us getting into action when we are reluctant to do something.

Our thoughts are created in the subconscious mind. Sometimes we are able to give the thoughts a verbal form, othertimes not. The cases when we are not able to express the thought but have a strong sense of felling of right, like the gut feeling happens when the subconscious is not able to communicate to the conscious mind.

An issue with mindwandering is that it takes away from present. By not being in the present, we lost the novelty which the present offers.

Immersion is giving a full mind to get a full experience. It is not being a dancer but being the dance. With mindwandering, immersion becomes difficult since we view every experience in the top-down fashion. But we should also not shut down mindwandering since evolution has provided us the ability to mindwander for survival. We only need to become more aware of when our minds wander and how it wanders.

Meditation will help in reducing the top-down influence of memory in experience in three ways

  1. Meditation amplifies signal-to-noise ratio (reducing the influence of memory on novel experiences which is reducing noise and making us be more aware of the present which is increasing the signal)
  2. We stop expecting by staying still and focusing on breathe.
  3. When we are meditating, several thoughts comes to our mind. In meditation, we turn these thoughts into a mere visitors rather than permanent residents of our mind and emotional space. Thereby, we reduce clinging to our desires and fears.

Some thoughts can cause bothering, rumination and lead to depression and anxiety. Suppressing such thoughts might do the opposite sometimes. The author suggests to experience the intrusive thought, by letting it flow and label it into a category. By labeling, we are forcing ourselves to bring the thought into the foreplay rather than suppressing it.

Inhibiting thoughts, keeping secrets requires mental effort. Reducing inhibition frees up resources, making us more creative and realeasing endorphins.