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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Mindwandering: How it can improve your mood and boost your creativity by Moshe Bar

Ever struggled to meditate? You’re not alone - and as internationally renowned cognitive neuroscientist Moshe Bar argues, cutting-edge science shows our brains are inherently active, so it actually is very hard for us to "simply" focus on the breath and observe our thoughts as though they are clouds floating across the sky. Bar walks the talk, recalling with a touch of irony how he’ll rise from a mindful morning meditation session in a silent ashram, only to be instantly consumed with thoughts of how to elbow others out of the way to get what he wants from the breakfast buffet. (He also admits to conspiring with a friend, before the silent ashram commenced, about when and where they could partake in clandestine chats.)

But this book isn’t just about why it’s hard to meditate. Combining cognitive research, philosophy and personal experience, Bar reveals why our minds are so prone to wandering: the daydreaming, incessant self-chatter, ruminating about the past and worrying about the future which gobbles up 30 to 47 per cent of the brain’s awake time. Essentially, Bar says, our minds are constantly making associations - “the building blocks of most mental operations” - to help interpret what’s happening in our lives and what might be coming.

Not all mindwandering is bad, Bar reckons: for example, we can learn from simulating experiences (imagining particular scenarios and outcomes) in our heads. Mindwandering can also stimulate creativity, generate a happy mood or broaden your state of mind. The book is studded with ‘Aha!’ nuggets, such as how we can make unwanted thoughts disappear by acknowledging and labelling them; how sharing a secret releases their mental burden; why we feel like we’ve known some people forever despite having only met them briefly.

Thinking about thinking is very meta, and I have to admit, my own mind wandered a lot when I read this heavy-going book; there is a lot of jargon, and reducing it to acronyms doesn’t help - nor did reading it in my nightly pre-bedtime slot. However Bar’s humour and relatable examples pierce the scientific density with light.

Reviewer: Stacey Anyan

Allen & Unwin


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