If you just let your mind wander, what happens if it won’t come back?

These and other thoughts, more and less profound, bobbed up like ocean debris as I conducted an experiment and let my mind wander with no distractions for 15 minutes.

I decided to do the experiment when I read an article from the journal Science about the fact that a group of volunteers were so bored or uncomfortable with their own thoughts that they resorted to zapping themselves with electric shock rather than continue to think.

I found the study rather…well, shocking.

On the Meyers-Briggs, I straddle introvert and extrovert but, maybe because I am an only child, I require silent space to renew. So I deliberately gave myself 15 minutes of uninterrupted time and let my mind play.

Tasks undone crowd my thoughts. Plot points for my novel. The progress of a spider up a far wall in the bedroom. Okay, time up. No, it hasn’t even been a minute.

I used to write public service announcements. Sixty seconds and then, when radio spots got shorter, 30-second and then 15. A minute is an eternity on radio. And apparently, also in my mind.

My fingers twitch, reaching for my phone to check social media and email, but I resist.

In the article, 42 of the 55 participants said they would pay to avoid a repetition of the electric shock. But when left with only their thoughts for company, 12 of the 18 men and six of the 24 women chose to zap themselves again. This suggests to me that women are better able to sit and think, men more comfortable with doing than thinking. Or maybe women just don’t like pain.

Two minutes. That’s how long I last. I know that boredom is good for creativity. And, I have meditated and I know how to sit quietly. So I know that if I focus on meditation and let random thoughts bob up naturally, I can do it. But without that focus, my thoughts wheel out into increasingly bizarre tangents.

Why five fingers? Why not six or four? What if I could clone myself? Where is that spider now?

Oh, for gods’ sake. Zzzzzap!

Isn't it SHOCKING that we can't be alone with our thoughts?

Isn’t it SHOCKING that we can’t be alone with our thoughts?



  1. Tom Fafard

    I really like this Helen. I do not really know you, but you are married to my good friend so that means that you are either really great or completely nuts (I am leaning towads the former). I have tried this experiment as well in relation to a writing assignment (Writing Without Teachers). And I was completely lost as you point out. My first time I did not even make two minutes, so you did good. today I am much better at it, although maybe because it is strickly for me that makes it easier…who knows. I would suppose that to spend this much time wth yourself you have to learn to really like yourself and that could be trouble for a lot of people. Personally, the inner reflection of not thinking about anything brings a lot to light. My first insight is that I do not really like being alone. I need the “noise” of others. You are living my biggest fear, what do I do if I retire. So far it looks like you and Ferris are doing great. Please give him a kick and get him to write some more…I miss it. Thanks, Tom

  2. KathyWilliams

    This is interesting since I’m trying to figure out if I’d be bored when I retire. I’m worried that I might be because I sometimes lack motivation. Without pressure from work and the too loud alarm clock…my time wouldn’t be allotted into specified increments.

    Aah, I really have so much I can/could do. Would I choose to do nothing or just actually relax and let my mind wander? I think I’d fall asleep!

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