The Mind Drift: Intentional Engagement

“There comes a time when the mind takes a higher plan of knowledge but can never prove how it got there.”  -Albert Einstein

How often have you driven somewhere only to realize that you’ve been operating on a mental autopilot?  It can be a bit surprising and unnerving to realize how far away you were from the actual task at hand.  Surprisingly, we can be hard-pressed to actually remember the drive at all…arriving with little or no recollection of the trip.

According to an article by David Rock, the Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, points to a study by Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth which highlights that…“most of us are mentally checked out a good portion of the time.”  “This study shows that just under half the time, 46.9 percent to be exact, people are doing what’s called ‘mind wandering’.  They are not focused on the outside world or the task at hand, they are looking into their own thoughts.”

What I find most fascinating about this ‘mind wander’, this mental autopilot, is how proficient we can be at many tasks, such as the actual act of driving a car.  How efficiently and effectively our subconscious mind will kick in and take over during these spells.  It is rather remarkable.

And it is not just on our morning drive into work that this ‘mind wandering’ takes over…

Unfortunately, many of those around us spend much of their day on mental autopilot, tuned into other ideas and thoughts beyond their current circumstances and work.  Often bored and disengaged, their professional tasks are something to check off a ‘to-do’ list rather, than a creative endeavor to add value to the organization and those around them.

When the subconscious kicks in and the ‘mind wander’ takes over we become efficient, rather than effective.  Just like that morning drive to work.  We get the task done that needs to get done…we just find ourselves hard-pressed to have any recollection of the process.  It becomes a bit mind-numbing and meaningless.  And just like that drive…we unconsciously maintain our speed, we stay in our lane…we stay safe and predictable.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Which is why it is so easy for us to ‘mind wander’…the predictable and constant can be like mental Novocain…shielding us from the new, the different, those engaging experiences that shake us out of our subconscious existence.

So, maybe instead of finding ourselves in a ‘mind wander’…maybe, we need to engage in a mind drift.

Think of the mind drift is an intentional way of moving us off of that mental autopilot.  It’s no longer being satisfied with traveling in that same, one lane existence we take each day.  Rather, it is purposely drifting into other lanes in an effort to gain new experiences, new perspectives.  It is an intentional, rather than subconscious drift.  It is intentional in that it requires taking responsibility for and creating your own engagement.

Just understand, when you drift, when you veer into other lanes…not everyone will be happy.  Some will be downright angry.  There may be some honking, fist-shaking and a even some shouting and yelling coming your way.  But that is to be expected when you determine to shake things up a bit.

Just remember, after the initial reaction, people have a tendency to quickly slide back in to their own subconscious world, back into their own efficient ‘mind wandering’ lanes.

The ‘drift‘ is all about expanding our experiences, our learning.  If we always stay in our lane, autopilot is inevitable.  And growth remains minimal.

In closing, you may want to think about the necessity to drift and expand our experiences, our learning and even our ideas, like fishing…

Fishermen have a tendency to be very superstitious.  They have a favorite lake, use the same set-up, the same lures, bait…even the same special spot they cast out from each time.  And yet, for all of the hours spent fishing, they still only have one line in the water…which ultimately, limits the amount of fish they can catch.

Whereas, those who fish in the ocean, not only open themselves to the opportunity of more fish, but a much grander variety and diversity of fish.  So instead of single line…when you throw out a net, you inevitably increase the chances of catching not only more fish, but a much greater variety.

As leaders, as in life, we often have to push ourselves out of our lane…we have to be able to create our own ‘mind drift‘.  If we are to continue growing, we have to be willing to open ourselves to a broader, greater and even richer level of learning and ideas.  Sometimes, instead of throwing that single line out at our favorite lake, take a chance and cast your net out in the ocean and see what you pull in…

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.”  -Winston Churchill


2 thoughts on “The Mind Drift: Intentional Engagement

  1. Being totally present is the key, however, it is much easier said than done. It takes time, effort, energy, and practice. It takes a certain grounding and a mindset that pushes us to be genuine and authentic listeners. When we are lost in our own thoughts, through practice and determination, we can set a more directed course for our mind drift.

    As you say David, the drift is about expanding our experiences and our learning. This is only possible though if we stay attentive and present for others around us. Thanks for the post David.

  2. Hey Pal,

    And my next argument would be that a part of being a school leader is making mind drift doable for the teachers and students in their buildings.

    Many of the choices made by school leaders and policymakers actively discourage mind drift. When new policies and practices are determined and defined and monitored and required by people beyond the classroom — and when pushback from teachers is viewed as resistance instead of intentional drift — the message becomes real clear real quick to those of us in the classroom: Get on our path and do it now.

    What’s so incredibly crushing about that reality is when school policies and/or practices discourage drifting on the part of teachers, teachers do little to create opportunities for students to drift in their own classrooms. Why would we think drift is productive for kids when we never experience it first hand in our own lives?

    No pressure — but this is another example of a place where principals have to recognize that there is often a disconnect between what they desire for themselves (personalized learning, ability to drift, freedom and flexibility over choices they make) and the experiences that they are enabling for thier faculties.

    Any of this make sense?

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