The Surprising Ways Distraction Benefits Your Brain

Distraction is typically viewed as a negative state of mind. On the opposite end of distraction we have mindfulness, which is the practice of focusing your awareness on what’s happening in the present moment.

While being mindful/present may be a more desirable state to be in on any given day or in any typical life situation, distraction isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, distraction can be very good for you depending on how you experience it.

Here are just a few interesting ways that distraction has been proven to help benefit the brain.

Distraction helps you memorize things and make better decisions as you get older.

You’d think that being distracted would contribute to poor memory skills and the inability to make decisions, but when it comes to the aging brain, the opposite seems to be true. A recent study published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences points out that as we get older, our ability to focus tends to decline. Researchers found that older adults who are more prone to distractibility can actually outperform younger adults in certain tasks that typically require creative thinking or using information that was previously irrelevant.

Distraction makes it easier for you to be more creative.

While a higher level of cognitive control certainly helps people get things done, those with lower levels of cognitive control in the study mentioned above found it easier to come up with more creative solutions to problems and notice patterns in their surroundings. Previous research from Northwestern University also found that real-world creativity is linked to the brain’s reduced ability to “filter out” irrelevant information, providing some people with the advantage of being inspired with new ideas from environmental stimuli that would otherwise be filtered out by people who are able to focus more intensely on one particular thing.

Distraction helps reduce pain perception.

In one study where subjects experienced physical pain by being briefly exposed to heat, nerve signals were weakened when their minds were distracted. So whether you’re ripping off a bandaid, training for a marathon or shivering in below freezing temperatures while you wait for the bus, science proves that you can probably make it a little more bearable by taking your attention and placing it on something else — like singing, dancing, listening to music, watching something or even browsing Facebook on your phone.

Distraction in the form of breaks from work can help enhance productivity.

Working consistently for hours and hours on end is starting to become more of a thing of the past now that a growing body of scientific research is finding that the key to productivity lies in taking more breaks that help take your mind off of things. Just like your muscles need to rest and recover after an intense weight lifting session at the gym, so too does your mind after it’s been concentrating hard on something straight for 40 minutes to an hour. Here are a few science-backed tips for taking better breaks.

When distraction isn’t good…

It’s probably true that the above examples of distraction and their benefits don’t exactly match up with what most people think of when they hear the word “distraction.” In many cases, people conjure up images of smartphone notifications, invasive advertisements, interruptions from coworkers and other everyday things that steal their time and energy away from what they need to be doing.

The “good” type of distraction is typically a state of allowing the mind to wander for short periods so it can naturally notice things in its external environment. The “bad” type of distraction, however, usually comes in the form of nuisances that don’t add any value — like those things that make you lose track of time and leave you feeling icky or drained.

The important thing is to know the difference so you can get more good distraction while limiting the bad types of distraction. A completely distraction-free life isn’t necessary nor is it preferable, but losing all self-control isn’t beneficial either. Practice allowing your mind to wander freely while being more mindful of how you’re spending your time and your energy, and you’ll be good to go.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

47 comments

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran5 months ago

noted

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Peggy B.
Peggy B5 months ago

I don't have the time to daydream as I used to, but I try to have a bit of down time just before sleep with ASMR on youtube.

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Dennis Hall
Dennis Hall5 months ago

Thank you.

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Janet B.
Janet B5 months ago

Thanks

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Tania N.
Tania N5 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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natasha salgado
natasha s5 months ago

I'm always distracted wish that my mind was more cooperative. Having ADHD can be challenging. thanks

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Christina M.
Christina M5 months ago

tyfs

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Debbi -.
Debbi -5 months ago

I believe our brains need a break every so often in order to be at its best. I've always been a daydreamer. It drove my mother crazy, but those mental breaks kept me more alert. I still enjoy mental breaks and always will.

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Mona AwayAMonth
Mona M5 months ago

Thank you. So true, too much focused attention sometimes doesn't help.

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