When we’re racing from task to task, our minds don’t get a chance to wander. And yet, new research shows that tuning out distractions and allowing our thoughts to move freely can promote feelings of relaxation and exploration. The study findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, show that when we take time to let our internal thoughts roam, we can let ourselves reset and even tap into our most creative ideas.
We asked our Thrive community to share with us the creative ways they let their minds relax and wander, even on a busy day. Which of these will you try?
Tune out to salsa music
“My favorite way to let my mind wander and tune out is to tune into salsa music. While I only speak a little Spanish, there’s something about not knowing the lyrics to every song in my playlist that lets me just feel the rhythm and move into a different headspace. Music has saved my life and has helped me recover from burnout.”
—Andrea Pennington, M.D., integrative physician, Cannes, France
Take a meditation break
“I find that taking a 15-minute break to meditate always helps me press pause and lets my mind wander. It’s hard to believe how centered, focused, and inspired I feel after a 15-minute meditation. The point is to still your mind, release the tension from the day, and focus on the present moment so that you can get back to work and focus, better manage your thoughts, and make clear decisions.”
—Marina Newington, productivity coach, London, U.K.
Look back on a childhood memory
“To let my mind explore, I choose to let my thoughts wander back to my childhood, when everything was simpler, opposed to what is happening in the world today. My wandering mind has taken me back to memories when we walked to school, played outside, and went to neighborhood grocery stores. We did not have much by way of money, but just about everyone else we knew did not either. My mother told me I would miss these days, and I surely do.”
—Dr. Elizabeth L. Harris, adjunct professor, Houston, TX
Lay on a hammock
“During the pandemic, I bought a hammock. Even on colder days, I like to bundle up and just go hang out there for a few minutes. The sounds, scents, and the feeling of swaying are all so soothing. Sometimes, I have some flashes of creativity hanging out there. Sometimes, I just relax my mind.”
—Donna Peters, executive coach, Atlanta, GA
Watch an inspiring video
“I find a quiet place in my house and escape via YouTube. I play one video of an interview or person who inspires me. I listen until there’s a quote that strikes me. Then, I write the quote down and sit with it for a minute. I finish that interview and select one from clips YouTube suggests I should watch. I listen to that video until a line resonates with me and I write it down. I continue on until I have five quotes written down. Usually, that paper is oddly just what my mind and soul needed to hear.”
—Stacy Cassio, CEO, Charlotte, N.C.
Let your thoughts roam while doing chores
“I like to let simple tasks help me regain focus. I am not really chopping wood or carrying water, but simply taking a few minutes to tidy up my desk, or a countertop, or to clean the stove top, or to remove all of the mismatched socks from my sock drawer — these small chores allow my mind to wander. It is during these times of ’non-thinking’ that some of my best ideas emerge.”
—Margaret Meloni, author, Long Beach, CA
Cuddle with your kids
“The most creative way that I allow my mind to relax and wander is by slowing down and physically laying with either one of my children in my arms. Since they both come home in the middle of my workday, as school ends for them at 3:00 pm, it gives me a moment to stop what I am doing and lay with one of them and hear about their day. There is no better feeling than being hugged and letting my mind wander for just a few minutes before getting back to work.”
—Jaclyn Strauss, CEO of My Macro Memoir, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Take a solo walk
“My favorite way to let my mind wander is to walk alone, either in a park or through the city. I purposely won’t listen to music or a podcast which lets my brain free to roam about. It’s a wonderful time to observe and appreciate the moment, and it’s a great restoration time for my body and my head!”
—Annie Gaudreault, nutritionist, Toronto, ON, Canada
Picture yourself on a beach
“I find one great creative way to let my mind relax even on a busy day is to tap into my imagination and picture myself on a pristine sandy beach, where the sky is blue and the weather is so perfect that I bathe in the comfort of the warmth. My head is clear from any worries that I’ve either created or imagined. I match my breathing with the peaceful rhythm of the ocean waves. I put myself in a zone where I am at peace and relaxed.”
—Amy Goldberg, well-being 360 connector, Toronto, ON, Canada
Light a candle and journal
“To let my mind wander, I simply light a candle, dim the lights in the room, and allow myself to dive into a free flow of acceptance. I keep a running journal to write down my thoughts and any gratitude I feel in the moment. The act of lighting this candle allows me to let go of the day and stop overthinking. This ritual opens up a wandering free flow of ideas with no agenda. After half an hour, I blow out the candle and reflect on the day from a refreshed vantage point.”
—Randi Levin, transitional life strategist, N.J. and N.Y.
Use your yoga mat to find stillness
“Although it can feel counterintuitive, I proactively seek to create quiet space throughout the day. I find it helpful to lie down on my yoga mat to create a ‘circuit breaker,’ a moment of stillness, to help me refuel and approach what I’m doing differently. Even five minutes of stillness during the day makes a difference.”
—Andrea, strategic advisor, Hertfordshire, U.K.
Sit outside in the morning
“The best way I let my mind wander is by sitting outside early in the morning with a cup of coffee in my hand and my gratitude journal in front of me. Allowing myself these calm mornings gives me the energy to tackle my day afterwards, even if it’s a busy one!”
—Peggy Janssens, walking lifestyle coach, White River, South Africa
Take a mindful break and immerse yourself in a “Meditative Story” here.
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