Have you reached your destination and realized you have not been aware of the past 20 minutes? Perhaps you wanted to pick something up on the way home but you reached home and realized you have forgotten to do it? Or reached the bottom of a bag of crisps and realizing suddenly you finished the whole bag? These are common examples of mindlessness, when we go on automatic pilot, and go about our routine without conscious awareness. Though mindlessness occur on a regular basis in each person, there are costs in mindlessness and mind-wandering.

A study by Havard’s psychologists recently demonstrated the emotional costs of mind wandering (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010). Mind-wandering may be the brain’s default mode of operation, which explains why people struggle to stay focused. However, mind-wandering is also an ability that allows us to learn, reason and plan. This study demonstrated an emotional cost to mind-wandering: it makes us unhappy. The results also support mindfulness research, that being in the present moment, the here and now, has positive outcomes. There were three main findings in this article. Firstly, in any activity, mind-wandering occurs on average 47% of the time, except for making love. People are also happiest making love, exercising, engaging in conversation, and unhappiest when resting, working, or using the home computer. Second, mind-wandering makes people less happy, regardless of whether the thoughts were pleasant or unpleasant, and on all activities. Third, current thoughts have a greater impact on happiness, than current activity. In other words, even if you are doing something you really enjoy, intrusive thoughts or mind-wandering will make you less happy.

We can practice mindfulness by attending to present-moment experience in a nonjudgmental way (Peters, Eisenlohr-Moul, Upton, & Baer, 2013). When we are mindful, we are actively aware of the present moment, and it promotes our ability to attend to, accept, and work with events and experience as it occurs (Langer, 1991). There are two predominant streams of mindfulness: Meditative mindfulness and sociocognitive mindfulness. Meditative mindfulness emerged from the 2500 year history of Buddhism, and is generally defined as moment-to-moment awareness without judgement. This results in de-automization, where old categories are broken down and the individual is no longer trapped by stereotypes. Sociocognitive mindfulness refers to a person’s mindful awareness of his or her current state. In any situation, cognitive distinctions about objects are continually made, with the current self and environment thus continually treated as emerging and novel. Mindfulness has been also been adopted by western psychology as a way to treat mental and physical conditions such as depression, addictions, and anxiety. Mindfulness has many positive outcomes, such as greater control over our thoughts and feelings, as well as allowing us to see things from multiple perspectives.

We can practice mindfulness as we practice yoga. Mindfulness may be especially important in pranayama and meditation. Mindfulness in yoga involves being aware of our attitudes and paying attention to each posture in our yoga practice, and not doing postures on autopilot. As we concentrate on our practice, we are actively aware of our thoughts, emotions, and the physical sensations (or pain) we may feel. We take note of such passing concerns, but we do not let these concerns take away our concentration on our practice. When we are mindful in our practice, we engage more of our mind and body, and therefore allowing ourselves to deepen and strengthen our mental and physical practice. As we become more focused in our practice, yoga becomes more than physical asanas, it becomes a part of us and the way we go about our daily lives.


Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330(6006), 932.
Langer, E. J. (1991). Mindfulness: Choice and control in everyday life. UK, London: Harvill.
Peters, J. R., Eisenlohr-Moul, T. A., Upton, B. T., & Baer, R. A. (2013). Nonjudgment as a moderator of the relationship between present-centered awareness and borderline features: Synergistic interactions in mindfulness assessment. Personality and Individual Differences, 55(1), 24-28.

Leow Yi Jin