WATERLOO, Ontario — With our attention spans growing shorter than ever we may be on the verge of a world full of underachievers. That’s because a new study finds that people who have wandering minds have trouble fulfilling their dreams, unable to stick it out when it comes to long-term goals.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo conducted three separate studies that focused heavily on grit — a person’s ability to maintain interest and a strong work ethic in order to execute a long-term plan. People who show higher levels of grit have been found to display greater intelligence and go farther in their careers.
“It’s clear that mind wandering is related to the ability to focus in the moment as well as on long-term goals,” says lead author Brandon Ralph, a PhD candidate in psychology at Waterloo, in a university press release.
The first two experiments used surveys to gauge levels of mind-wandering, inattention, and grittiness in 280 participants. The third study had 105 college students report on how frequently their minds wandered during class. Surveys were then administered to assess their level of grittiness as well.
Participants who were able to keep their minds on their work or other daily activities and showed a higher level of grit were more likely to achieve their goals and persevere when challenges arose.
“Those who often can’t keep their minds on their tasks — such as thinking about weekend plans instead of listening to the lecturer in class — tend to have more fleeting aspirations,” says Ralph. “We’ve shown that maintaining concentration over hours and days predicts passion over longer periods.”
Ralph’s next goal is to see how mindfulness techniques could help people who struggle with attention or lack grit.
The study was published this month in the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology.