The Wondering Mind

  • April 7, 2023

  • Author: admin

The wondering mind is something that we all experience. However, it’s also something we can all learn to control through the use of mindfulness. Kabat-Zinn (2011) describes mindfulness as the practice of non-judgmentally, purposefully paying attention to present moment awareness. This is accomplished through intentionally focusing attention on the mind, body, breath and environment, rather than allowing the brain to operate through its default mode where thoughts are wondering all over the place.


According to Kabat-Zinn, this default mode is the natural setting of the brain due to the evolutionary survival system known as the approach and avoidance motivation network. The frontal cortical regions of the left hemisphere of the brain are orientated to be approach related (for food or pleasure, through positive reinforcement), while the right hemisphere of the brain is wired for avoidance, or flight mode (for avoiding danger or punishment, through negative reinforcement) (Elliot & Covington, 2001).


Wellbeing and Mental Health for Primary Schools


This combination of approach and avoidance creates an inherent wandering mind. These unconscious urges of the brain’s default mode, also described as the narrative network, due to the constant inner chatter that perpetuates, often causes a person to be cognitively or emotionally reactive (Kabat-Zinn, 2011) . However, in accordance with self-determination theory, even from a young age, human beings are naturally motivated to learn to control their emotional re-activity. For example, research has demonstrated that primary school-aged children learn the ability of mastery approach and mastery avoidance through intrinsic motivation that orientates the child towards goal setting practices for achieving positive or desirable events (Elliot & Covington, 2001). That is, through approach avoidance motivated distinction the child learns to perform in a way that optimises praise and avoids punishment. However, due to the strong instinctive response of either cognitive or emotional reactivity to approach-avoidance motivations (Elliot & Covington, 2001), skills in mastery approach and avoidance also vary in capacity and willingness from child to child. This in turn creates great differences in children’s academic performance through out the entire schooling system.


Training the child mind for success


According to Elliot and Covington, children who obtain academic success are capable of a delayed gratification of emotions, through motives directed towards praise and success. In contrast, children who do not acquire the same level of self-regulation and/or abilities to delayed gratification, often need to satisfy their immediate, negative emotional or cognitive reactive responses towards certain tasks. This highlights the important differences between eudemonic and hedonic levels of wellbeing and illuminates the need for individuals to be taught a simple method for training their minds.


Mindfulness is a simply, yet very effective for training the wondering mind to pay attention and self-regulate. Introducing children to mindfulness at a young age gives them optimal opportunity towards developing the mind skills that will help them not only through school, but through life.



Elliot, A. J., & Covington, M. V. (2001). Approach and avoidance motivation. Educational Psychology Review, 13 (2), 73-93.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2011). The Healing Power of Mindfulness. The Tucker Foundation and Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Centre. Retrieved from

Kind regards

Author: Elizabeth Mulhane

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