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How Our Brains Use Mind Blanking for Their Benefit

Author:NeuroGym Team

Your Mind Going Blank is Actually A Good Thing

Mind Blanking

Do you ever stop and think about just how much our brains have to do throughout the day? The brain is the epicenter of the nervous system. That means every little bit of stimuli we sense through our bodies, our brain has to register, determine what it is, and decide what to do about it. It then has to tell the relevant body part how to respond. And it’s not like we’re only sensing one thing at a time—our brains do this multiple times at once! As your internal supervisor, you would forgive your brain for having to take a break on occasion. 

That’s where mind blanking comes in.

Consider a computer. You’re probably reading this on a laptop or smart device of some kind. Whichever type of device it is, it’s working harder than you can see. Your device is connected to the internet, presenting a webpage, running applications, sending signals, and more! Naturally, if you overwork an electrical device of this nature, it will overheat, so we need to give these devices a break sometimes. Although our brains may not necessarily start exuding smoke, they need the same kind of rest. Just as our bodies can’t run nonstop, our brains need to take a breather too.

In this article, we’re going to look at how our brains take five with mind blanking, and what the benefits are. Make sure you don’t blank on this article, or you’ll miss out!

What is Mind Blanking?

Our brains are constantly on the go, aren’t they? They are nonstop generators that look after our bodies like a helicopter parent who has had too much coffee. Not for a single moment do they shut off. They’re always on! But that’s the way it works, isn’t it? Well, actually, no. Our minds go blank at times to take a break.

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This phenomenon of mind blanking can be defined as the absence of conscious awareness. What this means is that although our bodies are still experiencing stimuli, whether external (like light, sound, or touch) or internal (like hunger), our conscious minds aren’t registering those stimuli at all.

When our minds tune out, they’re basically going offline for a bit, just to take a break. To us, this feels like our mind has gone into a state of drifting. When you lose track of what you were doing, or can’t quite remember what’s just happened, you’ve experienced mind blanking.

This is a fairly new concept in the neuroscience world, but it is significant in that it changes the way we think about our brains. As we previously would have thought, our brains were always all go; it now appears that this is not the case.

Why Do Our Brains Do It?

What’s the purpose of our minds blanking? It’s likely a survival mechanism that’s part of our fight-or-flight reflex, a bodily response initiated by our amygdala, the brain region that controls strong emotions like aggression and fear. If we experience these emotions too intensely, it can lead to an amygdala hijack. Part of the reason the mind goes blank is to stop us from becoming overstimulated. Mind blanking happens when the brain is getting tired and needs the conscious mind to tune out for a bit. Returning to our computer analogy, we’re not wired to be going 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; we need to cool down before we overheat!

When Does it Happen?

At what moment will our mind go blank? Well, we can’t really predict it and it can happen at different times. It sometimes happens when we’re feeling overloaded and have had too much stimulation. This doesn’t necessarily have to be stimulation at any given moment; this could be building up over a longer period. And, as mentioned, it can happen seemingly spontaneously.

Why It’s Pretty Cool (And Nothing to Be Scared Of)

It’s a scary thought, isn’t it? What if this happens while you’re driving a vehicle or doing something that requires a skillful, steady hand? What if we go blank when we’re holding a newborn baby, or swimming? What if we turn on the oven and go blank, and then the house burns down? What if we go blank just as we’re about to break the world record for juggling? Luckily, you don’t have to worry about everything falling apart just because your mind takes a little wander.

Mind Blanking

In reality, the majority of stimulus processing is done in the subconscious. Think about it this way: Can you remember every single thing you saw today while you were awake? Can you remember every sound you heard? Every single physical sensation you felt? Can you recall every thought that went through your head? What about every internal feeling you had? Sure, you probably remember the highlights and important parts, but you can’t recall every single thing that has gone on at every waking moment.

That’s because we don’t even notice most of it, we don’t consciously pick up on it—and with good reason too. If we had to take note of everything that was happening around us, we would quickly get overwhelmed and overstimulated which is why it’s a great thing that most of our sensory experiences go through our subconscious. But don’t worry, your brain is still working even though you may not know it!

It’s also interesting to note the way the brain works when we experience mind blanking. Research has shown that during these blanking episodes, every single region in the brain is in communication with each other at once. The scans this research is based on showed that during this state of hyperconnectivity, there was low cortical arousal. This means that during blanking our brains are working in a state that is similar to when we’re in deep sleep, except we’re wide awake!

How to Bounce Back

Maybe you go blank at the wrong time! Maybe it happens mid conversation, or worse, during a speech or presentation! Well, thankfully, you can get back on track with the following tips:

  • First, breathe, always breathe. Just take a breath and refocus. A nice deep breath will help calm you down, and by the time you have exhaled you will be refocused and ready to go.

  • Acknowledge it! It happens to us all, and usually it’s better to just acknowledge that you went blank for a moment.
  • Rewind to where you were. Go back to the last thing you remember and move forward from there.

And here’s a bonus tip: Sometimes the best thing to do is just laugh it off and see the funny side!

Spontaneous Cognition

As was said earlier, episodes of the mind blanking can happen randomly, but so can other types of cognitive activity. When cognitive activity occurs spontaneously, it is known as spontaneous cognition.

While we’re aware of things like our feelings and conscious thoughts, most of our brain’s activity is happening spontaneously, and that’s a good thing! We need spontaneous brain activity for things as simple as controlled breathing and ensuring we don’t choke when we eat. These spontaneous actions from our brains are necessary for our survival.

This is still a part of neuroscience we don’t understand. We know we need it for things we do without thinking. When you’re walking home from work, you aren’t necessarily thinking about every single step you take because you may have your mind on something else. However, your brain still ensures you continue to walk and don’t just stop or fall over. This is because, though you are not consciously focused on it, your brain has begun spontaneous cognitive activity. We also know that this spontaneous activity is involuntary and we can’t control it.

Getting Creative!

It’s likely that these spontaneous brain activities play a role in our creativity. Our creative process is another part of the brain’s workings we don’t fully understand, but it’s very likely down to spontaneous activity.

We Need Sleep for Spontaneous Cognition

As we can see, spontaneous cognition is an important part of the brain’s function, and it greatly benefits our minds and bodies. A lot of spontaneous cognition occurs when we sleep. This is our brain’s way of repairing our bodies!

When you’re getting enough rest, your brain will be able to do all the jobs it needs to!

In Summary

Our brains perform many different activities spontaneously, and the action of mind blanking, where we’re not consciously registering any stimuli, is one of the most beneficial. Our minds going blank gives our brains a break and helps us avoid becoming overwhelmed. So, remember, even if it happens at a bad time, if you draw a blank, it’s a good thing!

About The Author

NeuroGym Team

NeuroGym Team: NeuroGym’s Team of experts consists of neuroscientists, researchers, and staff who are enthusiasts in their fields. The team is committed to making a difference in the lives of others by sharing the latest scientific findings to help you change your life by understanding and using the mindset, skill set and action set to change your brain.

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