Think Fast!

One of the key words of the mindfulness movement is slow. Slow down. Take a deep breath. Appreciate the view while you wait in line. Join the slow food movement and savor each bite. And, of course, slow down your thoughts. Ideal sounding goals in a fast-paced, always-on, multitasking world, but those thoughts racing through your mind might actually be doing you some good.

Forcing people to read text quickly, before it vanishes off a computer screen, puts people in a better mood (or helped protect their mood when reading depressing statements) than reading slowly. It can also boost insight on tests of creativity like the remote associates test, and boost self-esteem. Watching fast-paced television or just trying to generate a lot of ideas very quickly (even bad ones) might provide the same emotional boost.

Fast thoughts aren’t always a good idea, of course. In addition to a mood and creativity boost, they seem to encourage risk-tasking; it turns out that the hectic action and quick scene changes of modern entertainment might actually encourage risk-taking like unsafe sex and drug use. Excessive fast thinking is characteristic of mania, which is not a state of mind to seek out – but then, slower thinking is characteristic of depression, an equally troublesome state.

The thing to consider is that all of these studies induced temporary fast thoughts, over the course of reading 60 sentences or a 3-minute movie clip. Temporarily racing thoughts may generate positive emotions and creativity, but extended racing thoughts – the kind we experience in a permanently hectic 9 to 5 workday, for example – may cause a severe drain.

So perhaps the better mantra to adopt is slow, sometimes, or just the old standard variety is the spice of life. Sometimes it might be better to ditch mindfulness in favor of a frantic burst of thought, and sometimes better to calmly contemplate each individual thought that comes to mind. Which is something I will definitely keep in mind the next time I’m just feeling too good to slow down.
Pronin, E. (2013). When the mind races: Effects of thought on feeling and action Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22 (4), 283-288 DOI: 10.1177/0963721413482324


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