Modes of Thinking

Thursday 09 May

Have you ever, in the moment, tried desperately and intentionally to recall a word from your memory bank – a person’s name, a geographic location, a specific term – and frustratingly been unsuccessful? Has it been ‘on the tip of your tongue’?

Do you find that when you become distracted and stopped consciously thinking about it, the word you were trying to recall miraculously comes to you?

The brain uses two modes of thinking: the Focused Mode and the Diffuse Mode.

  • Focused Thinking is when you concentrate, focus on a problem and intentionally try to find a solution. Focused Thinking may come about as a result of such things as a conversation, reading, explicit teaching, observation and exploration. Focused Thinking purposefully and narrowly descends upon a specific concept or problem.
  • Diffuse Thinking involves inattentiveness. It takes place when you step back, take the pressure off and authentically relax. It’s through Diffuse Thinking that the brain unconsciously leaps from idea to idea and draws connections between concepts. Diffuse Thinking taps into strategic big-picture thinking.

There is a misconception that Focused Thinking is the only place where learning happens. And so we push for more instruction, more intensity, more structure, more opportunity, more this, more that. We can underestimate the need for Diffuse Thinking in the learning process. Focused Thinking gets us started on our learning, but breadth of understanding is only realised when we allow our brain to move between both the Focused and Diffuse Modes. This is one of the reasons those who laugh, play, wonder, imagine and daydream will often experience all-embracing and seemingly limitless learning, and produce more creative and ground-breaking outcomes, than those who persist purely with intense and explicit learning experiences.

So, now that you have this information, what will you do with it? My recommendation is to value the importance of recreational time for and with your children. Take a walk. Fly a kite. Climb a tree. Explore mud. Dream silly daydreams and laugh about them. Allow your children to participate in entirely unstructured play. Don’t worry about the mess. Give your children every opportunity to let their brain be free from things they find mentally taxing. Know and trust that it’s most often in the downtime that the tactical big-picture learning inconspicuously takes place.

Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted. John Lennon

Read more about Focused and Diffused Thinking:

- Jane Mueller, Principal