Bored of mindfulness? Give mindlessness a try


I’m getting annoyed with mindfulness. Do you know how exhausting it is to constantly live in the moment? It’s really bloody exhausting.

In my experience, using your consciousness to observe and process every single piece of information that comes at you just makes you want to punch someone. Mindfulness is now so prolific that you can buy books on mindful eating, mindful art or being more mindful at work (mindfulness is popular with managers, apparently, as it’s another way of getting your staff to stay focused on what they’re meant to be doing). When you can download a book called Hot Mess to Mindful Mom, you’ve got to wonder whether the whole mindfulness thing has gone a bit too far.

Thanks to a new book called The Power of Negative Emotion, an alternative has reared its head. And its name is mindlessness.

Mindlessness operates on the basis that your mind and body already know how to take care of themselves. You don’t need to consciously concentrate on your breathing, or what you can smell, because you’ve been unwittingly been doing that since before you were born. To be truly mindless, you need to rely on a combination of snap judgments, uninformed intuition and absent-minded daydreaming. All the things I’m best at, in fact.


A central tenet of mindlessness is the idea that a wandering mind is a creative mind. Drifting off in the middle of a boring task might unconsciously lead to a chain of events that sparks a profound personal epiphany. These “aha” moments tend to sneak up during unfocused moments.

I have a short attention span generally, so I did everything I could to promote a wandering mind. I played soft music as I worked. I kept a pen and paper nearby, in case I felt like doodling. But having free time to daydream is a luxury that I can’t afford. Now that there’s a baby in the house, everything has become a short-deadline emergency. Time spent leisurely exploring my mind’s interior right now is absolutely time wasted. Not to be indelicate, but the only time I even came close to attempting this was on the toilet, and to some extent it worked. It gave me the time to piece together a column about baby poo. Whether or not that was the book’s intention is unclear.


I got in touch with Todd Kashdan, one of the book’s authors. When it comes to making snap decisions, Kashdan said, “the bigger the decision, the better. These are the ones where [your] gut instincts become important. Choosing apartments, colleges, romantic partners.”

Nothing is more terrifying to me than mucking up something huge based on what amounts to a cerebral coin toss. Still, the book says no decision should take more than 10 seconds to make, so I put that to the test. It worked amazingly – snap decisions made me incredibly productive, instantaneously blowtorching all kinds of unexciting offers and invitations – but it also made me lazy. “Do I want to go to the gym?” I asked myself a few times. The answer was always “no”.

Plus, it doesn’t always work. The book quotes a Dutch study claiming that uninformed adults often outperform obsessive fanatics when it comes to making snap predictions about sports results. As an out and proud uninformed adult, I tested this by spontaneously putting a fiver on a horse called Shy John, running in the 14:35 at Wincanton. The race started. Shy John dropped behind. Then he fell over. A bit more time to think and I believe I wouldn’t have made that bet in the first place.

‘Truth through exhaustion’

The most fascinating aspect of mindlessness is its insistence that basic politeness is exhausting. Remaining socially conscious in conversation, the authors say, is a high-maintenance interaction that wears down all parties and accomplishes nothing. “But what if you drained a person’s energy prior to the conversation so that they lacked the oomph to hide, escape or water down what they were thinking?” With exhaustion comes disinhibition, allowing for a more honest conversation that both participants will enjoy more. This is apparently why old people are often thought of as wise – they’re just too tired to be polite.

So, the next morning, I went for a run, with the intention of wearing myself out enough to have an honest conversation with one of my editors. However, the book didn’t take into account just how ingrained British politeness is. Despite being fully exhausted, I still wasn’t able to be as forthright as I wanted. On the upside, this means that I didn’t shout my way out of a job.

Will mindlessness seriously catch on? I’m not sure. If the unconscious mind was as well-oiled as the authors claim, then surely mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy wouldn’t have needed to be invented. However, despite my reluctance, I’m eternally grateful to mindlessness for one thing – when it comes to productivity, snap decisions are brilliant. Ask me something. The answer’s no. See?