According to the authors of the book Fidget to Focus, they make the argument that our brains are actually hardwired to not be focused.
It has an evolutionary explanation. Back in caveman times, if you were too focused on, say, weaving a basket or some other repetitive task, you might not notice the cougar sneaking up on the rock behind you.
So people who were more distracted by all the things going on around them were more likely to survive deadly predators. Then they passed those distracted genes forward.
It makes sense when you think about it. Go outside your front door and look. You see any squirrels or birds intensely focused on anything?
No, their attention is all over the place, constantly looking around, sniffing the air, interrupted by the slightest sound.
Seriously, is there any animal that isn’t easily distracted?
The point is, focusing is a very unnatural act. Something only humans can do, and we don’t do it very well.
So the theory is that we fidget because it’s a way of occupying that animal brain that’s constantly on the lookout for dangers.
This is why fidgeting also reduces stress levels, especially in kids on the autism spectrum or with ADHD.
So a lot of schools are starting to embrace fidgeting, some even providing desks with foot bars and other sensory stimulating tactile surfaces that allow kids to move and feel while they learn.
Other research that has backed up this conclusion is research into flow states.
The flow state is when you’re in the zone, when your brain is firing on all cylinders and often when your greatest insights come to you.
We’ve all been there. A problem you’ve been wrestling with for days, you just can’t figure out how to handle this and then one day you’re in the shower and BOOM… Revelation.
You know, right when you can’t possibly document it in any way, shape, or form.
Flow states are often triggered by thoughtless, repetitive motions, the kinds of motions that we’ve done a million times and can be done unconsciously, like taking a shower, mowing the lawn, or walking the dog.
Walking the dog, by the way, is my go-to action when I’m trying to figure out how to structure these videos.
Researchers studying flow states once believed that those superpowers moments of thought were brought about by more areas of our brain engaging and connecting, but it turns out, not so much.
By performing fMRI brain scans of people in flow states they found that actually, it’s the exact opposite.
In a flow state, large chunks of your brain shut off. It’s that clarity that allows the brilliant ideas to shine through.
So by focusing all those chattering voices in your head on fidgeting, the voice with the great idea can be heard.
In this same way, some studies have shown that information retention is higher when a person is fidgeting.
Fidgeting has also been shown to burn calories, now it’s not like a weight loss regimen or anything, but it’s a welcome little bit of activity in an otherwise sedentary school or office environment.
So, can fidgeting actually make you smarter…? Well, the jury’s still out on that.
All of the stuff I’m talking about here are preliminary research that was mostly conducted on children with ADHD, so whether or not a normal-functioning adult gets the same benefit is too early to say. But the concepts involved are in line with our current understanding of the brain.
Basically, if it feels right, if it helps you to focus and think more clearly, have at it.
But, if you’re in the middle of the woods where a cougar could sneak up on you… I recommend putting the spinner away.