Can a woman think about nothing?


Men and women struggle to get on as women think too much about stuff and men don’t think enough

A good friend of mine got in touch recently and she was asking my opinion, as an ex-boyfriend of hers, whether I thought she had a strong personality as she was worried she was alienating a new group of friends by being too opinionated and offending them. It turns out she does not really like them that much and so I asked why she was so bothered and to just be herself.

I then suggested she was doing what so many women do and thinking about things far too much and that she should try and do what men are able to do and think about nothing.

“Think about nothing?” she said, “How do you do that? What does thinking about nothing look like?”

I explained that thinking about nothing is not like looking at a black screen, it is when you can look at something but not really focus or think about anything at all. She said she couldn’t do that, if she was looking at a pencil case, she would be thinking about the pencils and pens inside it or if she could see toothpaste she would be thinking about when it would be running out and having to buy a new one.

She said that she gets annoyed with her husband sometimes as it seems like he is moving in slow motion and that she can see the cogs moving in his head as he figures out how he is going to perform some basic task. She said a woman wouldn’t do that, she would keep moving and not need to stop to think.

I feel that women’s brains are constantly moving, like a CD on high speed, whereas men’s brains are more stop and start type machines. This is not to say that either is better as although women’s brains are constantly active, they are not thinking about anything useful. The great capability of the female brain is cluttered with thoughts of some mad insecurity, shoes, feelings, cushions (women have OCD – obsessive cushion disorder), decorating, dieting, worrying/moaning about friends/colleagues, accessories and the 300 million other things that occupy the female brain.

Men, on the other hand, can only focus on one task at a time and the brain can stay inactive until prompted into action by the restless female brain!

I polled my Facebook friends and the overwhelming response was no, women cannot think about nothing.  Here are some of their comments:

That sounds like bliss. No idea how to do it though?

nope. That’s what men do best 🙂

But thinking about nothing is still something to think and stress about!

Hmmmmm? Let me think about it?

Eh what? Why would you say that? What is the underlying meaning of that comment?

It is this difference that causes a divide as men cannot understand why women are so highly strung and get upset by everything in life whereas women cannot understand why men are not upset by everything. Men dread being asked by women ‘What are you thinking?’ as often we are just thinking of nothing in particular but we know we cannot say that as it will be seen as being evasive, so we have to make something up.

So I guess what we need to do to make life more harmonious is to get men thinking more and women thinking less, or is that just a silly logical and rational thought, typical of a man?



19 responses to “Can a woman think about nothing?

  • Dorrie

    I really hope this article is a joke.

    “Although women’s brains are constantly active, they are not thinking about anything useful.”

    What the hell? And you follow up by saying we think about shoes? Cushions? I don’t find myself thinking about any of the things you list – do you really think all women are as mindless and superficial as that? We’re just like you, man. We think about the same things as you do.

    • jakemcmillan

      Clearly the article is slightly tongue in cheek playing on obvious stereotypes and I certainly don’t think all women are superficial and can only think of things such as shoes and chocolate. However, the point remains is that women seem to be ALWAYS thinking about stuff whereas men seem to be able to think about nothing.

      • HollandTraveler .Esther

        Except for the Big Sex area nothing is active haha I think it is a well kept secret: women think about it probably more than men. Meanwhile the man is thinking nothing LoL
        Where do you think women need those sexy shoes for? Gold digging keep the hands free for other stuff. Headache simulation is only when we are faced with sliding performance of the male. Toilet cleaning? hmmmm

        Of course am joking hhehe But you know the car insurance guy loves women! They keep him in business. Ever heard of men only car insurance? No. They are out of business. ;-D

  • Dorrie

    I just don’t know where you got that idea from. Are you really saying that ALL women are ALWAYS thinking about “stuff?” And that men are perfectly capable of thinking about “nothing?” I can tell you that’s completely untrue. Firstly because all humans are different – some consciously think a lot, all the time, some daydream unconsciously a lot – some don’t. We’re all different.

    Secondly, all humans have difficulty thinking of ‘nothing’ – if by nothing you mean a complete absence of thought. Our brains just aren’t built for that. We are constantly planning, dreaming, remembering, wondering. Buddhist monks and zen masters and the like practise for years to be able to “think of nothing.” So I just don’t believe you when you say that all men (!) are able to turn on some zen switch in their mind and experience absolute lack of thought.

    • jakemcmillan

      Dorrie, I am very surprised that you have not heard someone put forward this idea before? However, I am pleased you have a different point of view to offer.

      As I understand it, you are suggesting that there is no differences between the genders at all. I’ve not completed a scientific study but have consulted a significant number of people (men and women) and have tested the hypothesis with some rigour.

      None of the women consulted said they were able to think about nothing and that their brain was always thinking about things. Whereas men consulted said they often aren’t really thinking about anything. Not in a zen type way, but more of a zoning out type manner.

      Your second point suggests that you are the same as the women consulted. You said that ‘we are constantly planning, dreaming, remembering, wondering’, whereas the men consulted would not say this is true for them. Men seem to be able to ‘tune out’ but not in a meditative Buddhist monk manner.

      This is not a rule that applies to every single man and women, but appears to be a trait that applies to the majority of each gender. If you still disagree then please consult your male and female friends to see what they say. It would be great to hear if you get different responses.

  • Dorrie

    I am definitely not saying that there is no differences between the genders! That would be absurd. I am, however, disagreeing with your sweeping statement that “women can’t think of nothing” and “men can think of nothing.”

    I also don’t agree that you’ve “tested the hypothesis with some rigour.” Firstly you seem to have asked an incredibly vague question – “can a woman think about nothing?” Without defining what you mean by ‘nothing.’ and without first of all attempting to find out if MEN can think about nothing. Even one of your sample answers reveals that your question was confusing: “Eh what? Why would you say that?” Secondly you seem to have done your research on facebook, which greatly narrows down the type of person who will respond and doesn’t give you a fair or accurate sample of women. Not only will they be ONLY women who use facebook, they will also ONLY be the sort of woman who replies to vague questions/surveys, and also only women who are your friends! Not a fair sample, I think you’ll agree.

    I think your vaguely worded question has given you confused results. You say that the men you consulted said “they often aren’t really thinking about anything. Not in a zen type way, but more of a zoning out type manner.” Well – are they thinking of nothing or are they zoning out? There’s an important difference – zoning out is NOT ‘thinking about nothing.’ If anything, it’s filtering out external disturbances in order to better focus on a train of thought or task in hand. Or, you could argue that it’s a more subconscious level of thinking – your mind is so busy with it’s thoughts that it doesn’t step back and say “ah – here I am, thinking about work again.” It’s too busy thinking about work to do that! Is this what you meant by ‘thinking about nothing?’

    • jakemcmillan

      Dorrie, I see you are getting all pedantic on my ass! 🙂 Actually, that is totally fine and can confirm I am a pedant myself and feel it is always prudent to question sources of information.

      I am glad that you are not saying there are no differences between the genders. I am curious to know your personal view of what the differences are in this matter?

      As already stated, this was not a scientific study but feel strongly that more than enough research has been carried out to put this topic into a public forum to encourage discussion. I wouldn’t normally feel it necessary to lay out in detail the entire research methodology used for an article such as this, but for you Dorrie, I will do anything.

      The research carried out was a mixture of one to one interviews, one impromptu focus group and a survey. The one to one ‘interviews’, or informal chats on this topic, were with both men (3) and women (7). The impromptu focus group was a pub conversation with 5 of my male friends who, without my leading them to a particular conclusion, all agreed that sometimes they think of nothing and that women never seem to or are incapable of thinking of nothing. The conversation started with “don’t you hate it when women ask you what you’re thinking?” and to the group I consulted it seems many times this has happened to them when they were not thinking of anything and then had to think of something to pretend they were thinking about. The men and women consulted in the interviews and focus group were aged between 20 and 45 approx., all live in the UK, and are of different ethnic backgrounds and differing nationalities.

      The survey carried out was on Facebook, via my status update and I wrote ‘Jake McMillan is wondering if a woman is able to think about absolutely nothing?’ I have 331 friends on Facebook and I would estimate just over half are women and I received over 40 responses from women aged between 17 and over 65 from different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. Yes, I agree the sample used is limited, but would argue that there is no reason to suggest this sample is not representative of women in general.

      I strongly disagree that I asked an ‘extremely vague’ question in my survey and interviews. In fact, the only person who has been really confused by it, so far, is you. I think the only people who could get confused by the question, if the findings are true, are women as if they are not able to think about nothing, then they will not know what this really is. Just like my friend asked me, ‘What does nothing look like?’ She didn’t understand what that was or felt like, whereas men seem to be able to. You asserted that I had not attempted to find out if men can think about nothing first and although I did consult some men on this (as explained above), it is however something already well known to me and has been previously discussed with men I know, that we sometimes think about nothing.

      The one response you refer to ‘Eh what? Why would you say that? What is the underlying meaning of that comment?’ was not a comment based on confusion, but was my friend Alex(andra) trying to be witty and alluding to the commonly held notion that women think too much about things and rather than simply answer the question, has to analyse and over-think it.

      You do raise an excellent point about what is the brain actually doing when thinking of ‘nothing’. As I said I don’t agree it is a vague term for the purpose of the article, but recognise that what is actually happening brain-wise when people are thinking of nothing is open to further investigation and analysis. I don’t know the precise answer to this. However, I disagree that zoning out is not thinking of nothing. I agree with the example you give and in that scenario it is not thinking of nothing. However, if you ‘zone out’ (for want of a better term) but you have no task at hand or train of thought, then evidently you are thinking of nothing.

      Even if we agree that there is a difference in what thinking about nothing actually means, the men consulted all stated without hesitation or clarification that they sometimes thought about nothing. Whereas, the women consulted said they could not think about nothing. This clearly demonstrates the difference, or it could mean that men and women, for some bizarre reason, have different understandings of what thinking about nothing means. I doubt this is true.

      I hope this will allay your concerns or at least help you clarify in your own mind the validity of the findings and assertions made. I hope you will agree that some rigour has been used here and certainly greater than is used in the vast majority of blog posts such as this.

      It’s great that you have contributed to this discussion, but nothing you have said so far leads me to think the findings of the research carried out are untrue. If anything, and you’re probably really going to hate me for saying it, I suspect (and I’m only guessing) but I think you are the classic stereotype of a woman who is unable to think about nothing, who is, in your own words, always thinking, wondering, planning, dreaming and remembering.

  • Dorrie

    Jake, I really appreciate your reply! I can tell you put a lot of thought into it and it’s been really interesting having this conversation with you. Thanks for laying out your research methodology too. I’m not going to criticise it because I think we’re in agreement that it’s not meant to be a scientific study and was carried out more for the purpose of discussion than serious research. But, i’ll take issue with one small detail – you interviewed 40 women and then said “there is no reason to suggest this sample is not representative of women in general.” C’mon, Jake! Tell me you don’t believe this! There are roughly 6 billion people living on this planet and half of them are women – there is just no way that they can be represented by a sample of 40 internet-users! Even a sample of 10 thousand women wouldn’t be a decent representation!

    I’ll concede that I misinterpreted that “eh what” comment! I’ll even concede that your question was not that hard to understand. Maybe that was a weak point. I find it interesting that you say that zoning out is the same as thinking of nothing (if you have task at hand and no train of thought.) Are you saying that men sometimes literally sit and stare into space, slack-jawed, thinking NOTHING? I still find this hard to believe (it sounds zombie-like and unnatural. I can absolutely imagine this happening if I was on drugs but it sounds like you’re saying that men are capable of ceasing to function as human beings. They literally stop running for moments at a time. Is that right?) I think if you asked women if they ever zoned out you might get different responses. I often zone out (but remain thinking.)

    You say that all the men stated they sometimes thought about nothing, and all the women said they could not think about nothing – and that this clearly demonstrated the difference between them. I’m gonna take issue with this, too. In both instances the questions were loaded or biased. In the first case the question was “don’t you hate it when women ask you what you’re thinking?” Of course everyone’s going to agree because of the way the question is phrased – it’s very inclusive and is basically inviting everyone to rant about that. It would take some guts to speak up and admit that you actually enjoy thinking and talking/sharing thoughts with women – you’d probably be teased. Social pressure would cause most people to step in line and enjoy the bonding experience rather than speaking out just for the hell of it and ruining the moment.

    To turn it around and make my point a bit clearer, a group of women might have a conversation starting “don’t you hate how men never want to talk?” In a situation like this, telling the truth isn’t important. It’s a bonding experience, it’s just a chance to get closer to your friends by playing a bit of “us vs them.” Imagine in this situation a girl pipes up and says “actually i’m fine with it – I don’t want to talk all the time either.” The general reaction would probably be muted, with each person thinking something like “Oh. Right. Well – good for you.” The question isn’t a chance to start talking about yourself! It’s a group conversation where everyone can chip in and agree with each other and make each other feel good. My point is that when a question is phrased like that it’s “just not done” to chip in and disagree.

    I think it’s impossible to draw from your conclusions that men and women are different in this respect. It’s much more likely that your sample had different ideas about what ‘nothing’ meant, or where influenced by the phrasing of the question, or just wanted to fit in. I don’t hate you at all for saying that i’m “the classic stereotype of a woman who is unable to think about nothing,” and I can’t help but think you’ve misunderstood me. It’s not the women you’re making look bad with your post – it’s the men! It’s quite flattering to be told that women are thinking and planning and dreaming all the time – it suggests intelligence and personality and ambition. But to suggest that men can just zone out, zombie like, drooling into space while women are dreaming and planning for the future – that’s a little insulting, no? Surely men aren’t mentally inferior to women? Or rather – surely women aren’t mentally superior to men! There’s certainly no evidence to suggest this.

    I’ll end by pointing out that the classic stereotype of a woman is NOT one who is “unable to think of nothing.” Throughout history men have attempted to degrade and downplay women’s intelligence and the true stereotype is the ‘airheaded’ woman, the thoughtless bimbo, the vacantly smiling none-the-wiser princess in the tower. We were kept from voting because it was thought we lacked judgement and intelligence. We were kept from schools because men didn’t think we could learn (and this is still done in some countries in the middle east) In the bible you can see that we are treated as property and listed amongst livestock because we were mindless, like animals. Even in your article you attempt to crush any sort of worth inherent in the idea of “thinking all the time” by saying that women only think of shoes and money. That’s just insulting – as is the idea that men only think of football and beer.

    • jakemcmillan

      Hi Dorrie! Great to hear from you again and glad you are continuing our discussion. Nothing like a good argument!

      The sample of 40 women, although seems tiny compared to the roughly 3 billion women on the planet, could be argued to have some statistical significance. I’m not an expert statistician but do know a little of probability theory, normal distribution and the bell curve, multicollinearity and know my way round the Durbin-Watson statistic.

      We know that the sample respondents were made up of adult women of different ages, backgrounds and locations and were asked a direct question to which they could have answered yes or no. In fact, it could be strongly argued that respondents were more likely to be negative to the question as (and it will come as no surprise to you Dorrie) that women I know would prefer to disagree with me or contest the question, even if they did secretly agree with it. However, to my surprise, none of the respondents did. 100% agreed with the notion.

      As 100% of the diverse sample (internet survey and one-to-one interviews) agreed, it can be strongly argued that the results can be extrapolated. There is no particularly reason that these women who responded are different to any other women. If another 40 people were asked then either the same or similar result could be expected. Using this logic, then a sample of 40 all giving the same response can be representative or at very least makes a strong suggestion that all women will respond in the same way.

      Yes, I am definitely saying that when men zone out with no task at hand or train of thought they are thinking of nothing and staring into space. Being slack-jawed or even drooling, however, is entirely optional to the individual man.
      I agree that both women and men zone out, but the ‘research’ suggests that men and women do it differently. When you ask if ‘men are capable of ceasing to function as human beings’, I think you will find many women would think this is quite true!

      I do take your point about social pressure in the group situation when asked “don’t you hate it when women ask you what you’re thinking?” I’m not sure a group of men, particularly a group who are friends, would agree just for a bonding experience and often would actually enjoy disagreeing with each other. However, the interesting point of that group discussion was not so much whether people went along with the original assertion, it was that someone volunteered, rather than being prompted or led, that they were often not thinking of anything when this question was asked.

      Observing the group, I felt that on this point there was no compulsion for the others to agree with this as the others could have quite easily disagreed without ruining the moment and said they were actually thinking about something they didn’t want their girlfriend to know about. Or that they simply hated women asking them the question as they just didn’t want to share their thoughts or feelings.

      As I stated in the article, which seems like such a long time ago now ;-), I thought that women’s brains are always active whereas men are more stop and start. However, I also stated that I did not think that made one better than the other as a woman’s brain seems to be cluttered with many thoughts that men would not think useful or a waste of energy. In no way I am suggesting that one gender is mentally inferior to the other … that would not be right at all.

      To comment on the bimbo stereotype and the argument you make about women being suppressed the vote due to lack of judgement and intelligence. I don’t think these were born out of a belief that women think of nothing at all, but more based on women thinking of stereotypical useless things such as cosmetics and being too emotional to make decisions. Although I do not agree with the stereotypes (you may be surprised to learn I am a feminist and firmly believe in the equality of the sexes) I do think they support rather than negate the notion of women are always thinking about things.

  • Morgan

    I found this at random and need to say that Dorrie needs to get a life! Jake, you’re tongue-in-cheek article amused me, just as it was intended. After 11 years with my husband I can say that you nailed our differences on the head. Right now I am thinking about the 73 things that I need to do in the next X days in addition to writing this and he’s thinking “football”.

    • jakemcmillan

      Thanks! I’m glad you read this in the spirit of what it was intended. Hope your husband has moved on from Football to another thought?

      • Pplwhoagreewiththisaredumbasses

        Jake you are a fucking idiot! Your making a generalization based on less than .0000001% of the female population on this planet? Wow! Also, the only time your brain is inactive is when your dead! I would be suprised if you made it passed highschool with logic like that. Maybe instead of “zoning out” about your wild hypothesis you should have paid attention in class. B.T.W I’m a guy and still think your a retarded, so don’t try to use that shit that I’m only disagreeing with you because I’m a girl!

      • jakemcmillan

        Easy tiger! Ignoring your insults and profanities, you are very right to point out my sample is not a large one, but that is precisely the point of the blog posting (it’s not an official research study), to see if others agree and have had similar experiences of the differences between men and women? Some seem to agree entirely and have gotten in touch to say so and some people, like your good self, really don’t think there is any truth in it. Now, I was not saying that the brain is completely inactive as you need some brain function to breathe, use your eyes and move, etc., however, the point is whether there are differences about men and women in how much they both consciously ‘think’ about stuff?

        Now, my sample is admittedly quite small, but your view is only a sample of one and without any further evidence to back your personal view up, it can only be treated as only one person’s opinion. Your view could just be one of the few exceptions? I don’t know your life experience so don’t know how much weight to give it?

        Oh, and despite my ‘zoning out’, I managed to get a degree and a post-graduate degree, thank you for enquiring.

  • Amber

    Ohhh my goodness ya’ll! CALM DOWN! I think she was saying “for INSTANCE” but women REALLY do think CONSTANTLY! Maybe this in particular woman thinks more about decorating and cushions and shoes, but a lot of us may walk through our house and see throw pillows from the couch messed up and think about it without even realizing it! BUT it is true that men have a ‘state of rest’ after processing things! All she’s trying to say is women do not have this capability. And she’s right. It’s been proven!!

  • Kate M

    I just saw this on Facebook, which makes the same point about men being able to think about nothing: http://www.tickld.com/x/why-men-and-women-think-differently

  • Daniel

    Hello 🙂 I know your Blogpost is from 2010 a but it seems this topic is still alive. I just got the same link as Kate M postet 8 days ago and googled about the “think nothing at all thing” since I had the same discussion with a female friend of mine once. I read all the comments and it was very nice to see that nothing could change your point of view Jack, because there was simply no argument which could change your, or my opinion (which is that there might be differences in the way people think or do not think at all). During the reading of the discussion between Dorrie and you I only found one thing where I would have liked to add something: From Dorrie “It’s not the women you’re making look bad with your post – it’s the men! It’s quite flattering to be told that women are thinking and planning and dreaming all the time – it suggests intelligence and personality and ambition. But to suggest that men can just zone out, zombie like, drooling into space while women are dreaming and planning for the future – that’s a little insulting, no? Surely men aren’t mentally inferior to women? Or rather – surely women aren’t mentally superior to men! There’s certainly no evidence to suggest this.” At this point I just thought more than one thing at the same time (or in a close row :D) 1st: It seems that Dorrie missed the point or simply has a lack of further arguments to come up with. 2nd: At the word zombie I just thought about mentally damaged men coming back from war. The “no thinking thing” may be to protect the male brain from its own memories. In the past men were the ones (atleast mainly man), who went to war and fighted. (Just watching viking atm it i guess I would not have as much fun killing other people as they seemed to have even its just a move). The point is, I do not really know if I, as a male, can think about nothing. But there are moments, or hours where i can just sit somewhere and do and think nothing. Which menas that after the time i got no new ideas, plans etc. nothing but the time has changed compared to the moment i sat down and started doing and thinking nothing. And because of this fact and the fact, that I never met or heard of a female with the same experience, i think that there are major difference between the way males and females think. it may be due to evolution and the roles females and males had. Also i really liked the start-stop brain idea, nearly as much as the “the nothing box” idea from the link mention in the last comment. I guess the difference between man and women could be that e.g. if i am in the forest and i want to go to a tree 10m infront of me, as a man i think about going to it, than i give the order to do so to my body and my body goes to the tree. while i am moving to the tree, I am not thinking about it, i am not thinking anything at all, just waiting for my body to reach the tree and fulfill the order. pretty much like a computerprogramm waiting for a case to happen just to start the next action. when i am at the tree my brain starts again (start stop thing). Women now in comparissin dont seem to do so, or do they? I have no idea since i am male, so this is a question: Would you think anything while you would go the 10m to the three, or would you rather just let your body go to the three and wait with the thinking till your are at the tree? An other example is fire or stars. I mean … i can stare into fire or the sky at night for hours without thinking about anything and without getting bored. If I would have to think about stuff, the sense of live etc. I might get bored at some time, but because I am just sitting there not thinking i dont. I hope I could bring some new intentions to the discussion, even my englishskills are not the best. ~ Daniel from Germany.

  • Robin

    It’s not impossible for a women to think about “nothing”
    I can honestly say that I sometimes think about nothing. I’m not sure when I learned how. For a long time my mind would be constantly thinkingabout things I didn’t want to think about. So after a lot of prayer and a battle of pushing away those thoughts away, I was just able to clear my mind.
    However, I don’t do it often, it’s a bit boring to think about nothing. Yet it comes in handy. Bye godbless

  • woman thinking too much | Girl beauty pic

    […] Source : -> Can a woman think about nothing? | 21st Century Boy […]

  • Vince

    Dorrie definitely validates the original hypothesis – that women overthink everything. Nice one Jake.

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