Reawakening the art of positive, constructive daydreaming
Daydreaming gets a bad rap along the path from childhood to adulthood. In our culture—one that often embraces goal-oriented productivity—to allow our minds to start wandering like they did when we were children is a behavior all-too-often replaced with the mantra of grown-ups: “Be a doer and a go-getter, not a dreamer.”
Who doesn’t wish to be free to daydream from time to time? Or perhaps, like many of us, you secretly dabble in it. If you long for the guiltless exploration of playful, wishful imagery, or planful, creative daydreaming, you’re in luck. As it turns out, daydream believers who have remained loyal to the notion of constructive mind wandering aren’t so crazy—or lazy—after all. Numerous studies, including recent research conducted by the University of California at Santa Barbara, have found positive daydreaming to be a powerful tool for creative problem solving.
Permission to Daydream, Granted
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”
Sounds great, but how do you go about forming new thought connections? One answer is daydreaming. It helps us associate thoughts and experiences in unique ways, enlightening us with inventive solutions that our conscious mind can’t see clearly.
Daydreaming, also called mind wandering, occurs when our attention drifts away from external tasks and perceptual input toward more private
and internal streams of thoughts and images.
The next time your mind starts to drift away from a complex problem, just let it happen rather than beat yourself up about it. Allow your thoughts to meander through your brain’s labyrinth of knowledge and experiences, connecting the dots in different ways, and making some new ones, too.
The Brain and Mind Wandering
A 2009 University of British Columbia study that appeared in the Journal of Psychological Science confirmed that the brain, while daydreaming, recruits its “executive control network,” the command center of the brain associated with complex problem solving. Prior to this study, it was thought the executive network was exclusively a problem-solving region uninvolved with mind wandering.
The study’s lead researcher, Kalina Christoff, stated, “This is a surprising finding, that these two brain networks are activated in parallel. Until now, scientists have thought they operated on an either-or basis—when one was activated, the other was thought to be dormant.”
Recently, a study in the same journal showed that daydreaming could also be good for your working memory—the kind of memory that enables us to think about multiple things at once—and could be linked with intelligence. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science found that people whose minds wandered during a simple task where also the ones with greater working memory.
By Annette Brooks