While teachers and adults spend a good deal of time discouraging daydreaming, research argues it could be a good thing. We all daydream and more often than you might expect. It can often happen even if we’re trying to focus. Call it a lapse in discipline, but the brain seems to have its own agenda in those moments.
Yet, for something that comes so naturally and consumes so much of our time, it sure receives a bad rap. And sure, mind-wandering isn’t great for reading comprehension, driving, and attention. But we just can’t help it, leading researchers to believe that daydreaming must offer some sort of evolutionary advantage – we just underappreciate the impact of introspection and daydreaming on our cognitive life and individual wellness.
So what exactly is the brainy advantage? Is there some purpose here beyond mere escapism? What is the brain really up to, and what could daydreaming have to do with well-being?
Daydreaming improves your creativity
Research has established that daydreaming is correlated with higher levels of creativity. A lot of creative celebrities, like JK Rowling, credit daydreaming with their best ideas. This is because when you daydream, your mind travels through different parts of your brain and collects bits of information that it may then be able to connect! These connections often end up being the beginnings of new and creative ideas!
Relentlessly drilling down on a complex problem doesn’t result in discoveries. Take a break. The mind will still incubate on the problem. That’s why most of us have aha moments while doing mundane things like washing the dishes where we don’t have to focus too hard on the task at hand which allows space in our psyche to receive and reveal new information.
Daydreaming isn’t a waste of time, as we’re often told, but the gateway to creativity, problem-solving, and even to the realization of our potential.”
Daydreaming allows your mind to zoom out and see the whole forest which creates a different perspective and invites creativity.
Daydreaming boosts productivity
Daydreaming can also be used as an efficient method for boosting productivity. If you allow a few minutes in the middle of the day to daydream about a problem you are having at work or in other situations, your mind may think of a variety of ways to solve that problem.
Daydreaming can also help elevate your mood that will make you feel better overall. The better you feel, the more likely you are to be productive. As a result, you are more motivated to complete a job or a task and move on to the next challenge.
Daydreaming helps you maintain relationships
Speaking of closer connections, research has shown that certain kind of daydreams—namely the “approach-oriented” social kind involving loved ones with whom you have a significant relationship—results in more “happiness, love, and connection” in relation to those people.
“Approach-oriented” just means that the daydream is associated with attaining something positive instead of avoiding something negative which would be “avoidance-oriented.” While daydreaming is not the same as being with those special people in your life, it can help you remember them fondly and keep you thinking about them rather than letting them slip out of your mind.
Daydreaming Lessens Stress and Anxiety
By tuning out the noisy “outside” world, you allow your thoughts to flow freely. This fosters mental relaxation and exploration. When our thoughts flow like this, we are in what is called the alpha wave state. When we are in the alpha zone, we are calm and not thinking of anything with forced vigor.
After a long day at work or after a disagreement with a friend, let your mind float away to something completely unrelated and pleasurable. This might help you forget about and distance yourself from the worrisome circumstances.
Having a tool like daydreaming at our disposal is useful especially when we deal with perceived threats or overly busy environments. It’s another tool in your mental health toolkit to evade stress and anxiety. If you feel yourself getting more and more anxious, you might turn to daydream and the following steps:
- The first step is to look away from your desk, your work, or any distractions.
- Next, breathe in deeply. Then breathe out slowly. Repeat.
- Lastly, think of something pleasant that has meaning to you.
According to Harvard University’s Medical School health blog, “Mind-wandering can help manage anxiety.” Like meditation or restful activities, daydreaming acts as a natural remedy to alleviate stress and anxiety.
Daydreaming Helps You Solve Problems
Daydreams aren’t merely mini-escapes. Allowing your stray thoughts to roam around revitalizes you. You’ll be able to return to the problem more refreshed. Most of us can benefit from approaching our problems with a fresh perspective.
Besides having a fresh perspective, daydreaming seems to work better than trying to force a solution. By just hammering away at something steadfastly, you may be overlooking all sorts of information. But freely associating can enable your mind to flit from memories to something you read and then back to something you imagine.
In other words, daydreaming can lead you down a sort of magical yellow brick road to insights. These insights may help you reach your goal. So, if you’re stumped by a problem, instead of trying harder to solve it, try the opposite. Daydream and then daydream even more.
Daydreaming Helps You Reach Goals
How can meandering thoughts help you reach your goals? These stray thoughts are indeed unguided, but new research reveals they are often motivated by our goals.
Athletes and performers sometimes use purposeful daydreaming to practice before a game or performance. This method pre-wires their brains for success. It’s like practicing mentally rather than physically for an outcome you desire. This kind of imagining or structured daydreaming has been popular in the field of sports psychology.
While a fantasy-based daydream like morphing into a superhero might end up disappointing or frustrating you because it’s too far-fetched, a structured daydream can motivate you as it’s realistic.
So set your goals, make plans to achieve them, and let your brain help you when you run into obstacles!