Daydream Your Way to Greater Creativity
When did you last take a moment to daydream? Back in 2010, a Harvard study suggested that humans spend almost half their waking hour’s “mind wandering” and thinking about something other than what’s going on around them. In other words, daydreaming.
Fast-forward to 2023, and things are a bit different. Being at one with your thoughts isn’t something many of us often do in this world of technology and connectivity. Instead of letting your mind wander when you have a few moments to yourself, it’s too easy to pick up the phone and while away time scrolling through social media feeds, checking email, or playing games.
Daydreaming is considered a waste of time, a sign of idleness. After all, why let your mind wander when you could be doing something productive — right?
Contrary to popular belief, daydreaming could actually be a positive thing and the answer to getting the creative juices flowing and getting more done.
Here we look at why daydreaming is deemed a bad habit, why it’s good for you, and the best practices to help you daydream effectively.
Why Daydreaming Has a Bad Reputation
Daydreaming can take on many forms. Staring off into space, thinking about how the upcoming weekend will be. Imagining yourself on a desert island after you win the lottery. Fantasizing about where you’ll be in 10 years. Thinking back to past events. Those moments when you zone out and your mind takes you to an entirely different place and/or time.
Unfortunately, these moments of thoughtfulness can distract you from important tasks or interfere with your ability to take in information. They often occur when other people can see you, especially at work. It’s noticed when you drift away from the conversation or don’t touch your keyboard for a few minutes. These noticeable lapses in concentration are why many in the workplace consider daydreaming a sign of laziness and a hindrance to efficiency.
In fact, daydreaming has such negative connotations that participants in one study said they would rather give themselves an electric shock than have nothing to do and be alone with their thoughts.
Daydreaming can also be taken to the extreme. Maladaptive daydreaming is a mental health condition where people have exceptionally vivid daydreams that can sometimes go on for hours. Studies suggest that the condition affects 1 in 40 adults, the majority of whom suffer from ADHD. Maladaptive daydreaming gives regular daydreaming a bad name, as it interferes with someone's ability to carry out everyday activities and impacts productivity, both in and out of work.
The Positive Effects of Daydreaming
Many of us use daydreaming as an escape, a way to get away from reality for a few moments. It provides an outlet, letting you play out realistic scenarios without any risk or consequences. So, although daydreaming is considered a waste of time, there are many benefits to letting the mind wander.
Helps the Mind Relax
Letting your mind float away to somewhere pleasurable and completely unrelated to reality helps distance yourself from stressful situations. The mind relaxes as you begin to think of the future instead of what’s currently happening.
Taking a break from focusing, even for just a few minutes, gives the brain a chance to refresh and recover, so you can return to the job at hand with renewed vigor.
When facing a tricky or stressful situation, the brain tends to become fixated on the problem until you can’t see a way out. Daydreaming gives you the opportunity to step back from the issue. Science shows us that the areas of the brain associated with problem-solving are highly active when the mind wanders.
With your thoughts flowing freely, memories, ideas, and connections can rise to the surface, shifting your outlook and giving you a broader perspective with which to return to the problem and find a solution.
Directing your thoughts toward the problem at hand could help you work through different scenarios and visualize alternative ways to tackle things. It can also prepare you for possible outcomes and situations that could potentially arise.
Boosts Productivity and Performance
Our brains aren’t designed to always be switched on. Intense focus can only be maintained for around 90 minutes before the mind begins to tire and needs time to recover, which is why regular breaks are so important.
Using those breaks to daydream and take your brain offline for a while makes you feel refreshed and happier, bringing a renewed interest in work and helping boost focus, motivation, and productivity. Daydreaming has also been linked with an improvement in working memory, helping the brain retain and recall information without becoming distracted from the task at hand.
Helps Achieve Goals
Directing daydreams toward what you want to achieve in the future could help you reach those goals. It’s a method frequently used by elite athletes and performers who visualize the end goal to fuel their confidence and motivation. When you imagine desirable outcomes and your real-life goals in the future, it helps sharpen your focus and motivates you to achieve.
Allowing your mind to wander helps it relax. But, daydreaming also encourages lateral thinking, letting you make new connections between things and come up with new ideas. Think about how often you’ve come up with a creative idea or had an “Ah-ha!” moment while taking a shower, staring out the window, or walking.
When you pick up your phone instead of setting your mind free for a few moments, you effectively block the brain’s natural creative process.
How To Daydream Correctly
Not all daydreaming is beneficial, especially for improving your working practices. Without proper direction, the mind tends to drift to subjects such as sad news events, financial problems, and to-do lists. Thinking negative thoughts takes the fun out of mind wandering.
To reap the benefits of daydreaming, you need to be focusing on the positives — a method known as positive constructive daydreaming. Think of positive things, enjoyable times from the past, family and friends, goals you want to achieve, or places you’d love to visit. All of these can help guide your thoughts to a happy place, so you enjoy your musings. And, if you’re not enjoying your daydream, change it to something else. After all, you’re the one in control of your mind.
To help you get the most out of daydreaming, you need to build a sort of framework. Try incorporating these tips into your life to help structure your daydreams.
Give Yourself Permission to Daydream
With daydreaming having a bad reputation, you first need to tell yourself that it’s OK to let your mind wander. Instead of feeling that you have to be busy during every moment of every day, give yourself permission to do nothing once in a while and simply be at one with your own thoughts.
Make a List
Make a list of happy things you want to daydream about. Try to include a happy memory, something you want to achieve, or an event you’re looking forward to. Even an activity you enjoy, such as running through the woods or paddling in the ocean.
The important thing is to give yourself prompts to drum up a positive idea. Maybe use index cards, post-it notes, or other visual aids. It’s the fast way to zone out when you only have a few minutes of time to yourself.
Schedule Daydreaming Into Your Day
Daydreaming is easy when you’re doing something that requires no mental effort, such as brushing your teeth, unloading the dishwasher, walking, or sitting on the train or bus. But, also schedule daydreams into your workday.
Give yourself a mini-dream break after a deep work session and take yourself off to your happy place. Your brain will be thankful as it’ll be more relaxed and ready to tackle the next task.
Take Daydreaming to the Next Level
Next time you take a break or have some time on your hands, resist the urge to pick up the phone and check emails, scroll through social media, or have a quick game of Candy Crush. Use the time more wisely and daydream instead, letting your mind wander and roam freely.
This time inside your own head could help you tap into your creativity, give you renewed motivation, and boost your productivity — once you return back to earth!