According to various studies, the average person will daydream 47% of the time, every single day.
Whether you’re at work or at rest, your brain will always find time to explore and zone out. And while daydreaming gets a bad rap, an ever-growing body of work suggests that not all mind wandering is a waste of time.
Spacing out at work or school, for example, is seen as the ultimate display of laziness, incompetence, and lack of focus. It turns out that this notion could be wrong in more ways than one; your moments of distraction could actually be instances of your most creative insights.
Your brain on daydreaming
There is a set of highly specialized areas of your brain that reflect your sensory experiences. This includes the limbic system (your emotions and formation of new memories) and the prefrontal cortex (behavior, personality expression, and decision making), among other more intricate points.
Together, these areas form what scientists call the ‘default network’. This network operates independent of your external environment, meaning that it stimulates your train of thought autonomously.
When you are daydreaming, this network is busy in action, helping you conjure up fantasies about the future and digging up memories from your past.
What function do daydreams serve?
Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), the pioneer of psychoanalysis, wrote a paper to the effect that daydreaming is purely a form of fantasizing. In his opinion, all creativity comes from fantasies, so daydreaming helps us expand our imaginative origins, helping us tap into our creative senses.
These formed the basis of his observation that people in the creative arts tend to space out more than anyone else.
When is daydreaming good/bad?
Daydreaming is good if the content of your daydream is something positive. For example, fantasizing about that new promotion you have been pining for could actually become the launching pad for the actual job by visualizing opportunities and possible outcomes for success.
On the other hand, negative fantasies will tend to harm your productivity and focus by sending your unconscious mind into a frenzy of fear and danger. If you spend all your idle time imagining negative concepts, and desperate situations, that is going to deter you from getting where you need to be. Fantasies that help you escape responsibility or pass time can also be counterproductive.
Here’s how you can use daydreaming to your advantage:
Conditioning your internal dialogue to scream positivity
By focusing on the language you use within yourself and with other people, you can become aware of when you are using productive language or weak and negative language.
Power Tip: Practices like morning gratitude, or positive affirmations can help shape your internal communication. With practice, you will notice that when your mind starts to wander, it will be in search of opportunistic thoughts as opposed to worry and weakness.
Influencing your thoughts to wander towards what’s real
What we learned from the study published in Psychological Science ‘The Amnesic Effect of Daydreams’ is that students who daydream about faraway places and situations that have nothing to do with the present moment had poorer memories than those whose daydreams were related to their current realities.
If you use your daydreams to elaborate on your experiences now, you’ll have a better chance of remembering those experiences in the future.
Power Tip: Practices like meditation are an amazing way to strengthen your mind’s ability to be present and focused on your reality and what is taking place around you (arguably the most significant aspect of your entire life!) This will allow you to imagine creative ways to solve problems and optimize your effectiveness in various aspects of what you do everyday.
Find meaning in your daydreams
Your subconscious mind is always at work trying to solve problems and guide you in the right direction. When your mind wanders, you get a glimpse of the deeper inner workings of your mind. If you often notice your mind wandering in the same direction or into the same thoughts, this could mean something. If you pay attention, you might find the answer to a problem or challenge you have not yet resolved.
Altering your daydreaming ideals towards a positive vision of the future
As humans, we are blessed with the gift of imagination. Often times we neglect our imagination as something silly, almost childlike without realizing the power that a simple idea can create for our lives. Let your imagination fly and see where it goes.
Power Tip: Pay attention to what excites you, and remember that it only takes one inspired idea to completely alter the course of your life. Reading books and learning more about topics that inspire you is a great way to fuel your creative juices towards a more exciting reality.
While daydreaming does have some negative connotations, research has led scientists to believe that there is a positive edge to zoning out, as long as it is not used as an escape from situations that seem threatening.