Scientific research is proving that day dreaming is not always a lapse in attention, it can be a springboard to our greatest potential.
The human capacity foray dreaming gives us enormous possibilities for realising our deepest desires and strivings. Besides relieving boredom by providing an unlimited source of internally generated entertainment, daydreaming offers a huge arena for realising our own potential.
Feathering our Comfort Zone with healthy doses of day dreaming is the foundation for our future selves.
Pioneering research by Jerome L. Singer more than 50 years ago, established that daydreaming is a normal aspect of human experience. Singer found "happy daydreamers"—people who enjoy vivid imagery and fantasy are using their time for plotting out their future. These daydreamers "simply value and enjoy their private experiences, are willing to risk a certain amount of time on them, but also can apparently use them for effective planning and for self-amusement during periods of monotonous task activity or boredom," Singer reported. He called this "positive-constructive daydreaming."
By adjusting the balance of attention to accommodate more self-generated thought, we are more likely to realise the dreams we most want for ourselves. Over the past decade, scientists have begun taking a second look at daydreaming and have discovered surprising benefits to letting go of the present moment. What's becoming clear is that daydreaming—a mental activity historically viewed merely as a lapse in attention—can bring about the very outcomes that cognitive scientists have long thought to be the main province of perception and cognitive control. Studies now show that the cost of short-shrifting our inner lives is high: We ignore our daydreams to the detriment of optimal learning, creativity, and well-being.
In one study, psychologists developed a nine-week after-school program in which students were given the time to imagine the academic futures they desired and to practice the skills required to realize them. By the end of the school year, the daydreaming students reported a greater connection to their school, a greater concern about doing well in school, more strategies for actually realizing their dreams, and better attendance. What's more, they were better able to balance their positive expectations against feared possible outcomes. There was also a significant reduction in behavioral problems among the boys. In other words, daydreaming helped students achieve the very things educators assume it hinders.
The benefits of daydreaming are most potent when our external environment is undemanding, and our minds are free to roam our rich internal landscape of emotions, images, and fantasies, and to consider our more distant aspirations and plot our paths toward them. Running on the treadmill, eating breakfast, getting stuck in a traffic jam, or taking a shower are all great opportunities to have a day dream.
By turning attention away from the external world we can tap into our wellsprings of creativity. Many highly creative writers, artists, and scientists were major daydreamers as children. The long list of highly accomplished daydreamers includes Einstein, Newton, the Brontë family, W. H. Auden, and C. S. Lewis. Some of the most creative ideas of all time leaped out of a daydream. A number of studies show that our best creative ideas don't emerge when we are focused intensely on a goal. Instead, they arise in those moments when our mind has wandered away from the task at hand to other worlds and possibilities. The Aha! moment typically arises when we make an unexpected connection between offline musings and a problem we've been working on.
"Not all minds that wander are lost," Jonathan Smallwood
Is day dreaming just another word for mindfulness?
Mindfulness emphasises awareness of the present, and daydreaming is all about letting go of the present, to promote health and well-being and create our future selves.
Mindfulness helps train attentional control, cognitive inhibition, mental flexibility, and emotional regulation. All are crucial for allowing us to maintain focus on the external environment and ignore inner chatter as situations demand.
The same skills contribute to positive constructive daydreaming. They enable us to insulate ourselves from the external world and sustain vivid, structured daydreams with immense personal value. They help us screen out negative, past-oriented, repetitive daydreams that undermine well-being. As psychologist Klinger says, they help keep your life's agenda in front of you. The greatest benefit of mindfulness the ability to switch between different modes of mental activity, we can choose to uncouple attention from the outside world to pursue an inner stream of thought that may have a personal payoff, whether it's achieving a new insight or projecting oneself forward in time to success. These are the mental activities that make each of us unique and give our lives purpose and meaning. It is only through daydreaming that we can go beyond what is to what could be.
Daydreaming has been linked to greater creativity, the ability to delay gratification, problem-solving, and future planning
The ability to daydream offers us tremendous flexibility in our daily lives. The frequency with which we daydream suggests it is not only normal, but an essential part of life. In fact, the capacity to daydream may hold an evolutionary adaptive value that sets us apart from other animals and enables us to function successfully. It has been suggested that daydreaming facilitates creative problem solving, such as that “eureka” moment in the shower. Research on creativity has pointed to the importance of distractions during demanding tasks, to facilitate a creative period of incubation.
During these periods, we loosen our thought processes to find solutions to problems using previously unexplored options. Other research suggests that our sense of identity is enhanced when we daydream. By continuously remembering events from our past and envisaging what our futures might be like, we form a stronger sense of who we are as individuals across subjective time.
So next time you catch yourself daydreaming, remember you are engaged in a complex and important skill for your everyday life and your future. You are nurturing your hopes dreams and desires as a springboard to your future self.
To lose the ability to daydream, to remember, and to imagine, is to lose a fundamental piece of what makes us unique