Harness the Power of Daydreams and Your Brain Will Reap the Rewards

We often hear about the benefits of mindfulness. But it turns out taking a break and letting your mind wander can be just as important for mental health.

Mind wandering is an experience shared by all humans, and it consumes roughly 47 percent of our waking hours. Daydreaming, imagination and fantasy are shown to be essential elements of a healthy mental life.

For example, Albert Einstein was a well-known daydreamer. As a child, he tried to imagine what it would be like to ride on a light beam traveling from the sun to the earth. This fantasy would one day give rise to his theory of relativity.

Diverse and plentiful daydreams serve many purposes. And better yet, you can use your daydreams to your advantage.

Benefits of Daydreaming

1. Improves Memory

A 2012 study found daydreaming helps you remember information while you’re distracted. Participants were given a very simple task to perform. Afterwards, those who reported greater amounts of mind wandering during the task performed better on a memory test than those who didn’t daydream as much.

This suggests that our brains may wander as way to maximize their efficiency. If an immediate task doesn’t need much brain capacity, your brain will allocate its resources elsewhere and use that time to daydream and process information in the background.

2. Boosts Creativity

Evidence shows our most creative ideas arise in moments when our mind has wandered away from the task at hand, not when we are focused intensely. Turning your attention away from the external world appears to help you tap into your inner well of creativity.

For instance, a University of California study measured creative thought by asking participants to think of as many unusual uses for a common object (like a brick) as possible. Then, they were assigned either a demanding task or an easy task before creating an unusual use list again.

The group with the easy task reported the highest amounts of daydreaming. They also increased their creative abilities on the second list by an impressive 40 percent. The non-dreamers had no improvement.

3. Enhances Social Skills

Effective social skills rely on many personal attributes, such as compassion, finding meaning in relationships and understanding other people’s perspectives.

Research suggests many of these social skills are based in parts of the brain also responsible for daydreaming and imagination. Healthy daydreaming and internal reflection support these brain functions.

Whereas, distraction and an external focus have been found to harm social and emotional health. For example, educational practices with high attention demands and overuse of social media have been found to reduce children’s ability to relate to others and feel social emotions. It seems the more time children are allowed for daydreaming, the more they’re able to feel compassion towards others and find personal meaning from their relationships.

4. Strengthens Self-Control

Studies have shown that when you daydream, you also increase your ability to delay gratification and wait longer for something you want. Research participants have been able to refuse an immediate reward, such as money or a tasty treat, when they let their minds wander. They had greater patience to receive a larger reward later compared to those who daydreamed less.

It seems letting your mind drift helps you make more constructive choices about your life. Next time you’re faced with a situation that involves either immediate gratification or a future benefit, take a break to daydream before deciding what to do. You’ll likely come back with new insights on the best course of action.

5. Allows for Future Planning

Thoughts, including daydreams and fantasy, precede action. Whatever you’ve done in life, you’ve had to think about it first. This is an excellent area where you can put your daydreams to use.

Daydreaming gives you an opportunity to rehearse possible situations and outcomes in your mind before they actually happen. For instance, rehearsing a job interview in your mind is a great way to prepare before the real thing.

You can also let your mind wander to help determine life goals and how to achieve them. Try pondering different scenarios you’d like for your future and see where your mind takes you.

6. Increases Productivity

The vast amount of technology and information we’re exposed to in modern day appears to hinder our brain’s productivity. Turning to an electronic device whenever you have a spare moment constantly bombards your brain with new information that it needs to process.

Whereas, putting your devices down and letting your mind drift for a short time allows your brain to recharge and take care of its required mental housecleaning. This is not wasted time. The daydreaming mind appears able to make connections between distant parts of the brain that we may never make when thinking rationally.

Often the exact insight or piece of wisdom you need to complete a project will come to you when you least expect it, like in the shower, brushing your teeth, or other idle moment.

How to Use Daydreaming to Your Advantage

Try to include regular, purposeful daydreaming breaks in your day. They can be during your breaks at work, or other convenient times. And they don’t need to be very long. A few minutes can be enough if you’re short on time. Schedule reminders on your phone or calendar if it’s helpful.

Be careful not to start ruminating on negative thoughts, such as worrying about an approaching deadline, or replaying a recent argument with a friend. This is not daydreaming, and can actually be counterproductive.

The psychologist Carl Jung developed an easy and helpful technique for daydreaming that he called active imagination. He suggested these four steps:

  • Find the right time – This should be a time when you’re alone and have no pressing demands. You can sit comfortably, go for a walk, or do something else relaxing.
  • Guide your mind into imagination – You can give your mind a kick start with a question, either a real one you’ve been pondering or a what-if scenario. You could also remember a dream you had and let your mind imagine how it could have continued if you hadn’t woken up. Allow your mind to drift freely, without judgement. You might see images or simply hear sounds in your mind. Don’t censor your experience.
  • Briefly record your daydreams – Jot down a few notes, draw a picture, or record your session in another way. You don’t need to interpret your dreams, but recording them will help your mind make connections between your subconscious and your waking life.
  • Repeat – The more you daydream purposefully, the more likely it is you’ll start to see patterns and possible benefits. Your dreams might point out actions you need to take in life, possible solutions to problems you face, or what personal goals you should be focusing on.

Related
5 Weird Ways to Boost Creativity
11 Ways to Reduce Stress in 5 Minutes or Less
5 Ways Mindfulness Meditation Could Make Your Life Better

 

78 comments

Telica R
Telica R11 days ago

Thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S3 months ago

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Jerome S
Jerome S3 months ago

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Jim V
Jim Ven3 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Jim V
Jim Ven3 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Jerome S
Jerome S4 months ago

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Jerome S
Jerome S4 months ago

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Jim V
Jim Ven4 months ago

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Jim V
Jim Ven4 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Kay M
Kay M4 months ago

Good afternoon and thank you for this article- good information and ideas- sincerely KAY M.

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