Daydreaming was intensely criticized and frowned upon until recently, when scientists discovered it to be beneficial.
What Is Daydreaming?
Daydreams are mental images, mostly about the future.
The Cambridge Dictionary describes it as "the activity of thinking about pleasant things that you would like to do or have happened to you, instead of thinking about what is happening now".
Remember that math class, when instead of concentrating on numbers you were thinking about the birthday party you attended over the weekend?
A wandering mind often engages in thoughts that are disconnected from the environment when it is overwhelmed, tired or bored.
Kids tend to daydream in classes and are often discouraged by teachers and adults.
What Does Science Say?
An article published in the BBC citing a US study, states that people spend almost half of their waking hours not thinking of the task they are performing.
Dr Muireann Irish from Neuroscience Research Australia states based on data about the frequency of daydreaming, that it has some evolutionary adaptive value.
Erin Westgate, a psychology professor at the University of Florida says that daydreaming as a part of our cognitive toolkit is underdeveloped.
To daydream, she says, our brains need to create positive thoughts, which is difficult.
She and her team discovered that daydreaming is related to emotions and those who engage in it are better equipped to tolerate pain and enhance wellness.
Children are big daydreamers. Many kids play games using their imagination to create fantasies.
They engage in ‘pretend play’ also known as creative play, make-believe play, imaginative, or fantasy play. Dreams of being superheroes, powerful aliens, or a movie star are quite common during pre-teens and teenage.
It can be an effective coping mechanism and also help them find solutions for real-life situations.
However, we need to understand that daydreaming is not appropriate or advisable while driving, operating heavy machinery or doing anything that requires your complete, undivided attention.
The consequences of daydreaming, either good or bad, depend on the kind of mind-wandering that happens.
Ruminating about disagreements or about an emotional hurt can be depressing and harmful.
Benefits of Daydreaming
Daydreaming is more than simply zoning out. It boosts creativity, problem-solving ability, increases focus, and is an effective technique to achieve goals. It exercises your brain, and also relaxes it at the same time.
Daydreaming Boosts Creativity
Most daydreams are about mundane things like, "What should I order for dinner?" or "Do I need to pay the credit card bills tomorrow?"
A study published in the American Psychological Association Journal notes that there are two types of daydreams that have been found to be beneficial.
The study says that personally meaningful daydreams and daydreams with fantastical content are both associated with creativity.
Daydreaming Can Help Manage Anxiety
Anxiety arises from feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, scared, or angry.
There could be more serious underlying causes for anxiety, like trauma, and letting your mind wander may provide respite from deliberating over anxious thoughts.
It might help people relax for a few minutes. If people tend to spend a lot of time daydreaming or start mulling worst-case scenarios which increase anxiety, it can be harmful.
Daydreaming Increases Productivity
Today, we're faced with information overload. ‘Busyness’ has become a universal business. We are either busy with work or with our devices.
A break from work means browsing on your mobile, and that makes our minds hyperactive.
Josh Davis, Director of Research and Lead Professor at the NeuroLeadership Institute, says that being occupied all the time can decrease our productivity by blocking the mental processes that occur when our mind wanders.
"Neuroscience and psychological research shows that a wandering mind facilitates creativity, planning, and putting off immediate desires in favour of future rewards."Josh Davis, Director of Research, NeuroLeadership Institute
Daydreaming Makes You Happy
Daydreaming fosters happiness and contentment. It is the unfocused action that allows the processing of memories, fantasies, dreams, and intuitions that need attention.
It helps us to be open-minded about past experiences and discover new possibilities and solutions for the future.
Daydreaming Optimizes Performance
Mind-wandering is a cognitive tool that can improve performance. Researchers at Bar-Ilan University, Israel discovered that daydreaming could improve task performance by enhancing brain function and preparing the mind to perform complicated tasks.
Find some time to disengage from the digital gadgets. Instead of watching a YouTube video or scrolling through Instagram posts, just sit still. Close your eyes and let your mind wander.
Yes, you will be restless. We have lost the ability to just be and do nothing. Try to take planned ‘daydreaming’ breaks for a few minutes every day.
It gets easier with practice.
Once a habit is formed you may even start enjoying these daydreaming breaks. Dream your way to an amazing future.
(Nupur Roopa is a freelance writer and a life coach for mothers. She writes articles on environment, food, history, parenting, and travel.)
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