Daydreaming can be described as a stream of consciousness that detaches from current external tasks when attention drifts to a more personal and internal direction. This phenomenon is common in people’s daily life shown by a large-scale study in which participants spend 47% of their waking time on average on daydreaming.

Researchers from the Anti-Stress Center have found that daydreaming is a form of hypnosis, and can lower stress levels as well as blood pressure. People who are experiencing anxiety and stress can spend time daydreaming to relieve stress, as well as enjoy the benefits of lowered blood pressure.

Daydreaming is also referred to as mind wandering, fantasy, or spontaneous thoughts. The impacts of different types of daydreams are not identical. While some are disruptive and deleterious, others may be beneficial in some way.  Most of the mind-wandering is related to “daydreams/fantasy”, “worries/problems”, “stuff to do”, and “visual/auditory surrounding”.

Since daydreaming is disruptive in external tasks and its potential benefits are quite private and subtle, it’s worth discussing the reason why daydreaming exists and occupies a large amount of people’s waking time. Mooneyham and Schooler summarized five potential functions daydreaming serves: future thinking, creative thinking, attentional cycling, dishabituation and relief from boredom.

When future thinking, you are able to speculate and anticipate future events. Though it’s costly for current external activities performances, the benefit will be paid off later since future thinking allows better planning and preparation of the future goals. Actually people are more likely to have future-focused daydreams than present-focused and past-focused ones.

Creative thinking is another function of daydreaming associated with increased creativity. When tackling unsolved problems, the most productive incubation periods in terms of creative solutions are those in undemanding conditions rather than attention-demanding conditions. Moreover, the frequency of daydreaming is the highest during undemanding easy tasks.

Based on past studies, researchers have observed that high measured intelligence and creativity went together with high levels of self-reported mind wandering. According to Eric Schumacher, a Georgia Tech associate psychology professor, “People tend to think of mind wandering as something that is bad. You try to pay attention and you can’t. Our data are consistent with the idea that this isn’t always true. Some people have more efficient brains.”

Some of the ways to use daydreaming to your advantage and nurture innovative creativity is to consciously make it a priority to frequently disconnect from distractions such as the Internet, TV, and video games to let your mind wander. Taking a nap to allow the subconscious mind to go to work for you, brainstorming on improbable situations, and simply reading are just some of the few things that will prepare your mind for innovation. Make sure you write things down so you don’t forget!

And next time someone gives you grief and tells you to snap out of it, you can fantasize about telling them that they are sadly mistaken. Your lack of focus isn’t a failure to concentrate; rather it marks your above-average intelligence.

Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Scott Barry Kaufman, Carolyn Gregoire

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