Apparently you daydream a lot less as you get older, it is thought daydreaming doesn’t happen as often when we know there is less time to achieve the things we dream about. I spent a lot of time in my childhood lost in my thoughts. I loved exploring new places and re-visiting exhilarating past adventures. Even now as an adult I like to escape inside my brain and let my thoughts wander. Day-dreaming has been classed as mildly dissociative, for me it can be very tempting to dive into a scene of running through a field of wild-flowers rather than focus on the task of peeling potatoes for dinner.
My daughter is a day-dreamer too. She spends serious amounts of time engaged elsewhere in that little brain of hers. Sometimes I find it pushes my buttons, when stuck in the grind and business of life I get frustrated at her inability at times to follow basic instructions. Many mornings when I finally manage to get her attention her responses are things like “I am sorry mummy I was just thinking about how a leopard could live inside my room with me”, or “how we can stop feral cats killing native wildlife”, or “I was wondering whether super yellow cat is better at flying than super blue cat (yes, there is a cat theme).
This little person of mine is highly sensitive and very empathetic. I know she gets really tired when she has to be focused on things that don’t naturally engage her. She comes up with incredible solutions to problems and uses her day-dreaming to produce some impressive divergent, creative, out-of-the-box thinking.
Out-of-the box, creative thinking has not always been encouraged. Around the time of the industrial revolution many workers became tools, cogs in a larger machine engineered for streamlined, efficient output in the assembly line. Daydreaming was seen by many as not just lazy, but in this particular situation dangerous. Modern education has flowed out of this set-up. It has been important to teach as much information as possible, to as many children as possible in a way that could be measured so it is apparent if children have received the required level of learning to function as ethical, productive members of society.
For me, there is often guilt attached to my little mind jaunts, and they are often followed by me chastising myself for being unproductive. We all know the health benefits of taking holidays; perhaps day-dreaming is like taking a little mini-mind vacation. Looking at my daughter and seeing the way in which her wonderful thoughts unfold, I realise that instead of feeling bad about my mind wanderings I need to embrace day-dreaming more. Looking into the recent research about daydreaming, it is apparent just how beneficial day-dreaming can be.
Judith Fleyshgakker writes on lifehack.org writes that there are 10 benefits of daydreaming:
1. You can exercise your brain (not your mind)…
Neuroscientist Dr Muireann Irish says that daydreaming is hard work and serves some very important functions. The capability to remember the past and imagine the future is a very complex form of thinking—as far as we can tell, we are the only species with this remarkable ability. The way in which you daydream and think is actually the effect of your brain’s physical structure, which, in turn, is constantly changing in response to new information in the form of new neural pathways due to neuroplastisity!
2. You can give different parts of your brain a break.
There are two main systems in your brain: the decision-making analytic part and the relatable empathetic part. When you get really involved in one, there isn’t much room for the other to play. Daydreaming allows for a natural and fluid, almost cyclical movement between these two parts of your brain, turning one on and the other on and off as it imagines.
3. You may find yourself to be more creative.
A lot of creative celebrities, including Woody Allen and JK Rowling, credit daydreaming with their best ideas. This is because when you daydream, your mind travels through different parts of your brain and collects bits of information that it may then be able to connect! These connections often end up being the beginnings of new and creative ideas!
Maria Popova writes on https://www.brainpickings.org that there is a creative purpose to daydreaming, even to boredom. The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience float around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations. Without this essential stage of unconscious processing, the entire flow of the creative process is broken.
4. You can practice being more empathetic, open minded, and understanding.
Like being able to remember the past or think into the future, your ability to imagine someone else’s perspective, as far as people know so far, is unique to humans. A person spends up to half of their waking hours daydreaming. If you could practice spending just a portion of that time to contemplate what someone else might be thinking or feeling, it could change your interactions with people and create great opportunities for improved communication and connections.
5. You can feel more love and connection to the people closest to you.
Speaking of closer connections, research has shown that certain kind of daydreams—namely the “approach-oriented” social kind involving loved ones with whom you have a significant relationship—results in more “happiness, love, and connection” in relation to those people. “Approach-oriented” just means that the daydream is associated with attaining something positive instead of avoiding something negative which would be “avoidance-oriented.”
6. You will have improved working memory.
Working memory is your brain’s ability to store and then recall information in the face of distractions. Recent research out of the University of Wisconsin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science shows a correlation between high levels of this particular kind of memory and daydreaming!
7. You will likely experience improved performance/productivity.
This correlation is probably the most proven! A Cornell study showed “improved performance” with daydreaming, and Bar-Ilan University found that “spontaneous, self-directed thoughts and associations,” how they defined daydreaming, “have a positive, simultaneous effect on task performance.” There are even more examples that prove that the assumptions of your elementary school teachers were wrong when they thought that your little lapses in attention were detrimental.
8. You can be healthier!
Research has proven that daydreaming is kind of like a low-level self hypnosis. In doing so, you may find that you experience lower levels of stress, translating to a physiologically healthier you. Another way to lower stress with the use of daydreaming is to practice in advance. If you have a new experience coming up (perhaps a presentation at work) you can go through it in your mind and be better prepared for the actual event. That’s not all. Daydreaming is also linked with a healthier brain. Patients who suffer from autism and Alzheimer’s disease are unable to participate in this form of self hypnosis. Daydreaming can also help you sleep better, provided your dreams aren’t too structured and serious. Let your nightly mind wander to playful, wild places instead.
9. You can achieve your goals!
Between being more creative, improving your working memory, increasing performance, and lowering stress levels, it is easy to see how you can have an easier time achieving your goals with the help of daydreams. But there is research that proves this as well! When you let yourself slip off to la-la land, your brain’s problem solving network is actually more active than when you are focused on routine tasks. So set your goals, make plans to achieve them, and let your brain help you when you run into obstacles!
10. Most importantly, you can be happier!
With all of the benefits of daydreaming, it’s little surprise that you can find yourself happier by letting yourself indulge in a little mental play. Another reason for this correlation is that hope and anticipation are both strongly related to joy and tend to be by-products of mind wandering.