Been Daydreaming Lately?

Individual Counseling Insights From Westlake Village-Based Patricia McTague-Loft

If you’re like most people you’ve probably caught yourself on many occasions wistfully thinking about some wonderful memory, or imagining what it will be like on your next vacation to some exotic location. We usually refer to such lovely musings as daydreaming, and you probably think daydreaming is harmless, unless you catch yourself daydreaming while you’re working. Then you might scold yourself – okay enough of that, back to work.

So, ready for some good news about daydreaming? It turns out that daydreaming is not only the opposite of harmful — it has several positive side effects revealed and backed up by solid scientific research. Writing for Inc. online, Marcel Schwantes says, “According to neuroscience, daydreaming activates the right side of your brain and opens up the gateway for more innovative thoughts and creative breakthroughs. For you left-brain dominant and task-oriented accountants, data analysts, and other techies, don’t despair. Just let your daydreaming take over. More specifically, practice productive daydreaming while doing something relaxing. Think how many times you’ve come up with something brilliant out of the blue while taking a hot shower or bath. Daydreaming is something everyone can do.” Schwantes goes on to list several benefits to daydreaming.

Memory benefits. One interesting side effect of daydreaming involves learning. Research suggests that daydreaming after you’ve learned something new — for example, a new way to accomplish a task or a new skill — helps you remember what you’ve learned.

 Creativity benefits. People often report about waking from a deep sleep and suddenly thinking of a solution to a problem that had been plaguing them. Dream researchers explain that this is a result of neural networks that are activated only when the mind is at rest. You can take advantage of this natural function of the brain and intentionally take time to daydream after you’ve been mulling over a problem.

Problem-solving benefits. Speaking of problem solving, Schwantes writes, “Daydreaming serves as a cognitive playground where the brain tackles unresolved problems. A study published in the journal Psychological Science revealed that individuals who engaged in a brief period of daydreaming before a problem-solving task demonstrated increased creativity and problem-solving skills compared with those who did not engage in mind-wandering.” So next time you scold yourself for daydreaming at work, remember that you might really being increasing your productivity.

Mental-health benefits. More and more people are recognizing the myriad benefits of meditating. As the most basic level, meditating involves focusing on your breathing in order to calm and quiet the mind. Daydreaming is a close cousin to meditating because it can calm and quiet the mind by allowing you to play with pleasurable memories or thoughts. Along this line, Schwantes says, “In certain situations, daydreaming has a protective effect against negative experiences. According to a study published in The Journal of Pain, individuals who were asked to recall the memory of enjoying their favorite meal while placing their hand in a bucket of ice demonstrated higher pain tolerance and less anxiety than those who focused on something neutral or didn’t concentrate on anything at all.”

Workplace benefits. For all the reasons above, you shouldn’t discourage yourself from daydreaming at work (assuming you keep it to a reasonable time limit). There comes a point of diminishing returns when you intensely focus on a task and work as fast as you can. Not only is a maximum level of intensity impossible to maintain over the long run, it simply doesn’t allow for other aspects of the mind to contribute to the entire process. And that is good news indeed.