Definition of DAYDREAM : a pleasant visionary; usually a wishful creation of the creative imagination – Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Re-read the definition of daydream above. Do you notice any word or phrase that in some way relates to the title of this article? The one that catches this writer’s eye is “wishful creation of the imagination.”
People daydream in a variety of ways and for many reasons. For example, many us will daydream at work or while doing something tedious. Desiring to escape the monotonous boredom that is work, we’ll allow (or not allow) our minds to drift.
It’s a pleasant escape. A “breakaway” from the routineness of life. Of course, as with most attempts to escape the drudgery that is work, daydreaming is frowned upon. Most people think of daydreaming as a “lazy” habit – a waste of time. Well, such notions are completely untrue.
And according to recent research, the act of daydreaming can spark creativity. In fact, according to an article published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, daydreaming may actually be one of the best ways to be more creative.
Researchers Reveal This ‘Lazy’ Habit Is The Secret To Unlocking Your Creativity
If you think the mind grinds to a halt when you’re doing nothing, think again. Spontaneous thought processes – including mind-wandering, but also creative thinking and daydreaming – arise when thoughts are relatively fee from deliberate and automatic constraints. Mind-wandering is not far from creative thinking.
The above is a word-for-word summary of a study undertaken by the University of British Columbia (UBC). The underlying message throughout the study is quite simple: that thoughts are dynamic and flowing, even in states of rest:
“Mind-wandering is typically characterized as thoughts that stray from what you’re doing…but we believe this definition is limited in that it doesn’t capture the dynamics of thought,” says Kalina Christoff, lead researcher and professor of psychology at UBC. In other words, the notion that daydreaming is the habit of a lazy mind is simply untrue.
The authors take this a step further, proposing that mind-wandering/daydreaming is actually our default mental state: “…we propose that mind-wandering isn’t an odd quirk but rather, something that the mind does when in enters into a spontaneous mode,” says Christoff.
Perhaps the most astonishing proposal of the study, however, is that creativity and novelty could not exist without spontaneous thought. Humans couldn’t paint masterful pieces, write beautiful poetry, or discover the next breakthrough medical cure without this capability.
Daydreaming is essential to the creative process because it frees up cognitive resources that would be directed elsewhere. The brain is “freed” of its responsibilities, and given the opportunity to explore the abstractions it otherwise would not. The ability to think in the abstract, of course, is the foundation of creative thought.
Of course, constant daydreaming can be counterproductive to our efforts – even to our health. Researchers involved in the study say that permitting the mind to constantly drift aimlessly can manifest into a mental illness, such as anxiety, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The reason: “Sometimes the mind moves freely from one idea to another, but at other times it keeps coming back to the same idea, drawn by some worry or emotion.”
The solution, then, is to recognize when thought patterns become negative and discover something else to occupy it. Another idea is to allocate a certain amount of time each day to simply allow our minds to wander; preferably when we are in a positive state of mind.
Elaborating further, the research team is exploring the very real possibility of a link between mental illness and the normal variation of thought processes. In essence, that there is some part of each one of our brains that resembles what are thought of as disorders, including ADHD and anxiety.
The interesting thing? These “illnesses” can produce wonderful and creative things. As one of the study’s researchers says: “The anxious mind helps us focus on what’s personally important; the ADHD mind allows us to think freely and creatively.” Not only is this very well put, it’s very true.
Daydreaming is looked down upon because our society has become so task-oriented. We have jobs, families, and other responsibilities. Our 24/7, “always on” society has made us productive and prosperous while shunning our propensity to dream.
Some of the most brilliant minds to have ever existed were daydreamers: inventors, artists, writers, poets.
Albert Einstein, arguably the greatest scientist to have ever lived once said:
“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”