Daydreaming, wool-gathering, zoning-out, everybody does it. But it’s a guilty pleasure, universally considered to be a waste of time, the realm of the slacker, an enemy of productivity.
Recent research, however may change our perspectives. A wandering mind, it appears, is actually associated with widespread activation of the brain, allowing you to make creative insights and form new connections between disparate ideas and concepts.
The benefits of mind-wandering
For such a widely frowned-upon activity, mind-wandering (the term that psychologists prefer to use) is surprisingly common. Scientists have estimated we spend anywhere between 15 to 50 per cent of our waking hours in unfocussed thoughts, inner worlds, fantasies, and feelings.
But these spaced-out moments are not what they appear to be. Far from being ‘mental down-time’, mind-wandering brings a variety of positive benefits and can help you to:
- review existing information and gather new perspectives
- find creative solutions to nagging problems
- identify information that we had previously missed
- connect past experiences with proposed actions for our future
- rehearse for social situations, and thus make us more confident when we actually find ourselves in those situations.
- relieve the monotony of a truly boring situation (like being stuck in traffic) by letting us think of more interesting things.
Taking a walk through the mind
When we use conscious thinking processes, we often limit our thoughts to what we believe are ‘relevant’ points. But during a mind wandering episode, we can move from thought to thought in a non-systematic way. This sets the stage for finding new and unforeseen connections between events, people, thoughts or ideas.
It is specifically because this mental activity is not task oriented; that it allows thoughts to freely connect with each other and form connections that the individual may not have ever conceived during focused thinking.
Heelping the mind wander well
You may not think you need any help to day dream, however, ff your wool-gathering moments can be so valuable and productive is there a way to make them even more so? Turns out there is.
1) Expand your horizons
Learn more, see more, know more. When our memories are filled with rich experiences of different places, interactions with varied persons, and information from different fields; the mind has many things to play with and form connections.
The more material that there is, the more likely that our mind wandering experience will lead to fulfilling, interesting, creative and / or inspiring outcomes. So go ahead and read new books, watch movies, travel to new places, meet new people and experience new cultures. The more we imbibe, the more creative we are likely to become.
2) Push yourself
Some of our best day dreaming happens when we are not really in control of our thoughts; for example, when we are exhausted, or when we exercise.
Mental and physical activity allows our mind the freedom of uncensored processing; and that’s possibly why some of the most creative solutions come when we are butt-tired.
Challenging your mind also encourages it to activate memories and information that isn’t always accessible. This gives the brain more material to work with.