GO ON, DAYDREAM — IT WILL MAKE YOU SMARTER.
EVER CATCH YOURSELF drifting slowly but surely into a different world while someone’s having a conversation with you? Or even when doing dishes, or while at work? Not to worry, we’ve all been there and done that. But have you ever wondered why we have this tendency to drift off into a daydream, or what a daydream actually is?
Wikipedia defines daydreaming as “a short-term detachment from one’s immediate surroundings, during which a person’s contact with reality is blurred and partially substituted by a visionary fantasy, especially one of happy, pleasant thoughts, hopes or ambitions, imagined as coming to pass, and experienced while awake.” Despite the “happy thoughts” though, daydreaming generally has a bad rap, being associated with laziness and “a bad use of mental power,” says Dr Muireann Irish, who studies the neurobiology of daydreaming at Neuroscience Research Australia. Everyone does it, however, with experts suggesting about half our waking lives is spent daydreaming. That indicates an evolutionary advantage lies behind the act.
THE BENEFITS OF DAYDREAMING
In a world that appreciates the go-getters, daydreaming is frowned upon. But what few know is that having your head in the clouds can actually be good for you. There’s a few benefits that have even been specifically identified by scientific studies.
It bolsters brain power: Mind wandering has been found to give the brain’s memory a truly terrific workout. Scientists have learned that people who perform simple tasks (like washing the dishes) while daydreaming are able to retain more information during a memorisation test. And the more you’re able to juggle daydreaming with these kinds of simple tasks, the better your ability to zone out and yet still remember details or focus on a more complex project. This increase in retention power can help provide a boost in general intelligence too. So the more you daydream while doing something, the sharper your mind will be.
It boosts creativity: Many renowned super-intelligent and amazingly creative people like Albert Einstein and the Bronte sisters had their best ‘a-ha’ moments when daydreaming. Research has found that mentally breaking away after a complex creative task has been completed can, subsequently, boost creativity by up to 40% when starting the next project.
It alleviates stress: This isn’t backed by science, yet, but because it is essentially a mind-calming technique, daydreaming can lower blood pressure and heart rate, reducing stress-related symptoms.
THE DARK SIDE
Despite the obvious advantages of daydreaming, it’s best to err on the side of caution, because even though by definition daydreaming is about happy thoughts, it has been reported that some people are less happy when their mind has wandered. Other studies have flagged that people are wont to drift off when they’ve got the blues, so to speak, and this could lead to feelings of depression.
That said, the human mind is quite pliable, and people can be trained to think happier thoughts — a study conducted in the 1980s and published in the journal Behaviour
Research and Therapy found that if people spent a fixed time (say about half an hour) worrying about whatever they wanted to worry about, they ended up spending less time worrying spontaneously.
So there you have it: the next time you catch yourself or someone else staring off into the distance with a silly smile on the face, remember that it’s all in the name of a brain workout.