Is there any ben­e­fit to day­dream­ing?

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend - BY LUISA DILLNER Photo: Aung Khant

WE spend up to 50% of our wak­ing time let­ting our minds wan­der. Is this just wasted time?

You have won £4m on the lottery – how will you spend it? Be­fore you know it, that’s 10 min­utes gone on day­dream­ing. But what about driv­ing in your car and ar­riv­ing at your des­ti­na­tion with­out re­mem­ber­ing how you got there. There is a time and a place for day­dream­ing, but we don’t have much con­trol over when we do it. Since an es­ti­mated 30%-50% of our wak­ing time is spent day­dream­ing, isn’t this wor­ry­ing? What if your den­tist is hav­ing that lottery day­dream while drilling your teeth?

Some stud­ies sug­gest day­dream­ing makes us un­happy be­cause we are not fo­cus­ing on what is around us, but are in­stead think­ing about the past or fu­ture. A pa­per in Sci­ence con­cluded that the “wan­der­ing mind is an un­happy mind” be­cause you find hap­pi­ness by liv­ing in the mo­ment. But a study this month in the jour­nal Neu­ropsy­cho­log­ica finds that peo­ple whose minds wan­der the most may score higher on tests that mea­sure in­tel­lec­tual and cre­ative abil­ity. The re­searchers mea­sured the brain pat­terns of more than 100 peo­ple while they lay in an MRI scan­ner, fo­cus­ing on a dull, sta­tion­ary point for five min­utes. This data was com­pared to tests on cre­ative abil­ity and a ques­tion­naire on how much their minds usu­ally wan­dered. Those who said their minds wan­dered the most scored higher on in­tel­lec­tual and cre­ative abil­ity tests and had more ef­fi­cient brain sys­tems mea­sured in the MRI ma­chine.

An ex­am­ple of be­ing ef­fi­cient at mind-wan­der­ing is if you can zone in and out of con­ver­sa­tions or tasks and then nat­u­rally tune back in with­out miss­ing im­por­tant points or steps. There is a dis­tinc­tion be­tween mind-wan­der­ing, where you think of things other than the task you are do­ing, and day­dream­ing when, for ex­am­ple, you are on a train do­ing noth­ing and de­tach your­self from the world around you.

Chris­tine God­win, the lead au­thor of the lat­est study from the School of Psy­chol­ogy at Ge­or­gia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, says that if you are fo­cus­ing on dif­fi­cult tasks, your per­for­mance will drop if your mind wan­ders. “But when tasks are easy and you are do­ing some­thing that’s not de­mand­ing, peo­ple who have high cog­ni­tive abil­ity can let their minds wan­der be­cause it does not af­fect their per­for­mance. You may be think­ing about up­com­ing goals or prob­lem-solv­ing and come up with a so­lu­tion. These are some of the pos­i­tive at­tributes with mind-wan­der­ing.”

Mind-wan­der­ing can vary be­tween be­ing prob­lem­solv­ing or more emo­tional. Some re­searchers swear its ubiq­ui­tous na­ture means it must have a use­ful func­tion in help­ing us to in­sights we would not get from be­ing fully in the mo­ment. What mind-wan­der­ing seems to be best at is com­ing up with new so­lu­tions to old prob­lems. So, it’s not a waste of time at all.

Of­fice staff day­dream­ing.

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