How much time do you spend daydreaming?
Probably more than you think. According to a study in which subjects reported what they were thinking about at random intervals, the average person’s mind wanders from the task or subject at hand about 30% of the time. Often people aren’t even aware they’re daydreaming until they realize they’ve read several pages of a book without absorbing any of it or participated in a conversation for five minutes without hearing a word the other person spoke.
Although children are often discouraged from nonproductive fantasizing, daydreaming was a vital part of childhood for a lot of artists and scientists, from Tim Burton to Einstein. And the fantasizing doesn't stop with adulthood. In an article by Josie Glausiusz in Scientific American Mind, psychologist Jonathan Schooler points out what any writer knows instinctively: letting the mind roam can unlock creativity in a way that intense focus might not. Daydreaming is an essential tool for fiction writers, and we may do as much of our creative work when we’re away from the keyboard as when we’re sitting there typing.
Daydreams can also help us get through bad experiences by taking us to a more pleasant time and place. Some motivational coaches teach people to imagine themselves acing an interview or breezing through a dreaded public speaking engagement. That’s a kind of targeted daydreaming that can bolster confidence.
For some people, though, daydreaming can become an obsessive-compulsive disorder and interfere with real life. The Scientific American Mind article describes a young woman who could hardly bear to be away from her fantasy life. When she was socializing with real people, all she wanted to do was go home and settle back into the elaborate world she had created in her daydreams. She isn’t unique. Compulsive daydreamers even have an online forum of their own: http://wildminds.ning.com.
Where do daydreams come from? Scientists believe the human brain has a “dedicated daydreaming network” that is filled with memories and images and is essential to our sense of self. Brain scans have demonstrated which parts of the brain “light up” when the mind wanders or engages in conscious daydreaming. These are also the areas that become active when we obsess about a bad past experience or worry about awful things that might happen in the future. A number of mental disorders, including schizophrenia, have recently been linked to malfunctions in those brain regions.
While some people may dismiss all daydreaming as a waste of time, you can bet they do quite a bit of it themselves. It’s part of being human. And in most cases, it’s not only beneficial but necessary.
How often do you daydream? Have you ever had a creative breakthrough while letting your mind wander? Have you ever calmed your nerves with an ego-boosting fantasy? Do you think it’s good or bad for children to fantasize?