BRAIN HEALTH | 6.8.2015 | BY DAYA ALEXANDER GRANT, M.S.
Daydreaming has a negative connotation and many of us were told not to do it growing up. While daydreaming in algebra class might not have been a wise use of time, allowing your brain to check out might be quite beneficial… in moderation.
- Daydreaming can improve creativity. Free thinking allows the mind to make associations that don’t always appear when we’re actively trying to think of connections.
- An interesting study (Levinson et al., 2012) asked people to perform a simple task and record the number of times they noticed their mind wander. Subjects also completed a working memory test [working memory allows for the temporary holding and processing of new information. When you look up a phone number, your working memory is active until you dial the number]. While everyone performed the task well (it was very simple, after all), those whose mind wandered most frequently also scored higher on the working memory task. This finding indicates that the more working memory you have, the better equipped you are to daydream without forgetting what you’re doing.
- Daydreaming can be wonderful, but it must be approached with caution. A 2010 Harvard study found that we spend up to 47% of our day mind-wandering and that we don’t always go to a happy place. Daydreaming often involves thinking about the future and as we age, that tends to elicit more negative thoughts (what a shame!). If your mind turns negative when you daydream, bring your focus back to the task at hand or actively shift your thoughts toward something positive.
The research on daydreaming is still in its infancy. Most likely, the biggest brain benefits come from striking a balance between letting your mind wander and focusing on the present moment.