Jan 19, 2010

Daydream Believer

I was trying to daydream, but my mind kept wandering. ~Steven Wright

You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it. ~Neil Gaiman

Call someone a daydreamer and you may as well call them a flake, a space cadet, or a slacker. Daydreams, and daydreamers, have got a bum rap over the years, and I’m here to change all that.

Psychologists estimate that we daydream for one-third to one-half of our waking hours, although a single daydream lasts only a few minutes.

Specifically, daydreaming helps you:

Relax. Like meditation, daydreaming allows your mind to take a break, a mini-vacation in which to release tension and anxiety and "return" refreshed. It's also very useful for controlling anxiety and phobias.

Manage conflict. Organized daydreaming -- or visualization – can be used to curb anxiety and is also useful for personal conflicts.

Maintain relationships. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially among daydreamers. Happy couples tend to think about one another when they're apart, which has the effect of psychologically maintaining the relationship. We imagine sharing good news with them, along with our successes and failures. Unhappy couples daydream about arguments and ruminate about conflict while happy individuals think positively ahead."

Boost productivity. Allowing yourself a few minutes for daydreaming can help you to be more productive in the long run.

Boost creativity and achieve goals. The beauty of daydreams is that nothing is impossible. You can aim high in daydreams and end up working harder to make your dreams a reality.

Relieve boredom. People with monotonous jobs, like factory workers and security guards, often use daydreaming to keep their minds stimulated and to get them through the day.

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Almost all people daydream, although the frequency of daydreaming varies considerably from individual to individual.

Similar to dreams experienced during sleep, daydreams occur in cycles set by biological cycles of temperature and hormone levels (psychologists estimate that the average person daydreams about every 90 minutes), and peak around the lunch hour (noon to 2 P.M.).

Daydreaming first occurs for most people during childhood, sometime before age three, and these early daydreams set the pattern for adult daydreaming. Children who have positive, happy daydreams of success and achievement generally continue these types of mental images into adulthood; these daydreamers are most likely to benefit from the positive aspects of mental imagery. Daydreams become the impetus for problem-solving, creativity, or accomplishment.

On the other hand, children whose daydreams are negative, scary, or visualize disasters are likely to experience anxiety, and this pattern will carry over into adulthood as well. A child's daydreams may take a visible or public form-the daydreamer talks about his mental images while he is experiencing them, and may even act out the scenario she or he is imagining. After age ten, however, the process of internalizing daydreaming begins.

Although most psychologists view daydreams as generally healthy and natural, this was not always the case. In the 1960s, textbooks used for training teachers provided strategies for combating daydreaming. Sigmund Freud felt that only unfulfilled individuals created fantasies, and that daydreaming and fantasy were early signs of mental illness. By the late 1980s, most psychologists considered daydreams a natural component of the mental process for most individuals.

Kalina Christoff, of the University of B.C., headed a study that placed study participants inside an MRI scanner, where they performed the simple routine task of pushing a button when numbers appear on a screen. The researchers tracked subjects' attentiveness moment-to-moment through brain scans, subjective reports from subjects and by tracking their performance on the task.

Until now, scientists had thought that the brain's "default network," which is linked to easy, routine mental activity, was the only part of the brain that remains active when the mind wanders. But in the study subjects, the brain's "executive network" — associated with high-level, complex problem-solving — also lit up.

The less subjects were aware that their mind was wandering, the more both networks were activated.

"This study shows our brains are very active when we daydream — much more active than when we focus on routine tasks," Christoff said.

This suggests that daydreaming is an important cognitive state where we may unconsciously turn our attention from immediate tasks to sort through important problems in our lives.

It is not unusual for a daydream, or series of daydreams, to precede an episode of creative writing or invention. At their best, daydreams allow you a range of possibilities which, in the hard cold light of reality, aren't possible.

So let’s nix the negative stereotypes and become, in the words of The Monkees, "daydream believers."


Dolly said...

This is a great, detailed post. I love daydreaming, a pre-requisite for a writer I think.

Jamie D. said...

Excellent! I should print this out and hang it on my office wall...wonder how the boss would like that? LOL

Wonderful, informative post. :-)

C R Ward said...

Thank you ladies! Believe it or not, I cut this post by about half the words! :-)