Growing up, I was always getting in trouble for daydreaming. According to some recent studies, though, it seems like I was right along — because turns out, there are some serious benefits to letting your mind wander. Ha ha! I feel so vindicated right now. Honestly.
Here's the deal: Researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel recently concluded that quieter minds, freed of mental stress and heavy cognitive loads, tend to problem solve on a higher creative level. In three different experiments, groups of 20 people were given the same free association task — you know, the "I'll say a word, and you say the first thing that pops into your head" thing that we all had to do at some point in school. Participants were given either "light cognitive loads" — remember a two-digit string of numbers, for example — or a "heavy cognitive load," like alphabetizing the first three letters of every provided word. People with lower cognitive loads routinely gave more creative, outside the box answers. So, mind-wandering equals great. Right?
Er, for the most part. Worth noting is a 2010 study by Harvard psychologists, which found that the human mind wanders close to 50 percent of the time, on average. But this study also looked at the relationship between happiness and mindlessness, and the findings were... uh... not great: People with higher instances of daydreaming — in which their minds left the present reality and floated around elsewhere — also tended to be more unhappy.
But I think the important thing to consider is if the daydreaming is related to dissatisfaction with a current situation and a desire to not be present. It's unsurprising that people who try to disengage from the world around them, who use daydreaming as a means of escape, are not particularly satisfied with their lives. I get that. I've done that. But letting your mind wander every so often can really benefit your life, and we've got the research to prove it. Here's how.
1. Wandering Minds Experience Heightened Levels Of Creativity
A 2012 study showed that engaging in an undemanding task and letting your mind wander — as opposed to obsessing over a problem — facilitates greater "creative incubation." So the next time you are stuck, whether it be on a creative project or a work issue, the best option may be to walk away. Take a walk. Go on a run. Do the dishes. Water your plants. Allow yourself a freaking break, and that writer's block that's been plaguing your writing of the Next Great American Novel may finally dissipate.
2. Zoning Out Can Inspire Better Problem-Solving
When we zone out, our minds tend to wander on over to unresolved problems, which ultimately can result in more creative, out-of-the-box solutions. Allowing yourself some time to just daydream, free from heavy cognitive loads, may prove seriously beneficial with both your career and your day-to-day existence. It's OK. You're allowed to have some time off.
3. Daydreaming Can Lower Stress Levels
Ruminating constantly over a problem is not only not particularly helpful, it's tedious and stressful. Focus and mindfulness — being "in the moment" — are important elements to being a functioning human, sure. But holding yourself to high standards all the time takes a toll, mentally and emotionally. Space out. Zone out. Daydream. Just, like, chill, dudes. You'll be more productive people because of it. And probably more fun to be around, too.
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