In our busy, fast-paced and hyper-connected world, when was the last time you let yourself daydream? I mean, really disconnect with the everyday and let your mind wander off?
I don’t mean idly scrolling through your phone, wondering what you’re going to have for dinner rather than get on with clearing your inbox or aimlessly switching TV channels – I mean properly let your brain detach itself from your immediate surroundings and go somewhere more wondrous.
You could be imagining hopes or ambitions and seeing yourself realised in them. You could be imagining yourself in sunny climes you’ve yet to travel to, conjuring up vivid mental images of how you’re going to revamp your garden or seeing yourself headline Madison Square Garden.
Back when I was at school, daydreaming was frowned upon and earned you bad grades and snarky remarks from teachers in your end of year report. The sound of teachers shouting: “Vaus! Stop daydreaming” was constantly ringing in my ears.
But if you’re a daydreamer too, then I have good news for you – a brand new scientific paper released earlier this year has confirmed that daydreaming is actually good for you, both mentally and physically.
Research released by Dr Fiona Kerr, a cognitive neuroscientist at Adelaide University, says that daydreaming helps us think in a more complex way. The paper states; “(When daydreaming) our freewheeling brain is working hard, busy making all sorts of abstract connections between ‘chunks’ of knowledge and data filed away in their own separate compartments, and putting information together in new ways.”
And other new research released in January by the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US, found that daydreaming boosted feel-good emotions and work performance.
The study found that daydreaming gives your brain a “micro-break” which can help combat fatigue and stress as well as improving mental health, and that refocusing your brain at work afterwards is one of the best ways to become better at tasks at hand and more productive.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the benefits of daydreaming lately.
I was recently on holiday with no mobile connection – and I suddenly noticed that a whole host of random ideas and often bonkers thoughts were dancing around my brain as I gazed out to the horizon.
I realised I’d forgotten how to daydream – or rather, being a slave to my mobile phone was blocking me from having them. Being without a signal had meant they’d come flooding back – and it was a wonderful feeling. I came back from that holiday not just refreshed mentally and physically, but creatively inspired.
Because while technology has given us so much, those constant pings in our pockets and the never ending streams of content to scroll through, stop our minds from wandering properly.
Tech has stymied our imagination, dampened down those sparks of creativity and our ability to link ideas or thoughts that you wouldn’t logically or usually connect, all of which daydreaming can enhance.
And when I started delving deeper into daydreaming, I found out that MRI scans show that brain areas associated with complex problem solving actually become activated during daydreaming episodes.
In fact, Dr Kerr’s paper is called The Art and Science of Looking Up and all her research proves the benefits of putting down your mobile phone and indulging in a few moments of daydreaming.
While the government here stopped short last month of saying screen time should be limited when it released parental guidelines on social and digital media use by children, it did state devices should not interfere with sleep, exercise and education, which are key to child development.
I would argue they should have added daydreaming to that list too.
In my job, I am constantly at full creative throttle, generating ideas and problem-solving in a focused, channelled, well-trained and disciplined way.
But even though it’s the opposite – there are no boundaries, no walls and no judgement – daydreaming can not only enhance any creative process or any situation at work that needs problem solving, it’s also good for us. I do it when I walk my dog or while staring out from the top deck of the bus travelling to and from work and find the daydreams I’ve had often have a hugely positive impact on the work I produce.
I’m glad science has now flipped on its head the idea that daydreaming is a negative thing – and I think there’s only going to be more research in the future to prove the benefits physically, mentally, productively and creatively of letting your brain go AWOL during our waking hours.
We may even see daydreaming holidays and disconnected weekends where phones and Wi-Fi are banned and you’re encouraged to stare at the horizon and let your brain go where it wants. They may become as popular as detox or wellness breaks.
But until then, just log off and see where your mind takes you. Because great things can happen when we look up from our screens and let ourselves daydream…