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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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July 25 2012

The Power of Daydreaming: Why You Should Let Your Mind Wander

By Mark Sisson
115 Comments

There’s something about these middle weeks of summer that feel less hurried, less brimming, more casual. At a certain point of the season, everybody remembers to relax a little and soak it in. The “lazy days” mood got me thinking about daydreaming – those lost minutes (maybe hours) in which we unintentionally slip into contemplation. Sometimes we end up floating into more serious ruminations. Other times, it’s just loose and happy reverie. We all do it – whether it’s looking out the window of our morning train, laying in the backyard hammock, or sitting (standing, rather!) at our work desk. It can often happen even if we’re trying to focus. Call it a lapse in discipline, but the brain seems to have its own agenda in those moments. Is there some purpose here beyond mere escapism? What is the brain really up to, and what could daydreaming have to do with well-being?

Grant me a little musing of my own. When I was young I went to the woods to explore, tear around, and ultimately end up daydreaming on a tall rock or tree branch. Summer was the perfect time for this, of course. I was free to make the whole day. Boredom was the catalyst for many an imagined contraption or random life realization. It makes me wonder how much time the over-scheduled child has for daydreaming these days in his/her summer. We adults, too, suffer in an existence characterized by constant bombardments of input. Daydreaming, however endangered, is still at least encouraged within childhood. But we adults are supposed to be above such nonsensical bouts of inefficiency. I’d call it another blow to those things deemed “optional” that are actually essential for living a good life.

According to one recent research survey, we underappreciate the impact of introspection and daydreaming on our cognitive life and individual wellness. Open-ended reflection, Dr. Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California notes, is critical to our development of personal reasoning and socioemotional well-being. It can help us synthesize learning and experience – to make memory and meaning of them in our lives. Sometimes, however, reflection can favor fantasy to blunt an emotional impact when we’re simply frustrated by or deeply disturbed by the circumstances of our day. Daydreaming can be as protective as it can be productive.

Studies demonstrate the neurological profile of a wandering mind as much more dynamic than simply a default setting. Sure, daydreaming can be restful, but it’s more than mental idling. Scans of study participants reveal the daydreaming brain is operating with both the default functioning seen in routine tasks and the highly intricate “executive network” accessed for complex problem-solving. Perhaps most surprising, the less conscious participants were of their mental wandering, the more “activated” the executive network was.

Research has shown we spend roughly a third to a half of our waking hours in the clouds so to speak. Some of us journey further out and more frequently than others, and it may be related to our cognitive dispositions. According to research, people who tend to daydream demonstrate more creativity in study measures. Nonetheless, the practice accesses subterranean potential in all of us. In one research study, subjects allowed to daydream outperformed other groups in a creativity focused test by more than 40%. Some mental wanderings are undoubtedly more fruitful than others, but overall it’s the process more than the product that seems to matter.

I’d argue here of course that daydreaming is an essential dimension of play. In daydreaming, we’re free to psychologically traverse through every obscure or far flung thought. We’re welcome to try on any solution or scenario that piques our interest at the moment. However, emotional or practical, daydreaming hones our emotional and cognitive dexterity. We take apart a problem and perceive it from an entirely new angle. We reflect on an overriding emotion, pose ourselves in a novel role, and suddenly process it on some unique level. Who hasn’t indulged in a little Walter Mitty style fantasy and not felt better – or at least been pleasantly amused – for it? Isn’t it how we become more fully ourselves?

More seriously, it’s also partly how our species has become more deftly human. Some of humanity’s greatest inventions, most beautiful creations, and profound thoughts have stemmed from a bald-faced lack of intention. Anyone who’s had a eureka moment while daydreaming in the shower can attest to this phenomenon. Far from some shiftless indulgence, daydreaming is part of our species’ cerebral jackpot. There was perhaps more to adaptive advantage than conscious strategizing. Daydreaming, with its unique neurological profile, opens up the chance for random connection, irrelevant association, and novel insight. At some point along the evolutionary line, these were the game changers.

When you daydream, the fact is, you’re exercising your mental muscle. You’re honing your critical and creative thinking. You’re sowing the seed of self-development. You’re owning your evolutionarily bestowed cerebral potential – and its privilege. Maybe, along the way, you’re finding a meaningful resolution to a pragmatic challenge or just turning over an existential question. Put away the techno gadgets and other “pellet” distractions. See what comes out of free, spontaneous thinking. The exercise is more Primal than you think.

Here’s a casual suggestion for the day: Embrace the leisure of summer and make some time for losing yourself in thought. Drop everything and do it now, or schedule it if you have to. Don’t go to bed tonight without endeavoring some kind of cerebral journey. Your brain – and perhaps your well-being – will be the better for it.

Enjoy the rest of your week, everyone. Let me know your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by today.

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115 thoughts on “The Power of Daydreaming: Why You Should Let Your Mind Wander”

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    1. I used to get in so much trouble for not paying attention in school! I knew I didn’t need to know the things they were teaching me and I learned A LOT on my own.

      I learned how to play a bunch of instruments and for a while, I was interested in being a record engineer. Every day after school, I would open up my computer and read, test, and improvise different things – learning more in my spare time than I did in all of highschool.

      Who says social studies is more important than acoustics? Why is trigonometry more important than the inner workings of a train?

      Why can’t we just let people be themselves?

      1. I agree – but our school system is made up to create little automatons that don’t think for themselves and just do what they are told. The funny AND sad thing is that we allow it. We are social beings and we have a hard time not fitting in. Good for those parents who home-school and who allow themselves to think outside the box and don’t give in to social pressures!!

      2. Trig is really important in acoustics though. Hello Euler’s formula! Mmmm, Fourier Transforms.

        And public schooling is nothing more than indoctrination to the state. Horace Mann and the Prussian Education System he championed via state force killed the free market in average education.

        Can I get a little Murray Rothbard on education: http://mises.org/daily/2226/

        1. Big thumbs up for mentioning Rothbard and indirectly also Mises, Hayek, etc. 🙂

        2. WildGrok groks Mises, Rothbard, Hayek et al, more thumbs up here 🙂

      3. I don’t use much of the information I learned in school in daily life. When shopping I make rough calculations to determine the approximate amount of tax I’ll have to pay and of course when using words I learned in school I’m using knowledge from the curriculum.
        A lot of the knowedge I use most frequently comes from friends and experience and some of it from reading things from various sources. I’m sometimes influenced by movies, music, and videogames (for anyone who’s played the PC game Gothic, that’s sort of how I live. I think playing that game made me less goody-two-shoes regimented and more open to a free-lancer type lifestyle). The rest of the thinking I put into my decisions and actions is innate / common logic / animal sense / experiential type thinking.
        For example, “I need to do (this), how am I going to accomplish it?”
        That’s where daydreaming becomes applicable. Fantastic ideas can lead to real world innovation and inspiration can be just as important as information.
        Recently I wanted to make a hammock in a tree, high enough that I have to climb to it. It’s a not a new idea. I’m sure other people have done it and I used to daydream about having an awesome tree house or bed in a tree when I was a kid. After watching Avatar I thought a homemade hammock safely slung in a tree would be an awesome place to sleep so I decided to make one.
        I collected some mattress cover sheets, found two fairly parallel branches, and then tied the sheets in between them at intervals. The result wasn’t something I think I could sleep on safely since I had to constantly make sure I was balanced properly.. it was a cool place to sit for a while and rest though.
        I would still like to make an awesome tree house or fort – a rainproof one I can actually sleep in safely, and so in the back of my mind I’m formulating ideas on how to do it while picking up potential designs from other constructions. I’ll probably settle on something basic, like wooden boards across parallel branches with a tarp and mosquito net hung above them, but who knows? Perhaps the environment will provide hints and materials for the improvement of this tentative plan. The cops made me leave my old campsite. Apparently people called in with complaints. I haven’t yet found anywhere I like enough to stay so last night I slept on sheets on the ground under a blanket during a thunderstorm and woke up soaked. Primal for sure but I’d rather use my higher brain functions to design and build something comfortable, hospitable, and impressive, even if I’m the only person who sees it. Maybe the satisfaction from viewing the result will tweak my neurochemistry enough to provide subtle persuasions to percolate my consciousness and make me do more productive things more often out of honest desire and not just necessity, that sounds like a win to me.

        1. Did you learn to read, write, and spell, in school? If so, you use your schooling a lot.

      4. I wish there was a “like” button for this. You summed it up perfectly with “Why can’t we just let people be themselves?”

        Amen.

      5. Actually, learning anything is good for your brain because it builds things called “neural pathways”. These are networks within the brain, and the more you have of them, the better you can think. The neural pathways you build while learning something complex like trigonometry, Japanese or even wood-working, will help you to achieve all kinds of other things throughout your life. In other words, trigonometry is like a full-on workout for your brain.

        Just like you need to exercise and eat right for your body to develop properly, you need to study varied, complex subjects like trigonometry and languages for your brain to develop to its full potential. You might not know it, but every day, you are currently using the neural pathways you built during school. And the more varied and complex the neural pathways you built, the better off you are now. If you explain to teenagers that learning weird stuff is a workout for their brains, and that it will make them much smarter and more successful in later life, they usually become more motivated!

      6. Some people just are more creative geniuses, and is one of the main reasons people don’t pay attention. Daydreaming is a skill of its own. Try a healthy vegan diet by choosing something new to eat from the catalogue, it will serve you well.

    2. Just what I was thinking! Yet another thing that the public school system chastised me for that later has proven to be a vital part of childhood and indeed life.

      1. Yes, I wish they had a daydreaming time period in school each day where they just let you do/write/muse/draw/play to encourage creativity.

        Oh yes and no grading, because labeling ideas, arts, etc. subjectively by one teacher, what is excellent, good, average, bad, blows. When you have to play that game to please your teacher, that kills creativity.

        1. My high school had an optional meditation/yoga session every morning. From experience, I can tell you that it helps clear your mind ten fold. When I didn’t meditate or do yoga before school, I didn’t feel ready to take on my school day. Definitely worth looking into if you are in the education field.

        2. Grading certain things is necessary. It helps the young cope and adapt. The world is not a place where everyone wins, and success often requires work and trying again.

        3. There should be very little (if any) tests as they are completely unrealistic, with no correlate in real life.

          Same thing with cheating – so you’re telling me that I cannot look this up on the internet? I cannot collaborate with anyone else to come to a solution? I am unable to use any of the available resources to solve this problem?

          “Cheating” is completely made up.

        4. There is always the unschooling method… learn what comes naturally to you and your interests. No grades no tests just life as a consiquense.

        5. Hi Max,
          Yes the meditation and yoga sessions are great! I definitely learn better if I dedicate some time do have a mindfulness session in the morning.

          And Graham, I definitely agrees with you. Tests are unrealistic! I usually forgot most of the stuff that I learn in classes just to take a test.

          On the other hand, I learn a lot more from ‘doing’, working on projects.

          Nicole, I can tell you now that being good at taking tests like I always was doesn’t help me in my PhD programs. In fact, I have to relearn how to learn. 😉

          Some tests are great and encourage creativity. but most of the standardized tests are designed to put students in boxes and label them with number.

    3. While it is true that all SYSTEMS(school & otherwise)require following the given protocol & as participants in these systems we have to submit to their dictates.It is also true that as young people we attain some level of discipline be it through study or meditation so that in DAYDREAMING mode we are capable of creating. Can one create anything from a blank slate except a blank life?

  1. I’ve never known about the studies or science behind it, but I’ve always used day dreaming (or mind wandering) as a problem-solving and creativity tool.
    I’ll usually start in my car on the commute home from work. I’ll say a topic (or problem, or some other block) out loud, and then just let my mind wander. Sometimes I end up way off base, but whatever. Most of the time I end up with some ideas for solutions.
    I then consciously think about these ideas again before I go to bed, and more often than not the actual solutions are clear as day when I wake up in the morning.
    Our subconsciousness is awfully powerful..

    1. This is brilliant thinking. Whenever I am away from my computer my confidence grows and I begin to think of brilliant ideas. I wouldn’t say I am really daydreaming but it’s close. It has definitely been very effective.

      I may need to experiment with this idea. Taking what I have done a step further.

      The more time I spend on my computer the more dumb I feel. As soon as I take a break I am rejuvenated.

      You can’t day dream while your eyes are fixated on a screen!

    2. Consider me a Chris Butterworth fan. About 2 years ago, my radio/cd player in my car quit working. I was going to get it fixed for the longest time, but have found that sitting there with my thoughts is the best part of my day a lot of times.

      Our minds (humankind’s minds) have come up with the best solutions to the worlds problems and will continue to do so – why not let them work?

    3. When you let your mind go free, you realize how truly creative and intuitive you are. That’s why when you go out into nature, away from the technology, you do some really great thinking and you come back feeling refreshed.

    4. Hey Chris

      Love this idea – hope you don’t mind me adding this idea to a blog post I’ve just done on problem-solving…..

      kate
      x

    5. Thanks Chris, this is a great method. I have found over the years that time and pondering truly help me to make meaningful decisions. In my workplace (which was on ships), I found that problem solving involving horizon gazing, and a sleep often gave me clues for equipment woes. Later with kids, I have used time and a bit of navel gazing to contemplate consequences for teens and their occasional wayward ways (stewing in their juices a bit helps too!). We need to roll issues and thoughts around in our hands likes smooth pebble, to feel all it’s sides,
      Cheers

    6. Yes I know what you mean! I do that sometimes when I get stuck on my research, or a math problem. Usually the answers just pop up after I let my mind wander while biking, taking a shower, or even watching tv.

    7. A trick I learned (accidentally) in college was to look over a homework assignment a week or so before it was due. Really read and understand the questions. But don’t work on any of the questions, not yet.

      I realized over the next few days ideas and answers would pop into my head. And by the time I sat down to do the homework I knew the answers, or I knew where to look for the answers in my notes from class.

      It’s really amazing.

      1. Yes, when I was in graduate school, I finally recognized and accepted the 3 day pattern of homework: day 1 – read and attempt all problems, day 2 – repeat day one, finishing a few, day 3 – complete assignment, discussing difficult ones with classmates. Once I went with this, homework became a lot less frustrating and more predictable. Maybe if I had read them further in advance, like you mention, my results would have been better!

  2. I agree. Mind wandering can be a valuable tool, and sadly, is a skill that can become lost when you become an adult because you, “have no time for it, you have to stay focused.” The truth is that not only is it good for the mind, but good for the creativity and the soul.

  3. I have made some important milestone-type decisions while camping and daydreaming with a purpose. I discovered this on a solo trip years back and decided to retire – good decision even years later. Another time it was to get a late-life degree – another good one. And, lastly, this summer, to decide whether to really retire now like all my friends have done (I’m 65) or continue working. Continue working won out – more time to save and make plans.

  4. well I always like to say…um sorry waht was i saying my mind wandered off … oh its easy to let time slip away

  5. I think the key to being a good daydreamer as an adult is to be a good reader when you’re a kid. I used to devour books when I was little and it gave my imagination free rein. Now I’m working in a creative field and I couldn’t get through the day without ‘zoning’ out a little.
    P.S Daydreaming is great but daydreaming while outdoors and getting some sun, even better!

    1. Outdoor daydreaming is always better! Reading is always a good idea. However, I think just meditation, or having an adventure in the wild can have profound effets on mental health.

  6. Sorry, what was that? I was in a world of my own for a moment…….

  7. I agree with Chris. If you are trying to solve a problem it helps if your mind is making random connections. Even if you don’t find a solution (although you could get a couple of good ideas for unrelated projects) you will feel rested and refreshed and will be able to tackle that problem again.

    Also, it is incredibly fun to do. I do it all the time and enjoy every second of it. ^_^

  8. I prefer systematic goal setting (Brian Tracy’s method actually) to daydreaming, because that leads to clear objectives to work towards, not just hazy wishes of what could be.

    And passionate goals are the engine that can really give life a purpose.

    1. Systematic goal setting and daydreaming are two different things! You don’t have to choose between the two. Do both!

  9. I wrote an article on daydreaming many years ago. I still remember a couple of comments from psychiatrists I interviewed. One said (obviously I’m paraphrasing), “Some people can’t not-think. Daydreaming is the way they rest their brains.” Then you come back to the real world refreshed.

    Another introduced me to the concept of ‘negative daydreaming.’ Easiest way to define it is by example: a man sits in a traffic jam, thinking feverishly of all the alternate routes he could have taken and avoided it. Woulda-coulda-shoulda: negative daydreaming. I’d never thought of it in that way. Makes it easier to spot somehow.

    A third pointed out that some people daydream about people. That would be me–complete stories, rarely involving me. Others dream inanimate objects–seeing themselves as clouds floating. I’ve tried that. Nothing happens.

    1. Don’t forget about the sylphs! Beautiful creatures.
      Not that I’ve seen one cleaning up multiple chemtrails with ease or anything… muahaha

  10. Agree with Chris (and others) as well. Problem is in this “NOW” society, it’s hard to be given time anymore to solve a problem. I demand it at work, and while some get impatient, a better solution always surfaces within a couple days of letting it simmer. I can name countless examples of how it has saved us a LOT of time in the long run.

  11. Yes! I actually laid down in the grass on Monday for a few minutes. Good lord. What a relief.

    Perfect timing Mark. I think it’s time to go daydream then eat some eggs and chocolate covered bacon for lunch!

  12. I’ve just spent the last 90 minutes doing just what your photo shows! Qigong values this activity highly.

  13. “Perhaps imagination is only intelligence having fun.” ~ George Scialabba

    1. Thanks for that – love that quote!

      “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”~ Albert Einstein

      And not ironically – imagination leads to knowledge.

      Kudos to Mark for writing this piece – I am at the start of a “staycation” and I’m loving it. Time to just kick back with my wife without a flurry of activity – fun stuff.

  14. Excuse me, I have a cerebral journey to attend to with Kate Beckinsale

  15. Thanks for the reminder. I’ve been longing for the lazy day, lounging in the sun with a blanket and a book in the grass. Though I still may not find the time for that, surely I can spare my focus on the here and now for a few minutes here and there. Maybe plan an after dinner walk to the shore… Yes!

  16. Hear hear! Both I and my partner ran into trouble with teachers for daydreaming as children.

    I effectively got the ability to daydream drummed out of me, and there are so many areas of my life I feel became poorer, or more stunted, as a direct result of that action. I’m consciously trying to relearn it as a skill now… a far trickier task than rebuilding regular wasted muscles!

    My partner, meanwhile, completely ignored his teacher’s concerns and carried on regardless. He’s never struggled to know what he wants or needs, makes an excellent living as an artist, and is a fabulous writer too.

    To me, that societal crippling of our natural inclination to daydream is every bit as destructive and abusive to our health and well being as the SAD. Especially now there are so many petty demands on our poor frazzled minds.

    Hurrah for daydreams, for doodles, for staring blankly into space while your mind gambols free!

    1. That’s partially what I did in math class in high school while listening to music through headphones, leading to my grade average dropping below 50. Ironically creativity in the English classes brought it up enough for me to graduate and that has been a great aid. Various social workers and judges tend to see diplomas as credible credentials.

  17. Thank you for this article. Daydreaming creates space in thinking and you never know what can pop in! We work way too hard at our lives.

  18. I love that research medicine is validating and reinforcing my love for Calvinball.

  19. Playing the devil’s advocate, recent studies on meditation by a Yale research group showed that long-time meditators (buddhist monks were used in the studies) have a much more silenced default mode network in their brains compared with novices. The default mode network is activated when you aren’t doing a task, it is, as the name implies, the default state of your mind when not doing anything in particular. Now, healthy individuals can shift between default mode and task-specific mode without much of a problem, but people suffering from a host of mental issues, such as depression, anxiety, ocd, adhd, etc. have over-active default mode networks, which makes sense since those disorders’ symptoms are over-thinking, ruminating, overly self-critical thoughts, daydreaming without taking actions (learned helplessness) etc. The buddhist monks are off the charts when it comes to mental health, happiness, and psychological resilience, and it is a direct result of their meditation training to silence the default mode network. So, if you are healthy mentally then yes, daydreaming is wonderful, but if you are suffering from any mental health issues, then daydreaming is the worst thing you can do, you do too much of it already! Being in the moment and getting out of your mind is THE one thing you must do to be more healthy mentally.

    1. One last thought and a summary:
      Daydreaming about things other than yourself is good (einstein daydreaming about riding a beam of light leading to theory of relativity), daydreaming about yourself is bad (rumination, self-criticality, egotism).

      1. I completely agree with you. Developing the mental discipline to silence the disordered thinking would be the emergency first step. Play only when you can actually play happily in your mind. An old beau said that we should have “To think” lists rather than “To dos” and I enjoyed the idea. I wonder what I’d put on the list.

      2. Yes to this. 🙂 I used to be able to count 12 distinct trains of thought all running simultaneously. They weren’t productive of course, and when I learned how to quiet my mind, and to release my deep limbic system from this strenuous activity, my whole body health improved dramatically. At first it was hard to let go, because so much of what I perceived as my identity was defined by how quick and constant my thinking was. Now, I do and think one thing at a time, practice present-moment awareness (f “practice” really makes sense… I just “am”, now), and my daydreaming happens organically, playfully, and spontaneously.

        Something that helped me immensely was to listen to Eckart Tolle’s youtube videos about the prison of the mind, and how thoughts are their own little entities, seeking to multiply and get bigger, and our minds are the fertile ground into which they plant ourselves; the trick is to choose which we’ll tend and propagate and which to let pass on through to somewhere else. I found this to be true when I attempted t create a thought, and found that I could not; I could only allow a thought, already in its thought-form, to enter, and then I could allow others like it, if I wanted to, but to create a thought from nothing is humanly impossible. We can synthesize, analyse, string-together thoughts, but we cannot create them. They exist on their own, floating around looking for a mind that will let them grow there and bring their friends. This is why “Weeding” of the mind is also important, because unhealthy thoughts choke out the good ones, and those which are most robust are the ones that have taken deep root and are aligned with the climate and conditions of the terrain. 🙂 Meditation was pivotal for turning my chronic illness into my present journey back to well-being. I have since incorporated other qi gong practices and sacred dance as well.

        Who is it that chooses what will enter the mind? Daydream on that one if you like. 🙂

    2. I could not agree more!! When I startet seeing my cognitive therapist in a period of great stress and anxiety this was exactly what he said. No more daydreaming! I could not imagine a life without it, but daydreaming has a dangerous side to it. You may start out daydreaming about something nice, but 5 minutes later you are suddenly deep into your worst disaster-thoughts. Thoughts are not easy to control, and I have worked hard to learn it. I want to recommend Eckhart Tolle, and his book “The power of Now” for anyone who wants to take control over their thoughts and minds. No more daydreaming for me:)Only meditation and focusing on being here…now.

  20. I remember early daydreaming on the part of my daughter, when she was 3 years old. Driving home from work and daycare, she was chewing her going-home snack, looking out the window lost in thoughts. She then revealed to me her reveries: “Mama, when you die, can I have your strappy gold high heels?”

    1. lol! I had one from my 3 year old the other day which was similarly out of nowhere: What happens if a racoon breaks into our car and eats the seatbelts. Do we still need to wear them?

      1. Her beliefs about raccoons! Her opinion of seatbelts! Three year olds are great. What did you answer?

  21. I find low-level activity to be the best spark for my introspective wandering. I usually go for a walk and get some of my best thinking done. It feels like my wandering in the physical world spurs my mind to do the same. I’ve come to some of my biggest life decisions that way.

    1. I agree with that so much. Monday thru Friday working out inside is a necessary evil for me, but on the weekends I get outside and just let my mind drift to wherever it wants to go for a good hour or so. It’s my favorite “me time”.

  22. I often let my mind wander when I am walking to work. I am often surprised at where my thoughts go from the mundane to the amazing. And yes, I frequently get “answers” to problems or think of new approaches to situations.

    I am so glad to have the time in my day to let my mind wander. 🙂

    1. You ever find yourself at work and realize you have no recollection of the trip there? that kind of thing happens to me all the time!

  23. Summer is my busy season. Things slow back down in the fall, which suits me fine. It’s too darned HOT to lay outdoors and daydream. All I can think about is the sweat pouring out of me, how I need a shower AGAIN and how much longer I have to lie here. Now in the fall, with cool breezes and leaves blowing about…that’s daydreaming season! Ahhh. Can’t wait!

  24. Weighing in as a teacher here – we LOVE daydreaming, reflection and introspection. But we also know that periods of focus are required to tap all that mental latitude and creativity and develop to defined ideas and goals.

  25. Its a wonder why my teachers tell me to “QUIT DAYDREAMING!” That when I get my best Ideas! It’s like meditating by a river, or sitting on the toilet. Thats when you do your best thinking because that is when you are free to daydream. Great article Mark.

    1. Our school system has proven itself to be about as bad as you can be at educating children – so take anything they say, reverse it, and you should be in good shape!

  26. Really like this article Mark! I found myself daydreaming earlier today and came up with some ideas for our crossfit gym. I carry a notebook around with me, everyday, and write down any thoughts I get while daydreaming, meditating, or just sitting quietly. It’s really therapeutic for me and allows me to organize the chaos of my thoughts and ideas.

    Thanks for the great articles as always Mark!

  27. Perfect timing for the article. As a manager I try to make sure that each person on my engineering staff has at least 2 hours a week for daydreaming and creative thinking. I encourage them to walk outside, go out to different areas of the shop, talk to people, or do whatever it is that re-energizes them and gets them thinking creatively. Grey cubicles are the death of creative thinking, yet every engineer is issued one.

    1. Thank goodness there are managers like you! I’ve become accustomed to cubicle daydreaming as well as before bed. I prefer the the cubicle daydreaming because I get to jot down my ideas. In fact, I’ve recently decided to go back to school to get my masters degree because of daydreaming. Daydreaming before bed can keep me up all night if I don’t consciously stop myself.

  28. Thank you, Mark for the article. There are so many times when I get down on myself for daydreaming and criticize my brain – “WHY CAN’T YOU FOCUS?!” I already know I am too hard on myself and this just reassured me that I’m not abnormal because I often daydream. Totally believe it’s for lack of a better word healthy to keep creativity alive. 🙂

  29. Just read an article that suggests it takes 6 hours for your brain to assimilate a problem – so you’ve got to allow yourself to daydream or sleep on the question to get the best solution.

    BTW, the article suggests that you shouldn’t sleep after a traumatic event for at least 6 hours so your brain can make sense of it before it gets laid down into your memory.

  30. I can attest to every aha moment being in the shower, while laying in bed, anything that wasn’t thinking about the problem. Except in the case of P=NP, that aha moment hasn’t come yet.

    1. I’ve solved complex computer programming problems while crossing busy and dangerous streets, while putting the laundry in the washing machine, waking up in the middle of the night knowing exactly which character to change out of tens of thousands of lines.. the mind is strange thing. ;-D

  31. I sold my car stereo so I could get more thoughts in a day. My 2hours a day really relaxes me, and I get so many good ideas and sing so many freestly songs…. It makes my day.

  32. I believe I will continue my daydreaming by the pool today… I mean I have to do my mental health’s sake 😉

  33. What?…..where?…..who??….damn…I was daydreaming again>>>>

  34. Nicole wrote:

    “Grading certain things is necessary. It helps the young cope and adapt. The world is not a place where everyone wins, and success often requires work and trying again.”

    I think Mark’s point is that the young are very naturally inclined to cope and adapt more if they expand their minds beyond closed circuits, such as a ratings system.

    When you think of the young which ran at the heals of Grok, they had to fend for themselves from a very young age. They could not have managed that without “coping” and “adapting” being built into their biological instinct.

    So grading comes naturally, we are just going through a period of mankind’s evolution where we think success is whatever we want to *make* it conceptually, at the expense of our strongest point – biological mastery.

  35. Thanks for this post! I am a chronic daydreamer, and always have been (Honestly, it would not be an exaggeration to say that I probably spend 3/4 of my waking time daydreaming). In fact, I always believed I did it to excess… to it being a problem (well in some ways it probably IS a problem, as I often can’t focus when I actually need to).

    But at the same time I don’t think I’d give it up ;). I derive a lot of enjoyment from daydreaming!

    Of course, it was ALWAYS commented on in my school reports that I was daydreaming :). (I guess if I was daydreaming during creative writing time it’d be okay… it’s just that I daydreamed ALL the time! Well, unless the teacher was saying something particularly riveting, anyway).

    But I think it HAS made me a more creative person. I just need to find the right outlet for my creativity :D.

  36. Yes, I agree that daydreaming is very important, but what school teaches you is that you need to shut all those thoughts out and concentrate on other things sometimes. You can’t start daydreaming while you’re on the job… sometimes where your concentration, or lack of, could put others lives at risk.
    School teaches your brain to focus on other things, it opens up areas of your brain.
    Daydreaming is also very important because not only do you have amazing creative thoughts, you will never be bored. For example, my husband is bored unless he has his ipod or something to listen to, read, or watch. Whereas I am good wherever I am, lost in thoughts.

    1. Before school there were parents and communities teaching the means to concentrate. So I don’t believe school is the determining factor of ability.

  37. Scheduling or allowing time to daydream helps you focus better when you do need to, at least that’s what I find anyway.

    It’s also a great way to have a ‘mini-break’ from long periods of focus – instead of focussing on something else for 5-10min like a magazine or a news website, I like to wander outside or stare out a window, and not even talk to anyone or thing about anything in particular. That way I really feel like my mind has had a rest, and relaxed from being ‘tensed’ by focus on a task or problem.

    My favourite type of fiction, sci fi, is borne entirely out of daydreaming, too 🙂

  38. Some my best ‘daydreams’ occur when i’m outside exercising – something about the scenery, air, and vit D injection that gets my whimsical neurons firing. Most of the time, these creative interludes result in better blog topics, business ideas and a big, sickeningly-colourful rainbow of inspiration. Dreeeaaaaam weaver!

  39. “The living iguanas will come and bite the men who do not dream….” Lorca “Waking Life” Richard Linklater

  40. Peter Gray writes an excellent blog about how conventional school is very un-primal and how children are better left free to pursue their own learning on their own pace and schedule: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn

    I help run an unschooling Sudbury school and I can attest that it is facinating to watch children play all day (our school has no lessons other than any the children request) and I am confident that freedom to play is how they learn best.

  41. I home school my daughter (10-girl). She know there is a time and a place to daydream. As long as all the work get done. She doesn’t have a time line just the asignments for the day, if it is not done by bed time then the next day is on my time line. It only takes 1 day of me pushing her to get her work done and then she is back on track. That means she has plenty of time to daydream. I wish we all could have been home schooled. Just think!

  42. I’ve spent most of my life roaming from one day dream to the next. My grandmother, a teacher for 50+ years, recommended that I put a tag on my wandering mind before I lost it completely! I tried to MAKE myself “pay attention”, but I would hear or see one thing and my mind would tear off into space. It has made me really good at “what if?” problems and asking questions. Has anyone else wondered if the volcanic activity of Bandera volcano had anything to do with the disappearance of the Chaco Indian culture? The dating of each event suggests the possibility. Hmmm…

  43. Such a pity that you have to prove that daydreaming is a good thing with all that scientific evidence. We’re broken that way, we have to justify everything. Daydream cos it’s nice, play because there’s nothing that feels better. Be hedonistic because life is too awesome not to be

  44. Wow I think this is an excellent piece; a real tonic to our hurried times. Its amazing how everyone is clear that we need to factor in our circadian rhythm needs-sleep at night be awake during the day. But understanding the ‘Ultradian rhythm’ and making allowances for it is vital too. As it name suggests ‘ultradians’ happen many times within a 24 hour cycle. One ultradian rhythm has been shown to moderate the ‘hemispheric dominance’ within the brain. Every 90 to 120 minutes when we sleep we dream for around 20 minutes. But also during the day after around 90-120 minutes of left brain hemispheric dominance we ‘shift gear’ naturally into this more daydreamy-right brained, trance state. We override this natural shift by producing cortisol or quaffing caffeine which eventually has consequences as we know. We know when we are experiencing the ultradain shift when we start to experience difficulty concentrating-but this may really signal it’s your time to enter the ‘daydream state.’ So rather than grabbing a stimulant its, at least sometimes best, to do as you suggest Mark and use this natural change in inner rhythm for the good-even if that simply means enjoying it and taking it’s refreshment. I use hypnosis for myself and others and find it much more powerful a tool when used in conjunction with this natural shift in awareness-like using the wind to power a sail boat. When people naturally become a little more zoned out that is the time to help them ‘go deeper’ into therapeutic reverie. All my best, Mark

  45. Daydreaming, fantasy, and introspection were all nutrients I used to cure my terminal cancer. It is where I found self expression giving rise to an authentic life. Immagination is more powerful when done with permission rather than guilt, shame or resentments! Thanks for the reminder Mark.

    Dan

  46. Good information, and a useful practice. I think meditation is even more useful for restoring calm and perspective. Make time for meditation also, to get off the ‘chronic cardio’ of the mind treadmill 🙂

  47. As someone who teaches at an elite university (Cambridge University in England), I can vouch for the fact that what adolescents need more than anything is more time to daydream and contemplate life and what it has to offer. Instead we get a lot of high-achieving kids who are exhausted by the system that got them to the top of the educational ladder, and thus are unable to make the most of an uniquely resource-intensive teaching system, which still offers one-on-one teaching in a lot of subjects.

  48. I am lucky in the respect that I had two amazingly awesome parents and a grandfather who encouraged me to ‘daydream’. I was told to ‘stretch my mind’ beyond what school taught me. Sure I learned to do academic things… But never ever would I trade that for my daydream time. I am a retired teacher…but, also a musician, singer, songwriter. Daydreaming afforded me the ability to write music about things that can be. Daydreaming rocks!!!

  49. Leisure

    William Henry Davies

    What is this life if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.
    No time to stand beneath the boughs
    And stare as long as sheep or cows.
    No time to see, when woods we pass,
    Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
    No time to see, in broad daylight,
    Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
    No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
    And watch her feet, how they can dance.
    No time to wait till her mouth can
    Enrich that smile her eyes began.
    A poor life this if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.

  50. Excellent article and not something we as a community see as valuable. Anyone caught with their feet up are generally judged as “lazy” when in fact they may be inventing the best thing since sliced bread (which is a really bad pun for this site, I know).

    Daydreaming has so many benefits. Not just resting the brain and body, but solving problems unconsciously, receiving inspiration and putting Law of Attraction into action. You’ll never get what you want unless you can clearly visualise it, so daydreaming about what you want every day is one of the best ways to get things moving in the right direction and to get the inspiration for what you need to do yourself.

    From what I remember 68 seconds of clear and free visualisation is the Law of Attraction equivalent of 2000 man hours of labour. Which would you prefer to do?

  51. Has anyone read “The power of now ” by Eckhart Tolle. Present moment awareness is our true primal state a daydream could cost Grok his life

  52. Hyper vigilance that you speak of in your book is present moment awareness

  53. I read a book on psychology – essentially we actually have several brains, but they can be broken roughly into The left (Logic and analysis), only processes about 15 pieces of data a second, the “core” that operates a lot faster and does the background processing to keep us alive (i.e., keep the heart beating, etc.), processes about 2 million pieces of data a second, and the right hand side (creativity, daydreaming and the ability to see structure within disorder). The right hand brain is alleged to have the most untapped powers. Like the muscles of the body, all three need to be exercised and balanced to get the best gains – you can only be in one of these “brains” at a time, and need to use all three to “survive”.

  54. Daydreaming and relaxing is so important to the human condition. I’m in the middle of a 25 day vacation where the lack of schedule, slower pace and time to relax is leaving me feeling great.

    Sitting around, drinking coffee, people watching and daydreaming of the future is fantastic.

  55. Ha I like to get a massage.. space out and daydream! It’s like a 2 for 1 ! Daydreaming is healthy and a good way to escape for awhile. I.too get lost in thoughts and daydream alot lol! ??