The Quick Report

The Lost Art of Daydreaming – and Why You Should Never Stop Doing It

In This Article…

• Mobile device distraction is causing people to lose the art of daydreaming. Not letting our minds wander is making us less creative and imaginative. 
• Studies have shown daydreaming helps with relaxation, handling personal conflicts, determining core beliefs and values, and boosting productivity.
• Mind-wandering is an important part of our overall being and mindfulness. Learn how to improve your daydreaming.

A young person daydreaming during a snowy winter's day

Why We Have Lost the Art of Daydreaming

Electronic devices, particularly mobile devices and tablets, have changed how humans pass idle time. These devices have had a profound effect on both adults and children. Teenagers spend upward of 11 hours on screen time. Globally, US adults spend 7 hours and 4 minutes of screen time per day.

A variety of studies have demonstrated mobile phone distraction is a growing problem that is resulting in a reduction of psychological well-being.

One study by researchers at the University of Toronto found that the mere presence of phones – even turned off – distracted people enough to affect their ability to focus and perform tasks. That’s because part of their brain was actively working to not pick up or use the phone.

Read More: 10 Life Hacks to Boost Your Brain Power

How a Lack of Daydreaming is Harming Us

Because electronic devices capture all our idle time, we use our brains less. We’re losing the art of daydreaming, what psychologists term mind-wandering, and it is causing harm in numerous ways.

A 2007 study concluded that children who don’t get enough time to daydream are less imaginative and creative than those who spend less time on electronic devices.

By some estimates, during the time not spent sleeping, some individuals spend as much as 50 percent of their time daydreaming. However, this is on the decline. The declining rates of daydreaming are mainly due to smartphone use. Having a smartphone in your pocket makes it less likely that you will spend time daydreaming.

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Psychologists warn that our current lifestyle has left much less time for daydreaming, and that could have serious negative consequences for mental health.

How Daydreaming Helps Us Become More Complete Human Beings

Throughout history, taskmasters have derided daydreamers. We’ve been prodded to quit daydreaming and get back to work. Schoolchildren have long been scolded for daydreaming and told to focus on schoolwork.

However, while daydreaming can distract us, new research shows that mind wandering is vital to our well-being and mental health.

Psychologists say that a type of daydreaming they call “positive construction daydreaming” (PCD) has mental health benefits. In PCD a person casts their mind forward and imagines possibilities. When this is done creatively and positively, it can be quite beneficial. PCD links our internal observations with forecasting needed for future exploration. Simply put, it’s the kind of mind wandering that helps us with planning and creativity.

Psychologists say that daydreaming is a proven method of decompressing and allowing our brains to relax from constant stimuli.

Although the main benefit of daydreaming is creativity, new research has found daydreaming is linked to many more benefits. Some of these benefits include analytic problem-solving, selective encoding, and restructuring of information.

Mind wandering has been proven to improve problem-solving in noncreative tasks. It creates new thoughts and pathways in the brain.

Other studies have suggested that daydreaming can also help people handle personal conflicts, boost their creativity, and determine their core values and beliefs.

Read More: The Top 10 Unsolved Mysteries That Baffle Historians

How to Improve Your Daydreaming

A study published in the journal Emotion found that participants had the best results when daydreaming by utilizing the following:

  • Daydream at the right time: Choose a time when your mind is minimally occupied and there are no distractions. Preferably when you are away from electronic devices. For example, during a shower or when brushing your teeth.
  • Allow yourself to think whatever you want: Allow your mind to wander. Allow your thoughts to be unguided.
  • Daydreaming is thinking for pleasure: Your thoughts don’t have to be meaningful. (Although they can be meaningful when combined with pleasure). Also, it’s easy to confuse planning things with thinking for pleasure. Planning is work. Pleasurable thoughts should be relaxing.

What Goes on in Our Brains During Daydreaming?

Psychologists identify the portion of our brain that is most often associated with daydreaming as the “default mode network” (DMN). The term “default mode” refers to the part of our brain associated with our resting state. The default mode is responsible for our ability to reflect on our own internal narrative and consciousness. This part of our brain becomes active when we are involved in contemplation. When we are quiet and daydreaming, our working memory also becomes engaged. Psychologists say that the DMN functions somewhat like a hub, having lots of connections running through it.

DMN is also involved in our abstract conceptual thought. This includes the introspective and self-referential kind of thought that makes us distinct from primates. The DMN helps us recall and construct social scenarios that assist us in deriving meaning out of life.