When you daydream, you may not be achieving your immediate goal – say reading a book or paying attention in class – but your mind may be taking that time to address more important questions in your life, such as advancing your career or personal relationships.
Modern society ascribes significant value or importance on productivity. More specifically, we’ve come to glamorize the culture of the hustle. The guy who is putting in 80-hour weeks, burning that midnight oil, is to be revered for his dedication. The guy lounging under a tree, staring up at the clouds? Not so much.
People who waste their time daydreaming are lazy. They’ll never amount to anything because they’re unmotivated and they’re ultimately just one big strain on society’s resources. Get up and do something, you lazy bum! Pay attention!
But is that really fair? Is that really accurate? University of British Columbia psychology professor Kalina Christoff disagrees. Her research lab has found that there’s a lot going on in our heads while we daydream and, purely from the perspective of brain activity, we’re not being lazy at all. Quite the opposite, actually. It’s just that we may be working on something else entirely.
After all that mind-wandering, eventually you start seeing connections that you wouldn’t have seen before, because you would never have logically allowed your mind to make those connections. Now it’s going to make them for you.
When you allow your mind to wander, you free yourself from the shackles of reason. Up can be down, hot can be cold, and space can be undefined. Do you ever dream about winning the lottery? Right now, you might tell yourself that it’s impossible to quit your job and travel the world. You’ve got a mortgage to pay. But what if you got to the point where money was no longer a concern?
The work of Professor Kalina Christoff and her colleagues is possibly more general in scope, but you can see how harnessing the power of daydreaming can be astronomically beneficial to anyone working in a creative field. That’s how you come up with incredible stories, striking visuals, and brave new worlds. That’s how you can reap the benefits of spontaneous “aha” moments.
Unbridled freedom of thought and spontaneity could be hugely important for creativity, but it’s only half of what’s necessary. The other half is to be incredibly critically and in a very constrained way evaluate the products.
Daydreaming may yield some great ideas, but how you execute on those ideas is equally important. You’ve got to build it and you’ve got to choose the right things to build. And even if you do manage to build it, they still may not come. That’s okay. Maybe you just need some more time under that tree to come up with how your idea can work.
Rightly or wrongly, I always well up with a sense of pride when I see great work coming out of my alma mater, particularly since I was a psychology major. I’ve always wondered what would have happened if I had chosen to continue my education there…