Updated: Jul 20, 2018
I'm a nickname giver. I LOVE nicknames. Except for all the nicknames applied to me growing up.
Ohhh, the humanity. How many years went by that I identified with their darkside and owned their tortures. Arinn -Airhead, Air-in, Air-out, aw geesh - they used to make me want to crawl under a rock and disappear. I always felt such intense shame hearing them dance out of people's mouths. And, up until recently, these nicknames were my achilles heal, a predictable source of internalized explosive anger.
But the truth is, it probably wasn't just the sound of my name they were referring to. I was, and to be honest, still am, a full fledged space-cadet. A daydreamer, air monger, castle in the sky builder, mental drifter, stargazer, and unlike my wandering adult mind, as a kid, I probably was in the Bahamas.
Can I get a witness???
Maybe it was my stubborn refusal to be called an airhead, or maybe it was dumb luck - whatever it was, I've since learned that daydreaming is not so rare. If you define daydreaming as a momentary lapse of directed attention to the task at hand, then we all daydream. In fact, recent research suggests that most of us lose attention, on average, 50% of the time we're awake. Not so long ago, that number was notably less, but according to a study from Microsoft Corp., our excessive use of screens and the constant barrage of information, from everywhere, may be contributing to the decline of our attention spans. The data from 2,000 Canadian participants suggests that since the year 2000, our capacity to maintain fluent attention dropped from 12 seconds to 8 (1 second less than a Goldfish!).
Our brains wander for nearly half of our awakened life!
A wandering brain can be dangerous. Daydreaming at the wrong time could lead to any number of accidents, communication breakdowns, cell phones in the toilet, or missed freeway exits. Suddenly, you're perplexed after spacing out during a pivotal plot twist at the theater, and you wonder, why is Dorothy gleefully skipping down a yellow brick road, and where in the what happened to the black & white cinematic experience?
Fortunately, daydreaming is also critical for the health and fitness of our brain. These highly specialized and mostly mysterious, super-processors-above-our-shoulders, depend on some amount of down-time. Let's hear it for the airheads! Woot, woot. Concentration, attention, and vigilance are all hard work - requiring massive amounts of energy.
By daydreaming, we're conserving vital energy that the rest of our brain and body can use to restore, rebuild, refine, repair, replenish, rejuvenate...RE-JOICE!
Here are the top 5 Triumphs of a Daydream Believer...
1. Daydreaming Promotes Creativity & Problem Solving
Using a cookbook is great, often with predictably delicious results. Following the Ikea instruction manual is probably a good idea. Paint by numbers, fun for kids and adults alike. But if you want to create a meal from whatever's left in the pantry, repurpose an old dresser from the flea market, or recreate the sunset in your mind from that one, warm, Thai, monsoon summer evening long, long ago, your creative mind will need to wander. Our creativity is boosted when we allow our minds to step away from the plan and allow it to wander forward and backward in time, from fantasy to reality, and stimulation to boredom.
Yes, boredom is critical for the emergence of cultivating creative thoughts.
When you bore your brain, or not use directed attention to try to figure something out, our conscious thinking brain begins to step away and let the endless supply of material from our unconscious emerge. Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that our brains are much more active when we daydream than previously thought. Through fMRI scans, they revealed that activity in the complex problem-solving areas of the brain were highly active during daydreaming episodes. People who are having trouble solving complicated problems might be well served to let go of their immediate goal, and just let their mind wander with a simple task instead.
2. Daydreaming develops more Empathy and Open-mindedness
You know that moment when you finally slow down and take some time for yourself? That moment you've been waiting for all day after going, going, going, and then you suddenly realize that earlier in the day you weren't very present with someone you care a lot about - as you were in your going, going, going mode. This reflection is unique to humans. We are capable of considering the emotional experiences of other human beings. We can reflect on possible scenarios to cheer them up, repair an earlier lapse of connection, understand compatible or differing perspectives, and see our part in it all. Daydreaming offers us the space to let our minds wander back, review interactions and work towards improving them. It also provides an opportunity to rehearse how we may engage in a future discussion with more presence and care for the other person.
3. Daydreaming Enhances Memory
Learning in smaller chunks seems to enhance memory. A fatigued, overworked brain will struggle to retain information. Brain breaks offer a much needed interruption from all the focus involved in directed attention and vigilant activities. Researchers at The University of Wisconsin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science, suggest that a wandering mind correlates with higher degrees of what is referred to as working memory. They were surprised to find that daydreaming actually helps those with excessive information in their working memory to offload less significant content while selecting for more salient content.
4. Daydreaming aids Self Discovery
Getting quiet and turning our attention inward allows us to listen to the noise that’s often subtly talking to us just outside our conscious awareness. So daydreaming provides us with that initial contact with subconscious and unconscious material. Daydreaming can be both mindful, focusing our attention on the present moment, and an escape, or distractor, from the present moment. Both actions (or, if you prefer, non-actions) can cultivate rich information that may otherwise go unnoticed when our lives are filled up with busy, task oriented activities. Self discovery through daydreaming is the bridge to a purpose driven life, the breeding ground of our personal passions & sensual aliveness.
5. Daydreaming promotes an overall sense of Well-Being
What's involved in letting go? We let go of self judgement and judgment of others. We let go of our agenda and tight grip on an exacting outcome. We open up to what's yearning to be expressed and felt in our bodies and minds. Researchers have found that daydreaming is a form of hypnosis by way of shifting our brain frequencies into a more alpha-like wave pattern. This hypnotic, trance-like state has been shown to lower stress levels as well as blood pressure.
Want to experience increased love, happiness and connection in your life?
A study done by researchers from The University of Sheffield & Sussex demonstrated that the role others play in our socio-emotional well-being influences positive emotional feelings and that it can emerge from the imagination as well as from real events.
"Love can really be a triumph of the imagination!"
Now, I would be remiss to omit the real darkside of daydreaming - day-mares and terrors. Throughout this blog you may have been saying to yourself, "but when my mind wanders it's often not a safe or comfortable experience." As I discussed in my previous blog, Where is my mind, our brains are designed to default to a threat detection system, to over emphasize the negative in our inner and outer environment - for survival. With this in mind (wink!) you may consider to reclaim your daydream and find your way back to a less stressful and more creative, passionate, sensual, connected self. There are many paths, but we know that the more effective, sustainable results come from the deep, hard, painful work of going into the daymare and shining your light.
So today, me an' my airheaded inner-child embrace the challenge of all the daymare-ish content so that I can continue to forge my way down the colorful yellow brick road, gleefully, triumphantly, along side my imagined companion, Dorothy - and her little dog, too.
Daydreaming my way to Oz...and all the way back to Kansas again.
In Gratitude & Health,
Blog title borrowed from the song Day Dream Believer, by the Monkeys ~ go check it out here:
About the Author
Arinn is the Director of Research for Emotional Brain Training and facilitates brain based interventions as a master trainer individually and with groups, connecting with people from all over the earth. She maintains a small private practice in Marin County at Gathering Thyme, a health and wellness apothecary & clinic. She's the mother of 3, a believer in love, and a student of life.