Daydreaming: Not All Who Wander Are Lost

February 8, 2019

While pursuing my teaching degree, nearly a decade ago, I taught a 12th grade Psychology course. We were exploring curriculum on states of consciousness, which included topics like sleep, hypnosis, and self-awareness. One day, I had an idea for a lesson. This wasn’t an ordinary lesson that students were used to in other classes. In fact, it was the exact opposite.

For the entire class period, they were to do nothing but daydream and use a blank sheet of paper to make their thoughts come to life. Turning to the room full of confused faces, I explained, “Write whatever you want: a story, a list, a letter, your feelings, worries, thoughts, or you can draw. You can mark all over the page, in any direction.” It was total freedom to just be.

I was astonished by the creativity of the results. Students drew funny cartoons, did dream interpretations, and vented their feelings about relationship difficulties, while the inevitable few wrote about how “laaameeee” the exercise was. Despite the few unenthused outliers, seeing so many positive responses to this lesson validated what I, and science, believe is a window to accessing the creative mind.

The purpose of this exercise was to bring the students’ mental images and free-flowing thoughts into conscious awareness and capture them as they appear. This process of freeing the mind from focus and distraction has a tremendous effect on how we access ideas and solve problems. I liken this concept to soup: It’s impossible to see all the ingredients when it’s stirred quickly, but deliberately slowing down, we begin to see the bits of information that normally remain locked in the unconscious mind.

In our society, where productivity is often the sole driving force of our day, value is rarely given to a simple, yet powerful act like daydreaming. Some of the most brilliant minds, like Albert Einstein, were masters in mind wandering, pondering, and “spacing out”. Einstein knew the power of daydreaming and embraced it as a valuable tool for creative insight when constructing his Theory of General Relativity.

Science has shown that the act of taking time to let our minds wander aids in working through difficult problems, recognizing how we feel, and release valuable ideas and connections that would otherwise stay hidden. This process is sometimes called “tapping into our gut-instinct” or intuition. Try it for yourself. All you need to do is turn off the smartphone, turn off the monitor, or turn off the tv and instead, take a walk, take a seat, and take time to just listen to the source of creativity, values, and problem solving that lives within us all.