Daydreaming has a bad reputation. Viewed as a distraction for the flaky or a self-indulgent form of procrastination by many, even science has ganged up on daydreaming, with previous research showing aimless mind wandering tends to make you unhappy.
But is daydreaming due for a rehabilitation? New studies are painting a far more complex picture of this favorite pastime of bored schoolchildren and office workers everywhere.
Studies say there's an upside to daydreaming.
One such study published in the journal Neuroimage and highlighted on PsyBlog actually found that some forms of daydreaming cause measurable changes in the brain. This suggests that, done right, daydreaming actually requires attention and control.
Another study led by Michael Kane, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, and published in Psychological Science also found that some forms of mind wandering can be beneficial. Kane closely tracked the daydreaming of 274 volunteers and discovered that, while planning your next vacation during a big presentation will forever remain a terrible idea, daydreaming strategically can actually help you solve problems and focus when you need to.
How to get the most out of your daydreams
Taken together this evidence suggests that, done right, daydreaming can be a useful mental tool. But that begs an obvious question: what, then, is the right way to daydream?
Apparently, there's a whole book on the subject. It's called Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind and it's by Dr. Srini Pillay, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. If you're short of time, however, Pillay helpfully summed up the correct approach to daydreaming in a recent Dumb Little Man post.
He calls the optimal form of daydreaming "positive constructive daydreaming" ( or PCD), and explains that it involves letting your mind wander "on a leash." Rather than simply rehashing old worries or escaping from dreary-but-necessary activities, PCD allows you to "give your focused attention a break and allow yourself to plan and rehearse what's to come," he explains
"In other words, if you allow yourself to constructively daydream, you are likely to realize things about the future that you would miss otherwise," Pillay concludes. If that sounds like a useful skill, his post offers a detailed four-step plan to help you get the most out of your daydreaming sessions (and avoid their pitfalls).