“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.” Edgar Allan Poe
I’ve always been a daydreamer. Time passes me by before I startle realising that I’ve been lost in my own thoughts.
I daydream about all sorts of things. I have ideas about the future and how conversations might go. I think about my dream house and how I want to decorate it. I imagine myself in a shared workspace typing away in a new environment. And I daydream about my little boy and all the changes he will go through in life.
It turns out, my levels of daydreaming aren’t particularly unusual. According to a Harvard University study, the average person daydreams for approximately half of their waking hours. This seems an incredible amount of time even for a committed daydreamer like me and suggests our minds are wandering even when we’re not consciously aware of it.
The Harvard University researchers looked in detail at the correlation between daydreaming and creative problem-solving. They gave 145 students a creative task where they had two minutes to list as many potential uses for everyday objects such as clothes hangers. They were then split into four different groups. Three groups were given a 12-minute break consisting of either resting in a quiet room, performing a difficult short-term memory task, or conducting a task so boring it would allow their minds to wander. The final control group had no break at all.
Each group was then asked to repeat the earlier task of thinking of as many additional uses to the items they had been exposed to. The students who had been given the chance to daydream thought of 41% more uses for these everyday items than the other three groups. However, where students were shown new items (ie, ones they hadn’t seen earlier), they all performed similarly.
The research seems to indicate the group who had 12 minutes of daydreaming time invented more possibilities for these everyday items because they had space to let their subconscious take over. Their minds were given the time to mull over the problem and come up with new solutions. This is why the effect was limited to those items that the subjects had previously been asked about. It seems that by taking our minds away from a task, we are freeing up our subconscious and giving it the chance to come up with new ideas.
The Cognitive Neuroscience of Thought Laboratory at the University of British Columbia studies the subconscious part of the brain. Scientists at UBC feel that daydreaming is part of a creative thinking process, which gives us the eureka moments that analytical thinking can’t. Our logical and analytical thought process tend to base decision-making on past experience and risk assessments. Our creative side looks for new ideas and possibilities and shouldn’t be ignored.
For me, daydreaming offers an insight into my subconscious. I sometimes let my limiting beliefs take over and use my logical brain to stop myself from doing things by putting barriers in the way. I use my past experiences to convince myself my ideas are unachievable and I should be happy with what I have. My daydreams are telling me a different story though. They’re showing me what I really want and maybe it’s time to turn those thoughts into action.