Each of us has a whole private magical world that no one else knows of- our own real life wonderland that we retreat to at certain moments of the day. In modern times, that world has been drowned out by technology. We are on two or three different gadgets at the same time. Our thought processes are continuously being interrupted. The attraction of the new technologies steals time away from imagination, reflection and zoning out.
Day dreaming is a wonderful thing, and we should always dare to set lose all our inhibitions and allow our minds to wander freely- just not for the next six minutes.
So, what is the science behind day dreaming? Well, physiologically speaking, we’re neither asleep nor fully awake during a day dream. In this odd in-between state, our thoughts are lucid and (as some of you could have experienced), we are at serious risk of leaving our mouth hanging open like a surprised monkey.
So, what’s actually going on? Neuroscientist Marcus Raichle recognized something in the brain that he calls the “default mode network.” This is the mode where your mind starts to drift away. This is the point where your ideas and thoughts start to dance, and you’re merely observing what’s happening. Scientists recognize that this so-called “default mode network” actually increases in activity while you are day dreaming. It consists of parts of the brain involved in sensory activity and experiences. That is why when you day dream, it can evoke emotion or make you laugh.
Despite its name, this default mode network is never actually on default, but rather active- giving way to a flood of ideas and thoughts. It generates its own stimulation. The technical name for this is “stimulus independent thought,”- a thought that has originated in something other than your immediate surroundings.
Have you ever felt yourself drifting away without any real control? The part of the brain that is involved in supervising, reflecting on what you’re day dreaming is also part of this default mode network. So, you don’t have enough capacity to think about what you are thinking. Studies show that we spend 50% of our daily waking time day dreaming, using this time to explore inner experiences, thinking about something that might happen in the future. We use our default mode network to help us understand other people. It is engaged when we’re being empathetic, and it assists us in making moral decisions. The default mode network is actually found to be bigger in people who fantasize more. Creative thinkers have more gray matter, giving way to a vivid exchange of information and the sparking of ideas.
So, is day dreaming a good thing? Or is it just a cute way of saying you are unfocused, lazy, or even mad? Well, day dreamers have shaped our world for the better. Day dreamers allow information and knowledge to run free through their mind, and then it connects in a way they had not considered before. Day dreaming is a strong indicator of a well-equipped brain. It is correlated with better working memory, higher levels of creativity and more effective problem-solving. We have all heard the stories. Einstein is believed to have begun his theory of relativity while day dreaming about running alongside a beam of light to the edge of the universe. Newton begun his theory of gravity while relaxing in his mother’s garden and saw an apple fall from the tree. And Greek philosopher Archimedes discovered the relationship between the rising water levels and the volume of his body in the submersion of water while taking a bath. Without these day dreamers, we may never have had some discoveries we have had today.
So then, what’s the problem? Should we all just put down our electronics, play hooky and spend the next decade sitting under trees and swimming in Greek baths? Well, the problem is day dreamers are eternal procrastinators. Day dreaming is like a little puppy begging to play. And although we like play time, it means we find it hard to get things done. We are also using all of our energy to focus on our thoughts rather than what’s going on around us.
Without harnessing the power of day dreaming, we for the greater part just lose time and opportunities. We have to use the ability of our minds to wander to harness our creativity into something magical. Ideas are in flights all around our minds, just waiting for clearance to land. So, allow your minds to wander freely. But without harnessing the power of day dreaming, we won’t be the next Einstein. In order to address the problem of day dreaming just stealing time, you need to capture each crazy thought, funny anecdote, or potential world-changing idea in a notebook. Then, once your analytical mind is in gear, assess the validity of your ideas. Once you’re happy, shout them from the rooftops, share them with friends, families and colleagues, to allow your novel curiosity to take flight and potentially change the world.
Can you (who is reading this now) dream up the next world-changing invention? In the end, we need to learn to cherish our day dreams, to recognize them as powerful means of escape, and let them be our guide to unlock creativity, healthy madness and the magic in our world. So embrace, join, and above all, encourage our world’s day dreamers.