Daydreamers have historically been regarded as disconnected, apathetic, lazy individuals with a lack of focus.
Some studies, including a 2010 study conducted at Harvard, state that "a wandering mind is an unhappy mind, and have concluded that daydreamers are unhappy souls who must retreat into the safety of their minds to avoid the harsh reality of their lives."
The truth is that most of us spend up to fifty per cent of our waking lives living in our heads, and some psychologists argue that without the capacity to concentrate on our innermost desires, we would be unable to assess, choose and pursue our personal goals.
Eric Klinger, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, suggests that daydreaming can actually make us more focused.
‘Paradoxical though it sounds, daydreaming is what makes us organised," he said." We think of daydreamers as scatterbrained and unfocused, but one of the functions of daydreaming is to keep your life’s agenda in front of you; it reminds you of what’s coming up, it rehearses new situations, plans the future and scans past experiences so you can learn from them.’
Scott Barry Kaufman, NYU psychology professor and author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined,
argues that the new definition of intelligence should encompass the propensity to acknowledge what motivates and inspires us.
"We all have goals and dreams in life — things we want to accomplish out there in the real world," Kaufman told The Huffington Post. "And while the kinds of skills that are measured on IQ tests are important … there are so many more characteristics that come into play in helping us to reach those dreams and goals in a long-term way."
Traditional I.Q. test to measure intelligence are based around cognitive skill tests, but these may exclude those whose intellectual skills do not fall into that category, though they may be highly adept in other areas such as spontaneous cognition.
"We tend to think of smart people as those who learn really quickly and do well on IQ tests," Kaufman says. "I felt like so many people were being judged as stupid too quickly entirely based on these scores … I wanted to look at what happened when we get these students really engaged in something that’s personally meaningful to them."
In his book, Kaufman outlines his own Theory of Personal Intelligence, which approaches mental dexterity in broader terms and factors in not only conventional markers of intellect, such as working memory, but also cognitive engagement and the abilities involved in the pursuit of personal goals, insight, intuition and access to memories and stored information.
Kaufman believes that daydreaming plays a significant role in the development of these cerebral skills, and consequently he is a big fan of the wandering mind. He has even co-authored a scientific paper on the subject along with a colleague, Rebecca L. McMillan, entitled "Ode to Positive, Constructive Daydreaming."
In a recent article, based on the paper and written for the Scientific American blog, Kaufman summarized the positive benefits of allowing your mind to dally with your daydreams. The rewards of this, the article states, are increased "self- awareness, creative incubation, improvisation and evaluation, memory consolidation, autobiographical planning, goal driven thought, future planning, retrieval of deeply personal memories, reflective consideration of the meaning of events and experiences, simulating the perspective of another person, evaluating the implications of self and others’ emotional reactions, moral reasoning, and reflective compassion… From this personal perspective, it is much easier to understand why people are drawn to mind wandering and willing to invest nearly 50 percent of their waking hours engaged in it."
Apparently, during a daydream, the mind dances in a random and uncontrolled manner, with a typical thought lasting just 14 seconds, but is there a common content to daydreams?
What do we dream about?
In a survey conducted by the University of Minnesota, 80 per cent of people said they would rather admit to an embarrassing experience than reveal their innermost thoughts.
"When we see someone daydreaming, we have no idea what’s going on in their head," said Kaufman. "These functions that all come from within — like imagination and mind-wandering — have been shown to be really important contributors to creativity."
‘Because daydreams concern our personal goals, there’s no such thing as a classic daydream, they differ with each individual,’ he said. ‘They tend to confirm what people already know about themselves, rather than providing new information. But you need to pay attention to them; daydreaming is a valuable self-to-self channel of communication."
Mindfulness practices and other current trends in "new age" thinking encourage us to "live in the now" in order to fully connect to our state of being. This type of focused thought has been associated with reduced stress levels and even boosts in compassion. Yet, if we always thought in this way, surely life would become totally instinctual and spontaneous, lacking any considered thought or intention? The "power of intention" encourages the art of "creative consciousness" in order to connect with our desires and help them to manifest, and this must include the ability to switch off from the present and daydream.
Kaufman considers that we should allow ourselves to balance the focused mind with the wandering mind.
"It’s smart to question whether we should always be living in the moment," says Kaufman. "The latest research on imagination and creativity shows that if we’re always in the moment, we’re going to miss out on important connections between our own inner mind-wandering thoughts and the outside world. Creativity lies in that intersection between our outer world and our inner world."
Daydreaming does not disconnect us from reality, but allows us to access our own inner being and creativity. Research by psychologists Steven Lynn and Judith Rhue has found that those who daydream are no less successful or well-adjusted than the pragmatists who choose to practise more mental control and, in fact, the dreamers may have a slight creative edge over others.
According to Klinger, ‘Daydreams help us to get the most out of our brain power, and are an essential personal resource for coping with life.’
A 2012 study concluded that, although daydreaming may seem passive, it could actually involve a highly engaged brain state, inspiring sudden connections and profound insights because it correlates with our ability to recall information in the face of distractions.
According to Kaufman, daydreaming is a way to "dip into [your] inner stream of consciousness," and personally reflect on the world and visualize the future. This sort of impromptu introspection can even help us to find the answers to life’s big questions. Focusing only on what is there, rather than what could be, must indubitably inhibit creative thought: most artists, authors, musicians and inventors require the mental space to allow new thoughts to spawn new ideas.
Trevor Baylis, inventor of the clockwork radio, is a big fan of reverie, and he describes how fantasy allowed him to create his now famous gadget:
‘Daydreaming allows the mind to come up with ideas and modify them like the most wonderful computer. My radio idea was prompted by a television programme about HIV and AIDS in Africa, which said that disease could only be prevented by the spread of information, but there was no electricity or batteries. I started daydreaming about the way old-fashioned wind-up gramophones worked and it all went from there.’
So it seems that we need to sometimes escape "away with the fairies" to allow magic into our lives, and to discover our true natures and innermost desires. The practice is not then, as many perceive it, a frivolous waste of time, but can be a valuable journey into our minds and souls, unlocking personal treasures and untapped talents, and helping to create the future of our dreams.
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