Nearly half the time you’re awake, it’s likely spent daydreaming. Sometimes it’s a pleasant trip down memory lane; other times, just a weird thought that feels like time wasted after snapping out of it. But most of the time, removing yourself from the present is just what you need—maybe for a jolt of ingenuity, an amnesiac remedy, or a Walter Mittyesque escape. The Huffington Post broke down five upsides to these wistful distractions:
1. They’ll help connect subconscious dots. When asked to come up with multiple uses for a brick within two minutes, volunteers in a study were 41 percent more inspired when asked to daydream before focusing. In your own little world, you’re subconsciously making connections and using information to form unexpected solutions. Try the study’s drill by contemplating a problem and then spacing out for 12 minutes before refocusing.
2. They’ll remind you of the bigger picture. When trivialities tend to occupy your mental energy (traffic jams, checkout lines, chores), one study found that daydreaming can prompt your deeper ambitions. The brain is divided into a default network (associated with creativity and self-reflection) and an executive network (for planning and problem-solving). Rarely do the two work simultaneously—unless you’re daydreaming. The study found that the dual activity was at its strongest when an individual was so completely “zoned out” that they didn’t even realize it. One theory is that when the present moment is out of the picture, the two networks can mix freely, and abstract ideas, what-if scenarios, memories, and insights can surface more naturally.
3. They can help partially erase bad memories. Psychologists recommend taking your mind to a totally different emotional experience when you’re trying to forget about something for a while—say, an unfortunate run-in or hovering deadline. One study showed that when volunteers were asked to memorize a set of words, those who daydreamed right after learning them were far less likely to remember than those who stayed present. This effect is even stronger when your thoughts take you to a distant place, such as a vacation abroad, or a distant time (at least two weeks ago). While it won’t rid your memory entirely, some unwanted details could escape you.
4. They’re relatively manageable. One study suggests that if you want to spend your daydreams planning for the future, move your body forward; to spend them reminiscing, move backward. Whether it’s physical (such as sitting in a moving bus) or an illusion (think old-school galactic screensavers), there’s a subconscious correlation. One study found that when participants watched certain animations, there was a parallel between the direction of the graphics and whether they thought toward the future or of the past.
5. It’s a youthful thing to do. College students spend roughly half their time daydreaming, compared to one-third for seniors, said a study. It showed that both age groups were rather comparable overall, but older people—whether due to weaker memory, more discipline, or fewer distractions—were still more mentally present.
Image by Nichole Renee, licensed under Creative Commons.