Make your daydreams useful

This morning my wife said to me, “I swear, the house could be falling down around you and you wouldn’t even know it.” She was referring to my tendency to be distracted by personal interests other than the things that need to get done around the house. I admit I’m guilty of daydreaming at times.

What I’m going to say does not replace an apology, but this tendency of the mind to wander is something that is actually quite useful. It’s an important tool for creativity. (One must be careful to not abuse the practice.)

Scientists these days are studying how daydreaming may be the “default mechanism” for the mind.

Jonah Lehrer, an editor-at-large for Seed magazine, a science and culture publication, has looked at recent research into daydreaming. Lehrer explores how the mind starts to focus inward when it decides not to respond to the outside world. This tends to happen, as you know, when we are engaged in very routine things, like driving along an empty freeway or painting a wall. Lehrer points out that “instead of responding to the outside world, the brain starts to contemplate its internal landscape. This is when new and creative connections are made between seemingly unrelated ideas.”

This is something we’ve all experienced, but how often do we turn it into something useful? As an example, he tells the story of how Arthur Fry, sitting in a church, came to invent Post-it notes. And we’ve all heard about the great creative minds of history (Shakespeare, DaVinci, Edison, Einstein, etc.) doing similar things.

Research indicates that letting the mind wander aimlessly is not enough to foster creativity. The key seems to be – ironically – to find a way to pay attention to the dreams and perceive the moment when a daydream can be useful.

To learn more, read Lehrer’s article “Daydream Achiever”, published in the Boston Globe.

Also, for some practical creativity tools, see this.

Now back to those dishes in the sink….

Photo courtesy of Ove Tøpfer.
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