Can you remember back to a time when your days were spent lost in fantasies, playful thoughts and daydreams? Then, usually in school, your freethinking daydreamer was scolded. In our society daydreaming gets a bad rap. We tend to think of people that have wandering minds as ungrounded “space cadets” who are lost in the clouds. However new studies reveal that daydreaming is vital to higher levels of cognitive function and offers many rewards:
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or mentally drained? There’s a reason. Recent research has revealed that the processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited.
It doesn’t matter how smart you are. There’s only so much data the conscious mind can consume in a day without severely overloading the attentional processing system in our brains. We only have two dominant modes of attention, by the way. The Central Executive (Conscious) and the Mind-Wanderer (Subconscious).
The Central Executive and Mind-Wanderer rely on entirely different neuronal networks, which operate like a seesaw. When one is active, the other is not. The Central Executive system is actively engaged and focused on processing many daily tasks. The Mind Wandering system relies on a completely different set of neuronal networks to perform more mysterious functions, such as daydreaming and random roving.
In a typical day the Central Executive processes the equivalent of about 174 newspapers’ worth of information—this is 5 times more information than we digested in 1986. As we consume the ever-increasing flow of emails, texts, status updates and news feeds, our Central Executive becomes overloaded and exhausted. Perceptions become distorted, leading to mistakes, miscommunications and misunderstandings. The fact is, as we try to stay caught up with so many bits of information, we’re stretching our attentional abilities far beyond our cerebral capacity.
Meanwhile the freethinking playful Mind-Wanderer is left to fallow. Letting your mind dream, wander and ponder is vital to solving problems, capturing fresh ideas and it contributes to your overall happiness and well-being. According to Daniel J. Levitin, author of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, “Daydreaming leads to creativity, and creative activities teach us agency, the ability to change the world, to mold it to our liking, to have a positive effect on our environment.”
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO DREAM
Forget what they told you in third grade. Letting your mind wander and ponder will improve your life in so many ways. When you daydream you go into a trance. The trance state allows your subconscious to resolve problems that your conscious mind can’t tackle. Daydreaming clears the brain’s cache, allowing new neural networks to be formed. These new networks are the source of inspiration, fresh ideas and innovation.