As a child I used to get chided for being in my own little mental world. Because I was an only child I had to find ways to keep my brain occupied in the absence of siblings, so I daydreamed often, I let my mind wander, drawing circles in the sand with my toe, letting my brain flit and flap however it chose and as a result I was happiest (and most creative) when I just let my brain “unthink” maverick style with no bumpers. While it worked for me, the association it carried with it often made for the kind of comments on your report card that got me in hot water with my parents. Daydreaming was almost always confused for inattention.
You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it. ~ Neil Gaiman
The reality is, daydreaming often get’s a bad rap. Call someone a daydreamer and you may just as well call that person a slacker. In a culture obsessed with efficiency, we are always under such constant pressure to do, achieve, produce, and succeed that taking a mental “time out” is often derided as useless—the kind of thinking we rely on when we don’t really want to think. And early science wasn’t helping us out in that regard: Freud used to describe daydreams as “infantile” and a “means of escaping from the necessary chores of the world into fantasies of wish-fulfillment.” We owe Siggy a solid for that one, don’t we? But Freud was full of it. Truly.
The Virtues of Reverie
Why do you think the best ideas come to you when you’re just laying in bed waiting for sleep to envelop you? Because letting go is the conduit for letting IN. At their best, daydreams allow you a range of possibilities which, in the hard cold light of reality, aren’t possible—they’re freeing in the best kind of way. But while the relationship between daydreaming and relaxation has been long accepted, society has been slower to come around to its usefulness in business, but there is emerging science happening which is helping to substantiate the benefits of daydreaming.
Jonathan Schooler, Professor of Psychology at UC Santa Barbara, who helped pioneer the study of insight, has shown that people who daydream often thrive in business in a variety of ways. His lab has validated that people who reliably engage in daydreaming score significantly higher on measures of creativity in all sorts of business-related applications. And Schooler actually buys what he’s selling. He schedules daydreaming into his life as a method to spur good ideas.
Every day, he leaves the office, turns off his Phone and just walks the on beach, letting his mind wander. He says it’s where all his best ideas are born. We could all learn something from this approach and make time to “check out”. It can be as powerful (if not more powerful) than intentional ideation. But just as luck favors the prepared mind, so does insight—and it’s not just skill that matters; your outlook factors in as well.
Speculative Thinking & Team-Building.
Make use of your clarity of head and the thoughts that stream steadily into it. Whether you work in a creative field or not, using daydreaming as a locus for brainstorming on any sort of idea, challenge or problem is a great tool to add to your brainstorming tool kit. If your work includes collaboration with other team members, daydreaming can beneficial when used as a catalyst for motivating team members. Here are just a few ways you can integrate it into a group scenario:
- Ask “what if” questions and encourage speculative thinking
- Accept risk and a certain amount of failure – there are no “bad” ideas
- Provide a forum for idea sharing and give feedback
Get Out of Your Head.
Next time you find yourself lost in your thoughts on a long journey, or sipping coffee in your cubicle farm, make sure you take something along with you to record all those random thoughts. They might just be gold. Use your Smartphone, to record your idea, a digital voice recorder, a notepad … just get it down. It’s moments such as these when the best ideas will surface. You need to be prepared to capture them.
If you’re tech savvy, there are a multitude of smartphone creativity apps you can use to harness your daydreams. Oflow is one that I use regularly and love, it’s a tremendous tool for creativity I use to capture daydreams and random ideas. But don’t let the lack of tools keep you from using daydreaming productively. Remember, a moment of monotony can become a rich source of insights that pays dividends in unexpected ways. For additional insights on the merits of daydreaming, read:
- Daydreaming: Unlock the Creative Power of Your Mind, by Diane Barth
- Daydreaming: Using Waking Fantasy and Imagery for Self-Knowledge and Creativity, by Eric Klinger
- Daydreams at Work: Wake Up Your Creative Powers, by Amy Fries