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10 Benefits to Daydreaming!

10 Benefits to Daydreaming!

The sound of my heels on the hard floor, I find myself on stage, my face hot and eyes slightly squinting from the bright golden lights. I’m bowing before a standing ovation given to me by a much bigger room than I expected, full of admirers. The applause is overwhelming, and pride in my presentation bubbles up through my core. A wave of gratitude washes over me as I realize that my cheeks hurt from the work of smiling, then, suddenly, I am snapped back to my living room where I am writing an article on my Mac and the little cue card that pops up in the right upper corner notifies me of another reminder I had set weeks ago. So I collect my thoughts and continue my work.

We are mostly aware of the proven benefits of taking vacations. We are repeatedly and painfully reminded that our obsession with keeping up with the Jones’ and impressing our bosses is taking its toll on our efficiency, creativity, performance, and even our health! If we insist on leaving a couple vacation days in the bank each year, however, could taking a periodic trip to la-la land also be beneficial?

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    Daydreaming, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a pleasant visionary usually wishful creation of the imagination,” and by that definition, it is proving to be like a mini-vacation that carries with it more than just a handful of scientifically proven benefits!

    1. You can exercise your brain (not your mind)…

    Neuroscientist Dr Muireann Irish says that daydreaming is hard work and serves some very important functions. The capability to remember the past and imagine the future is a very complex form of thinking—as far as we can tell, we are the only species with this remarkable ability. The way in which you daydream and think is actually the effect of your brain’s physical structure, which, in turn, is constantly changing in response to new information in the form of new neural pathways due to neuroplastisity!

    2. You can give different parts of your brain a break.

    There are two main systems in your brain: the decision-making analytic part and the relatable empathetic part. When you get really involved in one, there isn’t much room for the other to play. Daydreaming allows for a natural and fluid, almost cyclical movement between these two parts of your brain, turning one on and the other on and off as it imagines.

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    3. You may find yourself to be more creative.

    A lot of creative celebrities, including Woody Allen and JK Rowling, credit daydreaming with their best ideas. This is because when you daydream, your mind travels through different parts of your brain and collects bits of information that it may then be able to connect! These connections often end up being the beginnings of new and creative ideas!

    4. You can practice being more empathetic, open minded, and understanding.

    Like being able to remember the past or think into the future, your ability to imagine someone else’s perspective, as far as people know so far, is unique to humans. A person spends up to half of their waking hours daydreaming. If you could practice spending just a portion of that time to contemplate what someone else might be thinking or feeling, it could change your interactions with people and create great opportunities for improved communication and connections.

    5. You can feel more love and connection to the people closest to you.

    Speaking of closer connections, research has shown that certain kind of daydreams—namely the “approach-oriented” social kind involving loved ones with whom you have a significant relationship—results in more “happiness, love, and connection” in relation to those people. “Approach-oriented” just means that the daydream is associated with attaining something positive instead of avoiding something negative which would be “avoidance-oriented.”

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    6. You will have improved working memory.

    Working memory is your brain’s ability to store and then recall information in the face of distractions. Recent research out of the University of Wisconsin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science shows a correlation between high levels of this particular kind of memory and daydreaming!

    7. You will likely experience improved performance/productivity.

    This correlation is probably the most proven! A Cornell study showed “improved performance” with daydreaming, and Bar-Ilan University found that “spontaneous, self-directed thoughts and associations,” how they defined daydreaming, “have a positive, simultaneous effect on task performance.”  There are even more examples that prove that the assumptions of your elementary school teachers were wrong when they thought that your little lapses in attention were detrimental.

    8. You can be healthier!

    Research has proven that daydreaming is kind of like a low-level self hypnosis. In doing so, you may find that you experience lower levels of stress, translating to a physiologically healthier you. Another way to lower stress with the use of daydreaming is to practice in advance. If you have a new experience coming up (perhaps a presentation at work) you can go through it in your mind and be better prepared for the actual event. That’s not all. Daydreaming is also linked with a healthier brain. Patients who suffer from autism and Alzheimer’s disease are unable to participate in this form of self hypnosis. Daydreaming can also help you sleep better, provided your dreams aren’t too structured and serious. Let your nightly mind wander to playful, wild places instead.

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    9. You can achieve your goals!

    Between being more creative, improving your working memory, increasing performance, and lowering stress levels, it is easy to see how you can have an easier time achieving your goals with the help of daydreams. But there is research that proves this as well! When you let yourself slip off to la-la land, your brain’s problem solving network is actually more active than when you are focused on routine tasks. So set your goals, make plans to achieve them, and let your brain help you when you run into obstacles!

    10. Most importantly, you can be happier!

    With all of the benefits of daydreaming, it’s little surprise that you can find yourself happier by letting yourself indulge in a little mental play. Another reason for this correlation is that hope and anticipation are both strongly related to joy and tend to be byproducts of mind wandering.

    Be warned that not all daydreams are created equal. To really tap into the potential benefits of your daydreams, try to free yourself from the worry or fear-based “day-mares.” We all do this, so there’s no shame. But if you catch yourself biting your nails, lost in another imagined horror plot of how your next date could go wrong, or what your boss could have meant by that statement, simply redirect your mind to more positive thoughts and let your brain take you for a joyride—creating new neural pathways along the way!

    Featured photo credit: autumn leaves boy/ Philippe Put via flickr.com

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    Last Updated on September 20, 2018

    8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

    8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

    You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

    Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

    When you train your brain, you will:

    • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
    • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
    • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

    So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

    1. Work your memory

    Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

    When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

    If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

    The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

    Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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    Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

    What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

    For example, say you just met someone new:

    “Hi, my name is George”

    Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

    Got it? Good.

    2. Do something different repeatedly

    By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

    Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

    It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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    And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

    But how does this apply to your life right now?

    Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

    Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

    Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

    So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

    You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

    That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

    3. Learn something new

    It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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    For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

    Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

    You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

    4. Follow a brain training program

    The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

    5. Work your body

    You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

    Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

    Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

    Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

    6. Spend time with your loved ones

    If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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    If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

    I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

    7. Avoid crossword puzzles

    Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

    Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

    Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

    8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

    Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

    When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

    So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

    The bottom line

    Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

    Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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