The next time you feel bad for letting your mind wander, consider the fact that a little daydreaming—so long as it’s not done to escape serious life matters that shouldn’t be ignored—is actually good for you. Don’t worry about people who equate these mental escapes with laziness or an inability to concentrate; according to some psychologists, daydreaming helps you in many ways.
For example, New York University psychology professor Scott Barry Kaufman explains that delving into your inner stream of consciousness plays a role in personal development. He maintains that daydreaming’s benefits include the ability to better evaluate implications of certain situations, recall deep memories, engage in goal-oriented thoughts and get involved in future planning. He even says students who have been allowed to mind-wander during standardized testing perform better on the exams as well as in school.
Daydreaming helps you tackle tough issues
In fact, students who are looking out a window during class may not necessarily be tuning out the subject matter. Experts have noted that many people turn to daydreaming to process information, making them better able to return to a task with a heightened understanding and ability to solve the problem.
The same goes for non-students as well; whether you’re at work or engaged in a serious conversation with a loved one, sometimes a break away from the topic affords the opportunity to consider various avenues. This may mean stepping outside and walking in the yard, allowing your mind to take in new thoughts and scenery, or it could simply involve sitting quietly in an empty boardroom at work before returning with new ideas about a project.
Letting thoughts drift lets you plan better, feel less anxious
Psychological scientist Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and her colleagues are likely to agree with Kaufman and these other experts; their work on the benefits of a mind at rest was published in a prestigious journal. They honed in on the importance of self-reflection—a rather difficult notion in today’s rather loud, “see me” society.
These researchers suggest that people who daydream and make time to focus on their inner thoughts often plan better, feel less anxious and are more ambitious than those who don’t daydream. Their main message is that just because a person is resting doesn’t mean they should be branded as lazy or bored. In actuality, they are very likely fine-tuning aspects of their lives that will ultimately produce positive results.
Allowing your mind to wander can lower stress
Just as interesting is the finding that daydreaming may also be linked to improved health. Scientists have found that letting your mind drift is similar to practicing mindfulness (or disengaging from the excessive stimuli in your surroundings). When focusing on thoughts that don’t involve social media, the television or conversing with others, a person is only aware of a very specific aspect of what they’re doing.
In the case of daydreaming, when you are in control of your inner thoughts, a kind of mindfulness is achieved. The health benefit from the sense of calm that’s created is linked to a reduction in levels of cortisol, which is referred to as the stress hormone. Less stress just by daydreaming? Sounds great!
Daydreaming lets creativity flow
Letting your mind drift is also a sign of creativity. Ideas generated by people in creative fields are often the result of daydreaming and imagination. You need not be a Monet or Thoreau, but the time spent pondering life beyond the routine expectations and set schedules can certainly put you several steps closer (if you’re so inclined).
So, next time you find yourself caught up in “what would I do if I won the lottery?” thoughts or envisioning yourself accepting an award—or heck, selling ice cream on a tropical island—don’t fret. You’re doing yourself a favor.
Daydreaming, however, can become problematic. When all a person does is a daydream, or they do it for extended periods of time at inopportune moments (such as during a meeting with their boss), this may be a serious cause for concern. Done too frequently, or employed as a method of avoiding situations that necessitate here-and-now attention, daydreaming may indicate an overly escapist mentality that can jeopardize work and personal relationships.