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When your mind wanders, you’re not mentally checked out. Instead, you’re in a state of relaxed reverie. And while you’re daydreaming, your brain pauses its data-processing duties and other regions – linked with problem-solving, creativity and calm productivity – light up and come online. Plus, “tuning out” and letting your mind roam freely has some big health benefits. Research shows regular daydreaming can ease anxiety, enhance your mood, fuel success and make your life all-around happier.
But that’s not all daydreaming can offer. Below, you’ll find five science-backed benefits of letting your thoughts flow, plus effortless ways to do it right.
1. Daydreaming makes you crazy creative
Letting your mind flit about loosens mental constraints and can stimulate visionary-like breakthroughs. When you’re daydreaming, the brain unpacks and rearranges stored data, memories and information, organizing them in new patterns and connections that elicit ingenious ideas.
Research shows mind-wandering elevates brain waves linked with divergent thinking – which is also called lateral thinking, a process that encourages diverse, out-of-the-box perspectives. In studies, daydreamers generated more innovative approaches than those who just hammered away at a task. And the wilder your daydreams get, the better: quirky, eccentric musings had the greatest impact on creativity.
2. A wandering mind supercharges productivity
Our 24-7, always-on work culture frowns on idle internal reflection. But the brain isn’t designed for constant action, and incessant mental machinations drain its stamina and hamper its efficiency, concentration and productivity. Letting thoughts roam freely while you daydream, however, gives your brain a much-needed vacay.
And research suggests taking your mind offline boosts motivation, fueling focus, performance and output. In some studies, daydreamers reported feeling refreshed and happier, with a renewed interest in work. Plus, research links unstructured thinking with significant improvements in working memory – the brain’s ability to skillfully recall and retain information without losing track of what we’re doing.
3. Daydreaming inspires solutions to problems
Fixating on a sticky wicket or problem you just can’t get past? Stop analyzing, and let your mind wander instead. Research shows daydreaming activates areas of the brain associated with high-level, complex problem-solving, and studies suggest a dreamy, relaxed state more effectively triggers sudden solutions than protracted, intense analysis.
Here’s why daydreaming is so helpful for problem-solving. When you relentlessly bang away at a problem, the brain tends to fixate on the problem itself, narrowing your focus and throwing up roadblocks. Approaching the issue from a free-flowing state, on the other hand, creates mental space, allowing unconscious memories, ideas and connections to float to the surface and sparking novel fixes. Mental meandering prompts a shift in your outlook, encouraging a broader perspective. Plus, studies show daydreaming often generates abrupt flashes of insight—like a lightbulb or “aha” moment.
4. A roaming mind fast-tracks you for success
Daydreaming doesn’t have to be random. With a little guided direction of your inner thoughts, you can set yourself up for success, especially if you’re working towards a goal.
Directed, purposeful daydreaming that guides thoughts toward a specific intention preps the brain for success. It’s a trick long used by elite athletes, musicians and performers; visualizing a goal or achievement fuels motivation and confidence. Mentally rehearsing an activity sharpens focus and clarity, and studies show internal imagery enhances motor skills and responsiveness during training and competitions, boosting performance better than positive self-talk.
Additionally, research suggests the nervous system responds to real and imagined movements in much the same way. In one study, people who mentally rehearsed an exercise showed strength gains comparable to those who physically performed the routine. And because the brain can’t differentiate between real and imagined emotional states, calling up the feelings (elation, excitement, relief) of a triumphant outcome almost guarantees success.
5. Daydreaming makes you happier (if you do it right)
Earlier research suggested a link between daydreaming and an unhappy mood – but the content and context of your drifting thoughts is key. Replaying regrets, dark memories or past failures is associated with anxiety, depression and mood disorders, while benevolent or uplifting mental musings encourage a buoyant, positive outlook.
In some studies, daydreamers who reflected on exciting plans, inspiring goals or beloved friends and family were more likely to feel happy and optimistic. Other research shows letting thoughts drift slows activity and coaxes the brain into what’s called alpha state, linked with mental calm and tranquility, less stress and anxiety.
Do daydreaming right: 5 ways to train your brain for the best results
Aimless mental meandering isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially for the frenzied, frenetic lot of us. But you can harness the power of unfettered thinking, in a skillful, proactive way. Just try these five tips to train your burdened brain and reap all of the potential benefits of daydreaming.
1. Create a dedicated daydreaming space
Establish a quiet, peaceful location – a spare bedroom, a corner of your home office or even a comfy armchair – exclusively used for relaxed reverie. Daydreaming in a consistent location signals the brain to shift into low gear. Light a candle, play nature sounds, use an aromatherapy diffuser. If you’re practicing aromatherapy, try the fragrances of vetiver, ylang ylang and sandalwood, which promote calm focus.
2. Incorporate daydreaming into your day
If your restless brain (or body) refuses to settle down, try daydreaming during your usual daily routines. Low-concentration activities, like unloading the dishwasher, washing the car or walking the dog, encourage thoughts to drift. Or, take your busy brain for a run; exercise amplifies alpha waves, which are linked with a languid mental state.
3. Make it a habit
Carve out a specific time for internal musing. Anchoring your daydreaming session to a daily routine – brewing your morning coffee, brushing your teeth, making the bed – establishes a pattern and makes habit-forming easier. Start with five minutes, then gradually increase the time as you get more comfortable. Set a timer, so your brain doesn’t fixate on checking the clock.
4. Deflect chatter
Your brain-wandering break isn’t the time to mull over dinner plans, obsess about a deadline or review your to-do list. Silence your inner chatterbox; try a guided meditation app to quiet all of the repetitive babble and let thoughts flow. Most importantly, don’t ruminate on regrets, resentments or fears. If worries intrude, jot them down in a notebook and promise your brain you’ll attend them later.
5. Archive your daydreaming insights
Free-floating thoughts are powerful and often profound, and your seemingly random mental meanderings may inspire solutions to vexing obstacles or dilemmas. Immediately after your daydreaming session, reflect on images, ideas and insights. You can archive the highlights in a journal, or record them as voice memos on your phone.