Daydreaming— Exercise at it’s best?
Often times during the day, unfortunately sometimes while I’m supposed to be focusing on a specific task, I find my thoughts wondering to other things—isn’t that hawk circling in the sky outside my window fascinating, what is it like to soar so freely through the air, I wonder if I could ever write a book, what might it mean if the Mona Lisa actually was the great painting everyone thinks it was, what should I wear to the Twins baseball game tonight (outside of black to mourn their play). Perhaps you’ve done the same, although with different topics, only to be abruptly pulled back into the present.
“I shouldn’t be doing that, it’s not productive.” “I must focus, it’s what is necessary to move forward.” Whatever the thought that interrupts that pleasant daydreaming interlude, it’s rarely a positive reflection on what I’ve been doing.
But now, as is often the story with my life, I find hope, and in some bizarre way, support for what has previously been an activity I reproached myself for enjoying. Lo, and behold, there is now research to suggest that daydreaming is a strong indicator of an “active and well-equipped brain.” Hallelujah, I’ve been vindicated. And for all these years, I’ve thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me. Thank goodness for a peer-reviewed journal article that reinforces a behavior native to my being.
In a recent study published in Psychological Science by researchers from the University of Wisconsin (my alma mater, even better), they suggest that a wandering mind correlates with a higher degree of what they call “working memory.” (http://pss.sagepub.com/content/23/4/375) This is defined as the ability of the brain to retain and recall information in the face of distractions. (Interesting in the face of my last blog on the Doorway Effect– http://bit.ly/HbPauJ).
In tests I won’t describe (likely due to a daydreaming interlude), the researchers have demonstrated that in subjects who admitted to being distracted, and are daydreaming, during a particularly boring task assigned to them, there was an enhanced ability to remember a series of letters presented to them, compared to those whose mind was less prone to the distraction of daydreaming prior to being tested.
It is hypothesized that the mental processes underlying daydreaming (well developed in my history) are quite similar to those important in the working memory. In fact, our ability to remember may be more strongly correlated to our tendency to think beyond our immediate surroundings at any given time (what a wonderful description of daydreaming) than to an IQ score.
I’m not quite sure what I’m to make of this, but it is yet another facet of human behavior worth contemplating. The authors do state that those who are prone to daydreaming still have the ability to train themselves to focus their attention on what’s in front of them, when necessary. It suggests that those episodes of daydreaming are tantamount to “exercising” an important part of our brain, especially valuable for one such as myself who carries a job title of Chief Knowledge Officer. I must get back to work now—wonder what I should do this weekend, where I should take my next vacation, why the sky is so blue today—yes, I feel that memory strengthening. Don’t you?