Jan 25, 2013

Daydreaming: It's Not for the Lazy

What do people daydream about? "Their unmet wants and unassuaged fears," says Eric Klinger, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Minnesota at Morris and author of Daydreaming: Using Fantasy and Imagery for Self-Knowledge and Creativity. Daydreams are inherently spontaneous bursts of imagination in which you work out problems, dream up solutions, and plan for the future. You roll in and out of them so often that, more than likely, you spend half of your waking hours in a dream.

Don't believe it? What do you do when you brush your teeth in the morning? When you drive your car? When you pour a cup of coffee?

"Daydreaming seems to be a natural way to use brainpower efficiently," explains Dr. Klinger. "I think that the brain machinery is set up in such a way that when we're not using full capacity, we automatically cut out and start working over other things. Our minds wander into a review of the past or rehearse what's coming up."

You might replay an argument you had with a friend, then visualize how the two of you will go to lunch and work it out. Or, if you're planning a dinner, you might recall the foods your guests like to eat, take a mental inventory of what's in your pantry, and then plan what you'll need to pick up at the market.

What we daydream about, although it's usually related to pursuing a personal goal, reflects our social differences, says Dr. Klinger. A businessperson is far more likely to think about a new product line, for example, while a day care worker is more likely to daydream about conflict resolution on the playground.

"But daydreamed thoughts are not random," Dr. Klinger points out. They occur when you run into emotionally arousing cues that trigger a new thought related to an ongoing concern.

For example, you might encounter the smell of fresh bread as you pass a bakery, remember how your mom used to bake a half-dozen fluffy loaves once a week, then daydream about a bread-baking bash before the holidays and wonder if you can squeeze it in.

In each instance, think of daydreaming as personal brainstorming, says Dr. Klinger. Then use what it reveals. ('Boost Your Brain Power', by Ellen Michaud, Russell Wild and the editors of Prevention Magazine)