The Value of Daydreaming

Wednesday 23 Mar 2022

Daydreaming is how we access our big-picture state of mind. - Amy Fries

Studies show that letting your mind wander can increase creativity, stimulate better problem solving and lead to substantial improvements in performance on previously-encountered problems. Some of the greatest minds in history - including Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Salvador Dali and Steve Jobs - are known for championing the benefits of stepping away from the intensity of a project, and engaging in activity that distracts the mind from the task at hand.

Have you ever tried desperately to recall a word – a person’s name, a geographic location, a specific term – and frustratingly been unsuccessful? Has it been ‘on the tip of your tongue’?

Did you find that when you became distracted and stopped consciously thinking about it, the word you were trying to recall came to you seemingly miraculously? Have you noticed that some of your best ideas come in the shower or while out for a walk?

The brain uses two modes of thinking: the Focused Mode and the Diffuse Mode.

  • Focused Thinking is when you concentrate, focus on a problem and intentionally try to find a solution. Focused Thinking may come about as a result of such things as a conversation, reading, explicit teaching, observation and exploration. Focused Thinking purposefully and narrowly descends upon a specific concept or problem.
  • Diffuse Thinking involves inattentiveness. It takes place when you step back, take the pressure off and authentically relax or daydream. It’s through Diffuse Thinking that the brain unconsciously leaps from idea to idea and draws connections between concepts. Diffuse Thinking taps into strategic big-picture thinking.

Today’s society places minimal focus on Diffuse Thinking, mistakenly believing that Focused Thinking is the only place where learning happens. And so we push for more instruction, more intensity, more structure, more opportunity, more this, more that. We underestimate the need for Diffuse Thinking in the learning process. Focused Thinking gets us started on our learning, but breadth of understanding is only realised when we allow our brain to move between both the Focused and Diffuse Modes. This is one of the reasons those who laugh, play, wonder, imagine and daydream will often experience all-embracing and seemingly limitless learning, and produce more creative and ground-breaking outcomes, than those who persist purely with intense and explicit learning experiences.

So, now that you have this information, what will you do with it? My recommendation is to value the importance of recreational time for and with your children. Take a walk. Fly a kite. Climb a tree. Explore mud. Dream silly daydreams and laugh about them. Allow your children to participate in entirely unstructured play. Don’t worry about the mess. Give your children every opportunity to let their brains be free from things they find mentally taxing. Have confidence in the invisible. Know and trust that it’s in the downtime that the tactical big-picture learning inconspicuously takes place.

Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted. John Lennon

Read more about Focused and Diffused Thinking:

- Jane Mueller, Principal