While you’re reading this article, you’re probably distracted by an ad in your peripheral vision and off you go. Equally, while I’m writing, part of me is thinking of lunch, what it will be and how I look forward to it.
In fact, the astounding frequency with which we engage in wandering off in our own heads, according to some estimates, amounts to nearly half our lives.
In a paper titled “Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming”, from the academic journal Frontiers in Psychology, Rebecca McMillan and Scott Kaufman revisit Jerome L. Singer’s 1950s groundbreaking research into daydreaming.
What do they find?
Engaging in what is called “Reflective Thinking” is critical to self-improvement.
Here’s what they say:
“Singer explored the relationship between daydreaming, personality, divergent thought, creativity, planning, problem solving, associational fluency, curiosity, attention, and distractibility. Singer noted that daydreaming can reinforce and enhance social skills, offer relief from boredom, provide opportunities for rehearsal and constructive planning, and provide an ongoing source of pleasure.”
It allows for rehearsing for upcoming scenarios or reviewing the past to reinterpret past experiences in thelight of new information.
Singer found that all of these activities, which take place internally, sheltered from the demands of external tasks and perception, offer the possibility of enormous personal reward.
The crucial point?
These mental activities are, in fact, central to the task of meaning making, of developing and maintaining an understanding of oneself in the world.
If we don’t take time to devote to what is also called “reflective thinking”, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to make sense of our lives. Reflective thinking is an essential and empowering tool for daily life and creative solution finding.
We are all natural daydreamers but we are socialized to feel guilty when we just sit and stare. Luckily, there are always pioneers who stop and question the status quo, so the rest of us feel more at ease to follow.
Rat Zana writes on Business Insider on his experience of taking two hours a week to simply sit and think.
Zana goes about it very methodically. He starts off by removing all possible distractions, especially his phone and laptop, and he actually locks himself in a room with a pen and a notebook and a list of questions he wants to ponder.
- Am I excited to be doing what I’m doing or am I in aimless motion?
- Are the trade-offs between work and my relationships well-balanced?
- How can I speed up the process from where I am to where I want to go?
- What big opportunities am I not pursuing that I potentially could?
- What’s a small thing that will produce a disproportionate impact?
- What could probably go wrong in the next 6 months of my life?
Now here is the key point. Zana says the value of the exercise doesn’t come out of these routine questions. It comes “from the time I have left after I run out of things to think about. It’s when I let my mind wander.”
Isn’t that interesting?
Don’t think for a moment that you don’t have time to do some focused thinking. We all waste time ‘thinking’, but making time for it, is a more constructive way of going about it. And it may very well bring stability and composure to our crazy lives.