“A daydream is a meal at which images are eaten. Some of us are gourmets, some gourmands, and a good many take their images precooked out of a can and swallow them down whole, absent-mindedly and with little relish.”
Dreams have been at the center of Psychology’s most profound questions, but we rarely talk about day dreams and the importance of them to your mental health. Researchers at the University of British Columbia have discovered that one-third of the entire time you’re awake, you’re actually daydreaming. Now this is incredibly important to the mental health field because that means that a third of all of your thoughts take place during this “day dream” state. But what do these perpetual day dreams truly mean and how do they correlate to your behavior?
The Meat of Day Dreams
Dr. Eric Klinger, a pioneer into the field of imagination, discovered several years ago that daydreams are not mere passing thoughts. In fact, they are incredibly important to our decision making process and are directly linked to our ability to gain insights and “aha” moments. It was later that the exact amount of time that we spent daydreaming was confirmed by neuroscientist Dr. Kalina Christoff at the University of British Columbia.
Dr. Kalina Christoff’s research indicated that we do in fact spend a third of our waking time in our daydreams. Dr. Kalina Christoff’s research went even further in order to get down to what parts of the brain were being activated during daydreams. Her conclusions were a bit startling because it went against the popular notion that daydreaming meant a lack of mindfulness. Curiously enough, Dr. Kalina Christoff’s research indicated that our brain’s decision-making lobes activated the same way as if we were engaged in focused thinking when participants’ brains were scanned while daydreaming.
This means that contrary to popular belief, when you daydream, you are actually in a state of focus, not just idle fantasy making.
Follow The Leader
The most difficult aspect of trying to understand why you daydream is understanding what your daydreams actually mean. Which is very different from what your REM induced dreams may mean. In fact, the two are much more different from what you may think, with daydreaming being more linked to creative thought than the organization of your memories.
The father of Psychology, Sigmund Freud coined the term “free association” where you follow your thoughts and pay close attention to them without censoring or directing them. Freud believed that if you unbiasedly followed your thoughts, they would lead you to great insight into your sexuality. We now understand that those images mean much more than just hidden sexual urges, but the strategy is nonetheless useful in determining how to read your thoughts.
Learn to focus on where your thoughts take you, even if it’s a dark and nasty place. It is in those moments that your brain is telling you something about yourself or a situation. Don’t try to stop the flow of your thoughts (it’s not possible, believe me), but instead learn to ride on the river that is your stream of consciousness.
Decoding Your Thoughts
So what do you do once you’ve learned to successfully follow your thoughts? The next step is to fine tune into how to decode them and really think about what they mean. When you pay close attention to the way some of your thoughts make you feel, you may come to understand why you haven’t reached the solution to some of your life problems like ending a relationship.
Your daydreams may go into a place where you complain and nitpick all of the bad things about your significant other, but when you continue to track your thoughts. You may come to an image of the first time you both said “I love you” as you both sat at that hilltop overlooking the city.
Where you were once obsessed with the bad, your mind realized the harm that negativity was causing you, so it provided an alternative route for you.
Tips, Not Maps
Dr. Kalina Christoff in her daydreaming research goes on to say that although our daydreams may not be maps to our life, they can certainly provide solutions to problems you thought you had or have been struggling to overcome.
So the next time you catch yourself daydreaming or lost in your thoughts, don’t fret, you’re not lost. In fact, if you follow the trail till the end of the light, light is exactly what you will receive. Our brains have a funny way of taking care of ourselves, even when it doesn’t seem like it. Look for the surrounding clues and learn to follow your thoughts, not make snap decisions about them. You’ll end up discovering more about yourself than you could’ve imagined.
To Learn More About Daydreaming (References)
- Margarita, N. (March 23, 2009) Daydreaming – An Exercise for Brain. http://www.enotalone.com/health/19596.html
- Christoff. K (September, 2009) Daydreaming.
- McMillin, R. (September 23, 2013). Ode to Positive Daydreaming. http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00626/abstract