When was the last time you were lost in thought when all of the sudden a profound insight to current problem popped into your head? Daydreaming, also known as mind-wandering, may seem like a passive activity. However, research is discovering it could actually involve a highly engaged brain.
Researchers believe the average person spends close to 50 percent of their waking lives in a state of mind-wandering.
With the promotion of mindfulness, mind-wandering has been viewed as a negative state of mind. Mind-wandering can negatively impact reading comprehension, impair the ability to withhold automatic responses, and disrupt performance on tests of working memory and intelligence.
Emerging evidence suggests that the role of mind-wandering is not entirely harmful. Studies have shown that mind-wandering may play a crucial role in both planning for the future and creative problem solving. It enables goal-directed planning in relation to personal concerns. It also aids decision-making by allowing you to run future-oriented simulations in your head. Plus, you may have experienced mind-wandering will help you complete a tedious, repetitive task.
Recent research is showing mind-wandering may promote long-term learning and memory by promoting learning in short episodes versus a massed practice. Mind-wandering during learning creates breaks in the learning, creating an opportunity to return to the task with a refreshed capacity for attentive processing. So don’t get discouraged when you have to go back to reread something because your mind wandered. Look at it as an opportunity to reinforce what you just read.
You may not be entirely able to choose when and where to let your mind wander. You may find your mind wanders best during repetitive basic tasks, allowing your brain to enter the beneficial mind-wandering state.
Find a balance with being mindful and allowing the mind to wander. Determine what the situation needs from you. If you have a problem to solve or need a creative idea, go and get lost in an activity that allows your mind to wander (exercising, gardening, or basic household chores) and see what creative solutions emerge.