By Melinda Wenner Moyer
Sept. 6, 2022
Research shows that letting our minds wander and engaging in certain kinds of daydreaming can give us joy, serenity and even make us more creative. Here’s how to start making the most out of those rare moments of solitude and reverie.
FIND THE RIGHT TIME AND PLACE. Daydreaming — when our attention shifts to thoughts unrelated to our environment — might seem like an easy escape, but it can be a complicated mental task. “You’re essentially being the actor, director, screenwriter and audience of this whole mental performance,” said Erin Westgate, a psychologist who studies daydreaming. Don’t daydream while you’re distracted or tired (it’s less enjoyable and safe), but rather when you are doing something that doesn’t demand much mental attention, such as waiting for the bus or showering.
FOCUS ON POSITIVE AND MEANINGFUL THOUGHTS. When people don’t enjoy spending time alone with their thoughts, it’s often because they’re focusing on the wrong things, Dr. Westgate said. Her research has found that “thinking for pleasure” works well when people are given prompts in advance, such as focusing on a favorite memory or imagining a future accomplishment.
TO NURTURE CREATIVITY, FOCUS ON INTERESTING IDEAS. If you want your thoughts to spark creativity, focus on ideas you find curious, said Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist. He calls this practice “mind wondering.” Think about the ideas presented in a book you’ve been reading or a podcast you’ve listened to. “‘Mind wondering’ may be an opportunity to come up with novel, different approaches that you hadn’t thought of before,” he said.
IF YOUR MIND GOES TO BAD PLACES, TRY MINDFULNESS. Some problems aren’t going to be solved through daydreaming — and you might find that daydreaming stresses you out, said Jonathan Smallwood, a psychologist. Ruminating over the things your annoying work colleague has done is probably not going to solve anything because the situation is out of your control. In this situation, practicing mindfulness — a mental state in which you focus on the present moment — could help, Dr. Schooler said. As soon as you’ve noticed that your thoughts have become stressful or depressing, pause and try to redirect your focus to the present moment. Think about your breath and the sensations you feel. Then, coax your daydreams in a more positive direction
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