creativity · mental health · psychology

Visualizations, brainstorming, and daydreaming

English: Rêverie (Daydream)
Visualization and daydreaming are useful tools. Above: the painting Rêverie (Daydream) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been reading about visualization a lot lately. It can seem kind of hokey or too touchy-feely for some, and I’m usually not one to buy into “if you build it, they will come” kinds of ideas. However, studies are finding that visualization has a lot of positive benefits; usually articles and research focus on the relaxation and pain reduction aspects of visualization, but it also helps formalize one’s ideas, missions, and goals, and how to achieve them.

When most people visualize something for relaxation purposes, they think of outdoor spaces, whether it’s the beach, the woods, or a mountain top. Something wide open. Very few people think of cityscapes when trying to visualize a relaxing place. Women in labor or people using visualization for pain reduction will visualize things opening and releasing, usually a flower or something else natural.

For goal setting, visualization is definitely more personal, but it also often involves the person visualizing themselves doing something they enjoy, whatever it is that makes them feel happy and alive, energized and inspired to go after their goals. Scoring the game-winning goal, building the perfect dream house, nailing the presentation at work. The object of the exercise in all of these cases is imagining themselves in a specific scenario, seeing, tasting, smelling exactly what that’s like, being happy and successful.

Scientists and strategists often describe how sitting with a problem, thinking through its complexities and possible scenarios to solve the challenge.

What’s also interesting to me is that all of these scenarios for visualization could also be described as slightly more focused daydreaming.

Daydreaming, which is considered a type of play, is often dismissed as a waste of time. But it has been shown to be extremely useful for both children and adults in problem-solving, understanding mathematical or biological concepts, or just coming up with new ideas, whether it’s understanding energy or butterfly wings. It’s also good training for more focused practices like visualization, meditation, or focused brainstorming practiced in many professions.

My advice is to take some time this weekend and daydream on a topic of interest or a problem you’ve been having, or move up a step in complexity and try visualization or brainstorming on it.

There’s really no one way to daydream or visualize, although there are lots of suggested techniques out there.

What do you find yourself daydreaming about? Do you have a goal, dream, passion? Think about what that might look like? What are you doing, how are you doing it?

Do you have a problem or challenge that has been creeping into your mind without your consent? Instead of pushing it away, let it come in and think about it? Why is it bothering you? What are some ways to fix it?

Wishing you all a happy Friday, and a visualization-filled weekend.

behavior · brain · creativity · learning · mental health · neuroscience · psychology

The Benefits of Daydreaming

English: Rêverie (Daydream)

I am a HUGE fan of Jonah Lehrer and his exploration of science and psychology, so I was thrilled to see his new article in the New Yorker about how important it is for us to daydream (which is a big part of make-believe play).

Humans are a daydreaming species. According to a recent study led by the Harvard psychologists Daniel Gilbert and Matthew A. Killingsworth, people let their minds wander forty-seven per cent of the time they are awake. (The scientists demonstrated this by developing an iPhone app that contacted twenty-two hundred and fifty volunteers at random intervals during the day.) In fact, the only activity during which we report that our minds are not constantly wandering is “love making.” We’re able to focus for that.

At first glance, such data seems like a confirmation of our inherent laziness. In a culture obsessed with efficiency, mind-wandering is often derided as useless—the kind of thinking we rely on when we don’t really want to think. Freud, for instance, described daydreams as “infantile” and a means of escaping from the necessary chores of the world into fantasies of “wish-fulfillment.”

In recent years, however, psychologists and neuroscientists have redeemed this mental state, revealing the ways in which mind-wandering is an essential cognitive tool. It turns out that whenever we are slightly bored—when reality isn’t quite enough for us—we begin exploring our own associations, contemplating counterfactuals and fictive scenarios that only exist within the head.

Read more

We all need a chance to let our brains wander and make connections and just absorb and process what we’ve been experiencing. It’s a mental health issue as much as an intelligence issue in my book. There are lots of stories (not all of them 100% true, but still useful), of scientists struggling with a problem, going outside to take a break and daydream on it, and *BAM* problem suddenly solved!

Do you give yourself a chance to daydream? Have you had one of those “aha” moments due to daydreaming? Leave a note about your experiences in the comments below.