How Daydreaming Can Ignite Your Creativity
Daydreaming has long been considered a trivial part of the human experience. Daydreamers are often labeled 'spacy' or 'airheads,' and somehow make them more unhappy or unwell. It's a concept that was leveraged heavily in 90s sitcoms, where the baby-faced main character would look up toward the sky as a light fog took over his brain and catapulted him to some faraway fantasy. These fantasies were usually interrupted by an angry teacher or parent trying to get their child's attention.
While these sitcoms displayed the more stereotypical side of daydreaming, research suggests that there is a more productive element to daydreaming. In the 1970's Jerome Singer developed a concept called positive-constructive daydreaming. This kind of daydreaming involves personal amusement in which people take a break from the world, and instead of picking up a book or watching a favorite show, they spend time with their inner stories, thoughts, and fantasies. Creative minds, in particular, are more likely to use this time of personal amusement for effective planning for future or current creative projects, making their daydreaming time both enjoyable and productive.
Since Singer's time, more research and case studies have been conducted focusing on daydreaming's utility. It's widely accepted that a connection to the complexities of our inner worlds bolsters our creativity. When daydreaming and imagination meet, creativity is not only likely but imminent. Research largely agrees with this notion, citing the fact that idea incubation – giving space to our ideas to grow and develop – is a process that can occur during more intentional daydreaming efforts.
Our unconscious minds hold immeasurable knowledge, often providing wellsprings of inspiration and idea formation. It seems that one pathway to accessing this knowledge is through daydreaming because it gives us a break from the weight of the external world and allows us to turn inward. The book Wired to Create by Scott Barry Kaufman and Caroline Gregoire is loaded with suggestions for ways to tap into the abundance of creativity that daydreaming can provide. I've included a few of their tips, along with a few of my own.
1. Daydreaming breaks. In the book, Kaufman and Gregoire suggest taking a five-minute daydreaming break every hour. The purpose of this break is not to scroll through social media or take care of another task but to intentionally engage in an activity that will allow your mind to wander without judgment.
2. Take a shower. A 2014 poll found that 72% of the global community get inspiration from their time in the shower. One of my writing clients recently told me that the entire plot of his new novel came from spending time in the shower. There is something about the relaxing and also mindless nature of the shower that, when combined, provides a perfect place for idea incubation.
3. Daydreaming walks. There is an abundance of famous creatives who have attributed much of their creativity to their time on brief (and sometimes not-so-brief) walks. From Charles Darwin to William Wordsworth, some of the most inventive and curious minds in history spent much of their thinking time while they walked.
4. A note on nature. Nature can have a powerful effect on our ability to tap into our creative world. Whether it's walking, hiking, or simply being in a natural setting, nature itself seems to positively interfere with our engagement and arousal levels, which impacts our creative capabilities.
5. Coloring. Doodling, coloring, and drawing will busy your hands with something that requires very little of your attention and frees your mind to wander to other topics. Consider posing a question to yourself before you begin your coloring session, then let your mind ponder on the subject as you color.
Daydreaming tends to be so powerful because it provides you an opportunity to distract yourself from complex problems. This is especially useful when we are stuck on a solution that isn't quite working for the problem we are facing. Daydreaming can help us tap into a level of creative problem-solving that exists in our unconscious world that we would otherwise struggle to access.
Give some of these a try this week, and leave me a comment if you find any of these tips useful!
References  Singer, J.L. (1975). Navigating the stream of consciousness: Research in daydreaming and related inner experience. American Psychologist, 30, 727-738.  Baird et al., Inspired by distraction.  Kaufman, S. B. & Gregoire, C. (2015). Wired to create: Unraveling the mysteries of the creative mind. New York, NY: Perigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House.  Shower for the freshest thinking. (2014). Hansgrohe. http://www1.hansgrohe.com/assets/at--de/1404_Hansgrohe_Select_ConsumerSurvey_EN.pdf  Aspinall P, Mavros P, Coyne R, et al. (2012). The urban brain: analysing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG British Journal of Sports Medicine 2015; 49:,72-276.  Suttie, J. (2016). How nature can make you kinder, happier, and more creative. Greater Good Berkeley. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_nature_makes_you_kinder_happier_more_creative