Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Why I've let Daydreams Back into my Life

My friend John Sarvay (you know they guy who inspired me to start writing a blog in the first place) just started his sixth blog. I know. Crazy, like he doesn't have enough to do with a new baby!
Anyway, the newest blog, Floricane, is actually about his new business -- focusing on leadership coaching, organizational development, and creative facilitation. He just wrote this amazing post on daydreaming.
I've always thought daydreaming was indulgent and stopped myself from it whenever possible. Kind of sad, I know. Only recently, have I allowed myself to daydream. How has it changed my life? I don't know. I dream at night more. I hope more. And I feel more too. Actually, come to think of it, I think I deprived myself of daydreaming for so long that in allowing myself to do so -- I overdid it a bit! Funny how that happens? I guess it is just one more reminder that balance is the key! In the past 3 months, daydreams have played a critical role in my life and my future. They've allowed me to see posibility, hope and in one case even frightened me! It's amazing what your mind will do if you just let if off the leash once in a while.

Sarvay quotes a recent article on the topic in the Boston Globe:
In recent years, however, scientists have begun to see the act of daydreaming very differently. They’ve demonstrated that daydreaming is a fundamental feature of the human mind - so fundamental, in fact, that it’s often referred to as our “default” mode of thought. Many scientists argue that daydreaming is a crucial tool for creativity, a thought process that allows the brain to make new associations and connections.

The article in particular talks about how in society today we tend to use television to occupy our empty time, which keeps us from daydreaming and being creative. Daydreaming actually take practice and being able to notice insight within that daydream is key to it being productive.

For me, daydreaming (or not allowing myself to) has been a weakness. Something I was never taught to value. But isn't it interesting that our body knows what it needs. Which brings me back to the focus of this blog -- triathlons. The one time I have allowed myself a sort of daydreaming state is when I excercise. Especially swimming for endless hours or biking for endless miles. Then it is no cooincidence that I've chosen to be an endurence athlete. Before triathlons, the only other time I allowed myself to do this was when I would go for long motorcycle rides whenever I felt "antsy". And that is what the article talks about next:
Every time we slip effortlessly into a daydream, a distinct pattern of brain areas is activated, which is known as the default network. Studies show that this network is most engaged when people are performing tasks that require little conscious attention, such as routine driving on the highway or reading a tedious text. Although such mental trances are often seen as a sign of lethargy - we are staring haplessly into space - the cortex is actually very active during this default state, as numerous brain regions interact. Instead of responding to the outside world, the brain starts to contemplate its internal landscape. This is when new and creative connections are made between seemingly unrelated ideas.

"When you don't use a muscle, that muscle really isn't doing much of anything," says Dr. Marcus Raichle, a neurologist and radiologist at Washington University who was one of the first scientists to locate the default network in the brain. "But when your brain is supposedly doing nothing and daydreaming, it's really doing a tremendous amount. We call it the 'resting state,' but the brain isn't resting at all."

Recent research has confirmed the importance of the default network by studying what happens when the network is disrupted. For instance, there is suggestive evidence that people with autism engage in less daydreaming than normal, with a default network that exhibits significantly reduced activity during idle moments. In addition, more abnormal default networks in autistic subjects correlated with the most severe social deficits. One leading theory is that atypical default activity interferes with the sort of meandering memories and social simulations that typically characterize daydreams, causing people with autism to instead fixate on things in their environment.


What these studies all demonstrate is that proper daydreaming - the kind of thinking that occurs when the mind is thinking to itself - is a crucial feature of the healthy human brain. It might seem as though our mind is empty, but the mind is never empty: it's always bubbling over with ideas and connections.

One of the simplest ways to foster creativity, then, may be to take daydreams more seriously. Even the mundane daydreams that occur hundreds of times a day are helping us plan for the future, interact with others, and solidify our own sense of self. And when we are stuck on a particularly difficult problem, a good daydream isn't just an escape - it may be the most productive thing we can do.

So, this is a new goal for me. Allow myself not only to dream, but to have daydreams. And I'll encourage my kids to daydream too. In fact, I think I need to make some time for my husband to go paint, I have a hunch that is where he gets his daydreaming done.


Sara Cox Landolt said...

This is fablous! I love the ideas you refer to and wrote about.
Best to you in your training,

Donna said...

Just came across your blog. I'm another "tri mom". Good luck with your training... I plan to follow you!