Why daydreaming is really good for your brain

Whenever I have some spare time – like every weekday, when I’m waiting at the pool to pick up the kids from camp – I grab my phone and check if something interesting has happened. out on Instagram or not. The thing is, I don’t particularly like Instagram. Social media often makes me feel insecure, but somehow, I prefer to be alone with my thoughts.

I’m certainly not the only one who enjoys doing something more than engaging in introspection. In research published in 2014, adults were given the choice to entertain themselves with their own thoughts for 15 minutes or inflict painful electric shocks themselves. Sixty-seven percent of men and 25 percent of women chose shocks.

One research published last week suggests that our tendency to avoid being alone with our thoughts is partly because “we tend to underestimate the value of thinking,” says one of the study’s authors, Kou Murayama, a psychologist at the University of Tübingen, Germany, said. Dr. Murayama and his colleagues asked adults to predict how much they wanted to sit in a quiet room alone, and then actually asked them to do it for 20 minutes. To their surprise, the participants enjoyed the experience more than they expected.

To be fair, think about time maybe Erin Westgate, a psychologist who studies daydreaming and boredom at the University of Florida, says: Get upset — for example, if you’re worried about all the things you need to get done before the end. end today or reflect on past mistakes. And if we let our minds wander when we should be concentrating – while performing an important work task, such as, or driving – we could get ourselves into trouble, and even life-threatening. But research shows that letting our minds wander and engage in certain types of daydreaming can bring us joy, serenity, and even make us more creative.

Here’s how to start making the most of those rare moments of solitude and serenity.

Daydreaming – when our attention turns to thoughts unrelated to our environment and experiences – may seem like an easy escape from the here and now, but it can be a daunting task. complex mental work. “You are essentially the actor, the director, the screenwriter, and the spectator of this whole mental performance,” said Dr. Westgate. Sometimes we start daydreaming without even realizing it, but if you’re doing it on purpose, it’s best not to daydream when you’re distracted or tired – that can make it less enjoyable. (and less secure), she said.

The ideal time to drift off is when you’re doing something that doesn’t require a lot of mental attention: waiting for the bus, gardening, cleaning, showering, going for a walk, or even brushing your teeth. You want to have “cognitive resources available to retreat inward and focus on your own thoughts,” says Dr. Westgate. But this doesn’t mean you should sit down on the couch and decide to do nothing but daydream; Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara who studies human perception, may be easier to daydream than when you’re doing nothing.

Dr Westgate says: When people don’t like spending time alone with their thoughts, it’s usually because they’re focusing on the wrong things. For example, she doesn’t suggest using your spare moments to try to plan your day – she’s researched what happens when people do this, and it tends to be stressful. straight up and make them uncomfortable.

Dr. Westgate’s research has Find that “thinking for pleasure” works well when people are prompted, such as focusing on a favorite memory, daydreaming about an event they are expected or imagine a future achievement. She also suggests including people you care about in your dreams; think about going on vacation with good friends or family.

If you want your thoughts to spark creativity, you may want to do things a little differently and focus instead on ideas that you find curious and interesting, Dr. Schooler says. He calls this practice “the wondering mind.” Think about the ideas presented in a book or article you read or a podcast you listened to, he says.

Dr. Schooler and his colleagues Find that people came up with more creative solutions to problems after taking a break from trying to solve them and doing an unnecessary task while daydreaming. When they do other things during that break – or sit quietly‌ or focus on another difficult task‌ – or when they did not rest at all, solving problems more difficult.

“The ‘Worried Mind’ can be an opportunity to come up with new, different approaches that you haven’t thought of before,” he says.

However, some problems will not be solved through daydreaming – and you may find that daydreaming keeps bringing you back to them and causing you stress, says Jonathan Smallwood, a psychologist at Queen’s University in Ontario said. For example, reflecting on what your annoying coworker did may not solve anything because the situation is out of your control, he says. In these cases, daydreaming can “become something a little more like a curse, because you can’t get rid of the problem your brain is constantly trying to solve,” he says.

In this situation, practicing mindfulness – a mental state in which you focus on the present moment – ​​can “help curb the incessant chatter,” says Dr. Schooler. As soon as you notice that your thoughts become tense 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 into a more positive direction, he says — think of a happy memory, for example, or a TV show that you found provocative.

This afternoon, when I got to the driveway to pick up the camp, I reflexively reached for my phone – but then I remembered that I didn’t want to scroll. “It’s important to learn to control your attention,” Dr. Schooler told me. “Many people don’t appreciate that.” In other words, I can begin to prioritize my thoughts. So I put my phone down and started daydreaming. I reminisce about singing in a cappella group when I was in college – a time before smartphones and social media even existed.

Alzheimer’s disease affects about 6.5 million older Americans, and this number is expected to double by 2050. As it is one of the most feared and heritable diseases, loved ones of people with Alzheimer’s disease often fear they will also develop the disease. . But most people with a family history of Alzheimer’s will not develop the disease.

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