In Praise of Daydreaming in Quarantine

Learning ways to let your brain be more creative

In the old days, when we breathlessly ran from floor to floor and meeting to meeting, daydreaming at our desk was a luxury and one often accompanied by a wave of guilt for letting our minds wander aimlessly. But that was yesterday, and as we all know now, very long ago.

As advertising pros, we have had an underlying pressure to always be connected and provide the quickest solutions possible; at the same time, we are expected to constantly challenge and reinvent the status quo. Yet this also posed a problem. How are we meant to give our minds enough time to digest and think through the best solutions—indeed, the most creative and innovative ones—if we don't allow time to switch off to think? Especially if modern work culture doesn't foster it?

Many times, this felt like saying goodbye to our right brain. Sayonara, creativity.

But in this moment where we are almost completely a WFH industry, maybe we can rewrite the rules to build in more time to ponder and wonder what tomorrow can be. In that spirit, here are my thoughts for why a reinvigoration of daydreaming is important and how we might put it in practice in our new normal.

Four reasons why daydreaming enhances creativity:

Freeing our minds to wander has been shown to improve performance at work.

Psychological Science suggests people who regularly daydream are more intelligent and exert more creative ability than those who don't.

It turns out that in order for us to learn and grow, we need to learn to forget. Having a process to filter trivial information is important in this age of being constantly connected and overloaded with information.

Benjamin C. Storm, from the University of Illinois, explains that we all can retrieve and generate information that is wanted, relevant and appropriate—but only if we can constrain, and forget, information that is unwanted, irrelevant and inappropriate. This is where distracting and wandering mind can in turn benefit us.

Our brains do their creative work better when tired.

Since creative thinking requires us to make new connections, be open to new ideas, and think in new ways, a tired, fuzzy brain can be more useful to us when working on creative projects.

Scientific American explains that during off-peak times, our brain doesn't function as efficiently and isn't strong at filtering out distractions. Sounds like a bad thing, right? It's actually a necessary state of the mind when trying to foster creativity; it means we're more likely to consider a wider scope of alternatives and diverse interpretations.

This does make sense. After all, don't some of our best ideas happen when we're in the shower?

It's impossible for our brains to multitask.

When we think we're multitasking, we're instead context-switching between different tasks—splitting our brain's recourses and allowing less attention. Utilizing our phones to "switch off" doesn't allow our minds to wander—we're instead adding another deviation of brain time.

If we don't unlock our subconscious thinking, it'll hoard all our genius ideas.

Our brain operates on two levels—conscious and subconscious. Think of our subconscious as the back office of our brain, dealing with all the deep tasks, while our conscious navigates through our daily life.

Our subconscious can process 500,000 times more information than our conscious mind. That's a whole lot of untapped creative juices going to waste if we're not giving ourselves the time to tap into them.

We couldn't have said it any better than former neuroscientist August Birch: "Think of your subconscious as juggling a bunch of balls simultaneously while your conscious holds just one ball until the next ball comes. When you subconscious delivers an idea, it plucks the ball from the juggled pile and delivers it to the conscious mind for immediate action."

Here are five simple ways to start rewiring your brain for creativity while physically separated from the world:

1. Plan time to do nothing.

Block off thinking time in your calendar.

2. Put away digital devices.

Replace them with physical capture devices—anything you want to use to take notes.

3. Meditate.

Research has found improvement in creativity and new ideas in those who practice meditation.

4. Walk or exercise without purpose.

With seeds planted, your subconscious may offer you intuitive solutions with you get your body moving in human nature.

5. Change up your creative routine.

Look outside your industry and genre of art for inspiration.

Next time you find yourself stuck on a creative problem, take advantage of this strange moment in time to let your mind wander and allow your creative genius to flow.

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Asha Cowell
Asha Cowell is associate director of strategy at Carat US.

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