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In part, it’s because when we’re doing things that don’t require a whole lot of concentration, such as taking a shower, we’re allowing our minds to wander freely. In other words, we’re letting ourselves daydream.
The truth is that our brains aren’t wired to be focused in a straight line all the time — 96% of adults report daydreaming daily. And daydreaming is actually a strong indicator of an active and well-equipped brain. It’s been correlated with better working memory, higher levels of creativity, and more effective problem-solving.
How Daydreaming Works
Daydreaming is a state of “transient lapses in the control of attention” that “may lead to a shift in attention from the external world to internal mentation,” according to William James, a Harvard University professor from the late 1800s who’s credited as the founder of American psychology.
This is the mental state you’re in when you let your mind wander to internal thoughts — memories, future plans, and other personal thoughts and experiences — and become less aware of your external environment.
Studies found that these “undirected” mental states activated different areas of the brain than those stimulated when a person is focused on a goal or task. This daydreaming network is known as the default network. “Many times, the ‘dialogue’ that occurs when the daydreaming mind cycles through different parts of the brain accesses information that was dormant or out of reach,” said Eugenio M. Rothe, a psychiatrist at Florida International University.
The default network comprises the brain's areas most often associated with memory, self-knowledge, and self-reflection.
Interestingly, psychologists have found that our default network is most active when we take a first-person perspective in our self-reflection instead of a third-person perspective. This means it’s most active when we’re thinking more passively — in other words, accidentally daydreaming — as opposed to actively thinking about past and future events. The more often a person daydreams, the more active their default network is.
Read more about The Benefits of Daydreaming by Lindsay Kolowich
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