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Hack Your Brain Into Productive Daydreaming

By Tessa Ivascu | Section(s): GET... , | Add Your comment

GET CREATIVE The Second ActOne of the most undermining productivity myths associates daydreaming with laziness and lack of discipline. The common belief that mind wandering is a bad habit actually prevents us from being effective in accomplishing major life changes or successful at reaching important goals. As mentioned in the Productive Daydreaming Series, a recent study found that while we are daydreaming, our mind is actually hard at work, sorting through problems and grasping the «bigger picture». Take the 6 steps to hacking your brain into productive daydreaming or continue by learning more about the new scientific findings.


Brain's Problem-Solving Function At Work When We Daydream, the study led by the University of British Columbia (Canada) and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that « our brains are very active when we daydream – much more active than when we focus on routine tasks », explains lead author, Professor Kalina Christoff, UBC Department of Psychology.

BRAIN SCANS



fMRI brain scans from UBC Mind Wandering Study. (Credit: Courtesy of Kalina Christoff)

You already heard about brain’s « default network » and « executive network ». The first, which incudes the medial prefrontal cortex (PFC), the posterior cingulate cortex and the temporoparietal junction, is linked to easy, routine mental activity. The second, which includes the lateral PFC and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, is associated with high-level, complex problem-solving.

Although we all know anecdotes about « miraculous » discoveries resulting from daydreaming – Arthur Fry inventing the Post-It while daydreaming during Sunday sermon in church is a famous one – we are taught to consider it a sign of procrastination, a bad habit we indulge in whenever we « don’t want to think ».

Why ?

Until the findings of UBC's study, scientists had been positive about the « default network » being the only part of the brain to remain active when our minds wander. But Christoff and her colleagues demonstrate that the « executive network » also lights up during daydreaming. More important : during the experiment, they also found that the less subjects were aware that their mind was wandering, the more both networks were activated !

Subjects were placed inside an fMRI scanner, where they performed a simple routine task : pushing a button when numbers appeared on a screen. The researchers tracked participants' attentiveness moment-to-moment through brain scans, subjective reports from subjects and by tracking their performance on the task.

« This is a surprising finding, that these two brain networks are activated in parallel », says Christoff. « Until now, scientists have thought they operated on an either-or basis – when one was activated, the other was thought to be dormant. »

« When you daydream, you may not be achieving your immediate goal – say reading a book or paying attention in class – but your mind may be taking that time to address more important questions in your life, such as advancing your career or personal relationships », concludes the researcher.

According to other scientific findings, daydreaming can occupy as much as one third of our waking lives. So stop feeling guilty and follow Marcel Proust’s advice, whose effectiveness is now scientifically proven :
« If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time. »
Start hacking your brain into productive daydreaming or go to the Introduction to my 3-part series.

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