give focus a rest
Harvard says too much is bad
daydreams aide the brain
haiku by M. Nakazato LaFreniere
Who knew staying too focused is not always a good thing? Sirini Pillay wrote in an article in Harvard Business Review, Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus, that apparently when your brain goes into the “Do Mostly Nothing” Mode (DMN aka “default mode network”), it is actually using more energy! Focused brains only use 5% of the body’s energy while unfocused, you use 15%.
The brain is busy when you’re knitting, reading casually, doodling, or doing housework. What is it doing? It’s floating through your memory banks, rehashing ideas in unique ways, finding new solutions, and paying attention to what other folks have done or said.
It’s different than anxious or worrying thoughts — those are focused. The worrier and goal-oriented person are focused on one-thought track. This is relaxing, letting go. This is playing. Like what? Pillay suggests
- Nap. A 10-minute nap boosts your energy but a 90-minute nap gives your brain a rest and gives it time to dream up new associations
- Do something mindless. Housework, gardening, exercising. Anything you are used to doing but your mind can have a pleasant wander while you do it
- Daydream. Pillay recommends Singer’s methods of “Positive Constructive Daydeaming” It takes the above — doing something mindless — but deliberately triggers a daydream with a happy or relaxing image like swinging up to the sky or relaxing on a beach.
- Be someone else. Trying on a different persona helps in imagining different ways to get things done. Hey, who knew Second Life is good for my creativity?
McMillan, Kaufman and Singer wrote a historical overview of the studies in daydreaming called “Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming.” While many scholars/scientists focused on the negative effects of daydreaming, a few pioneers found that daydreaming had positive effects if done right. I like the one where PCD brings back long ago memories because my memory is a sieve. It would be good to retrieve my adventures traveling in Japan or Malaysia.
“Zhiyan and Singer found that positive constructive daydreaming was associated with Openness to Experience, reflecting curiosity, sensitivity, and exploration of ideas, feelings, and sensations.” However, when your mind wanders off to anxieties or bad memories, the negativity gets reinforced and you become more neurotic. So if you’re the sort to daydream about being hit by a car and people coming to your funeral — cut it out! Rewind. Start the daydream over. Imagine floating on a cloud. Create a playful daydream.
What else do you get if you get used to triggering a happy daydream? Besides the usual escaping from boredom (housework anyone?), Singer found it enhances social skills, plans for the long-term future, incubates creativity, solves problems, improves learning, and increases mental flexibility and spontaneous thinking.
Wow! That’s a lot. Hmmm. Gotta go daydream now. See you tomorrow! Same time! Same space!
Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus by Srini Pillay, Harvard Business Review, May 12, 2017
Ode to positive constructive daydreaming by Rebecca L. McMillan, Scott Barry Kaufman and Jerome L. Singer; Frontiers in Psychology, Sept 23, 2013
Zhiyan, T., and Singer, J. L. (1997). Daydreaming styles, emotionality, and the big five personality dimensions. Imagin. Cogn. Pers. 16, 399–414. doi: 10.2190/ATEH-96EV-EXYX-2ADB
Image by M. Nakazato LaFreniere aka Kayla Woodrunner in Second Life.
Also published on Medium.