Daydreaming bolsters students’ creativity and innovation

Daniela Sheilds takes a moment to daydream while doing her homework outside. (Photo by Elliott Miller.)
Daniela Shields takes a moment to daydream while doing her homework outside. (Photo by Elliott Miller)

A daydreaming mind is a creative mind when overwhelmed students take the time to let their mind wander in between tasks.

Researchers from the University of California found that test subjects had an increase in creativity after daydreaming between difficult exercises.

Mikle South, a BYU assistant professor in the psychology and neuroscience department, said daydreaming is very beneficial.

“There is evidence that daydreaming is related to creativity,” South said. “So you can think of daydreaming as being able to explore different possibilities all at once. We can let our mind wander and explore connections.”

In the study done by the University of California, test subjects were supposed to list as many uses for a toothpick as quickly as they could for two minutes. The test subjects were then divided into different groups. One group was allowed to rest in a quiet room; another was given a difficult short-term memory task; a third group was given a task so mundane that the brain would begin to wander; and the fourth group was not given a break at all.

Each test group was then asked to repeat the exercise. The group that was daydreaming while doing the mundane task came up with 41% more possibilities of things to do with the toothpicks, while the other groups performed the same way as before.

“If you take a break and let your mind daydream, your mind will be able to put things together that they need to put together,” South said. “It makes the connection of, ‘What are the differences between Idea A and Idea B?’ Daydreaming allows us to make connections in our head.”

As students look for ways to solve a difficult homework problem or help memorize facts for a test, taking a step back and allowing the mind to drift may help them realize things they didn’t before.

Daniela Shields, a BYU therapeutic recreation management major, practices yoga and meditation weekly at 3B Yoga. She uses her meditation practice as a way to relax and realizes that daydreaming can have similar effects.

“I think daydreaming and meditation give the same effects, but the practices are different,” Shields said. “The point is to help people relax, and for some people meditation might be more relaxing than daydreaming. To get into them takes two different practices. To meditate you have to clear your mind of all the thoughts that you might have floating around, but with daydreaming you can just take them and ride them through your thought process.”

Daydreaming has also been proven to help students relax when feeling overwhelmed.

“It is an effective way to avoid stress,” South said. “In baseball, if a pitcher throws a bad pitch they are instructed to take a break. They may take a step off the pitcher’s mound, so maybe we do that mentally. The problem arises if we are checking out too often.”

While daydreaming can be valuable to allow the mind to increase in creativity and to relax, spending a lot of time daydreaming can do more damage than good.

Devin Porter, a recreation management major, finds himself daydreaming at least once in most of his classes. He admitted daydreaming too much is a negative thing. He said he adds on an extra 30 minutes of homework every week trying to catch up from what he missed while daydreaming during lectures.

South recommended students use daydreaming as an effective tool to relax and then to begin again. Getting the most efficient daydream begins by unplugging.

“Turn off the screens,” South said. “No phones, no games, no computers. Just lay your head down and put away other sources of input. Just rely on yourself.”

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