Daydreams remind me of bats. Or perhaps I should say that society’s view of daydreaming reminds me of society’s reaction to bats.
Bats creep people out. Few find them attractive, and in fact, they are pretty scary looking. People avoid them. People easily believe prejudicial stories about them: bats will get tangled up in your hair; bats will latch onto your neck and suck out all your blood.
Poor bats! They get a bad rap when, in fact, they are extremely beneficial. They love to eat mosquitoes and other bothersome insects. They pollinate plants. Any ecosystem that includes bats would quickly collapse without them.
Like bats, daydreamers can seem unattractive, at least in the school and the workplace. People believe prejudicial stories about them, too: daydreamers are lazy; they have no self-control; they aren’t getting anything accomplished.
And also like bats, the daydreamers get a bad rap. Scientists are discovering that positive daydreams, in fact, increase self-control and help people develop “grit,” two of the very characteristics desired by the parents, teachers and bosses who frown upon daydreaming. People who visualize themselves as successful in future events, tend to be more successful when those events come to pass.
Of particular interest to me, daydreaming helps us think more creatively, and creative thinking forms a big part of any consensus-seeking endeavor. It helps us identify interests that might be driving another person’s positions, statements or behavior. Creative thinking is the key to developing ways to address those interests in a manner that is acceptable to both parties.
I’ve written before that, when you’re working on a consensus-seeking project, and get stumped, it helps to take a break, get up and move around, focus on something else for a while, and let your unconscious mind work on the stumper. It now appears that you can enhance this effect by engaging in a particular type of activity during your break, an activity that facilitates wandering thoughts or daydreams.
In one experiment, subjects were asked to come up with unconventional uses for a common object, such as a brick. Then, some subjects were told to first perform a demanding task. Although the Psychology Today article does not describe the task, I envision something like working a crossword puzzle. Other subjects had to perform a simple, undemanding task. I envision something like sorting blocks by color. Still others were allowed to simply rest quietly. A final group had to go straight to work on the brick project. The group assigned an undemanding task, like sorting blocks, came up with the highest number of creative uses for the brick.
So the next time you want to think more creatively, or simply develop personal qualities like self-control and grit, engage in the kind of activity that leads to creative daydreaming, that is, an undemanding activity. One of the beauties of this technique is that the undemanding activities can be things you would have done anyway. Unload the dishwasher. Take a shower. Don’t push yourself to think about the stumper; let it go.
But resist the temptation to take the television into the kitchen or the radio into the bathroom. When you multi-task, you increase the demands on your brain. The right kind of undemanding activity will only use a small fraction of your consciousness; it will probably seem boring. And unlike in meditation, don’t try to prevent your mind from wandering or call it back if it does. Let any random thoughts flow.
Try this for yourself, and let me know how you do.
 Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., “Dreams of Glory,” Psychology Today, April 2014, p. 46.