When I was a kid, more than one teacher said I was a daydreamer. They didn’t mean it as a compliment. It was their way of accusing me of lacking focus and having a wandering mind. And I did—it’s always been a little too easy for my thoughts to take off on a little meandering head trip of their own no matter what’s going on around me.
I spent years worrying about it, convinced that I was a little too spacey for my own good and that I needed to really focus on focusing or there’d be trouble. After all, they kept telling me, daydreaming is just a whole lot of inexcusable nothing that’ll get me nowhere.
Except it isn’t. At all.
We all daydream. A lot. In fact, our minds are in drift mode about 30% of the time. For about a third of every day, we check out mentally and head elsewhere. That’s a huge chunk of time, and there must be some kind of reason for it, some sort of evolutionary advantage to zoning out, right?
Message to all my old teachers: There is. People in lab coats looked into it, and it turns out that daydreaming is where a lot of the thinking we need most goes down. It’s the place creativity comes from. When we daydream, we’re not bouncing uselessly from one random idea to another. We’re making important connections between seemingly unrelated things that we never would have made consciously, and it’s in these connections that insights are born.
We can’t have this inspiration without daydreaming. Our “executive functions,” just aren’t up to the task. Only by freeing our brains and letting them run wild wherever they want can we make that quantum leaps and discover the breakthrough we need to make life grand.
It’s like we won’t find the answers we’re looking for until we actually stop looking for them and send our thoughts in a completely different and disorderly direction instead. That’s the value of daydreaming. And that’s why we should never believe them when they tell us it’s a nightmarish waste of time.