The Meaning of My Meandering Mind

As John Tierney's article in The New York Times's Science Times section emphasizes, daydreaming is great, but please remember your itinerary — and keep an eye on your luggage — for you'll discover uncharted territories if you really pay attention.
In the past, daydreaming was often considered a failure of mental discipline, or worse. Freud labeled it infantile and neurotic. Psychology textbooks warned it could lead to psychosis. Neuroscientists complained that the rogue bursts of activity on brain scans kept interfering with their studies of more important mental functions.

But now that researchers have been analyzing those stray thoughts, they’ve found daydreaming to be remarkably common — and often quite useful. A wandering mind can protect you from immediate perils and keep you on course toward long-term goals.

Sometimes daydreaming is counterproductive, but sometimes it fosters creativity and helps you solve problems.

And those are just the lapses they themselves notice, thanks to their wandering brains being in a state of “meta-awareness,” as it’s called by Dr. Jonathan Schooler of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

To encourage this creative process, Dr. Schooler says, it may help if you go jogging, take a walk, do some knitting or just sit around doodling, because relatively undemanding tasks seem to free your mind to wander productively. But you also want to be able to catch yourself at the Eureka moment.

“For creativity you need your mind to wander,” Dr. Schooler says, “but you also need to be able to notice that you’re mind wandering and catch the idea when you have it."
Full New York Times article with links to psychological studies is here.

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