Friday, 18 February 2011

Daydream believer

Einstein did it. Mozart did it. But will you make the time to daydream and see what it might yield?

Writing a book on the art of concentration became extremely focused on the pursuit of those constructive activities that produced tangible results. Where the aim was to replace distraction with focus, procrastination with achievable outcomes. But when I looked at what might also free up the brain to improve they way we live and work and concentrate, another theme crept up on me: that of checking out to check in. Freeing up the mind to make its own unique connections. To allow the opportunity for the unfettered creativity that it is capable of. That "Eureka" moment.

Sure, there was still a need to remove those distractions that the habit of multi-tasking can produce, but this could create the space not only to concentrate on executing some task or hit some deadline, but also to merely stand and stare. To be in the moment. To allow the mind to wander and wonder. And see what might percolate through... what genius solutions might be lurking behind some of the restrictions of our results-driven way of being.

I began to see that by concentrating better in order to get things done, there might be more time to daydream! And that this might be constructive and beneficial.

Why do our minds drift off anyway? Modern brain-scanning techniques show that when this happens, the temporal lobes of the brain are actually busy processing long-term memories, like some automatic data-storage facility.

Daydreaming allows the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain involved in problem-solving, to do its work. "Mind wandering is actually a very involved task," says psychologist Jonathan Schooler, who is researching this at UC Santa Barbara. "You leave the here and now and focus on more remote concerns that nevertheless might be more important. We've been focusing on the downside of this [daydreaming] but we need to think about the upside."

It also allows us to envisage the next step in an idea or plan. To play it out, visualise it and see what it might look like. Making it more real and more possible. Every big idea starts with a "What if..." thought, but you need the head space to consider and develop it. To allow the creativity the subconscious mind is capable of.

Archimedes was taking a bath when he finally solved the seemingly intractable problem of measuring the volume of objects with precision. Einstein's theory of relativity began with a daydream on a sunbeam, which led to the realisation that the earth was curved...

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