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How Daydreaming Benefits Creative Thinking

One of the things we often breeze through when we are training people to get ready for ideation is that they can’t listen to everything, so it is okay to let their minds wander. I often say, “This is the one time and place where you won’t get in trouble for saying ‘I’m sorry, I was totally not paying attention.’”

We’ve known anecdotally that day dreaming is a natural fit with creativity—we’ve seen it work in ourselves. Sometimes, we just need to let go of the thinking brain and let the unconscious brain take over. We need to let go of the control and see where the brain wants to take us. 

A recent article from Maria Popova at Brainpickings just blew me away with how much research has been done on the effects of daydreaming and creativity and just how many interesting layers there are to it. And it makes me want to do a whole part of ideation where we send everyone outside to daydream for a half hour and see what they can come up with.  


An excerpt of the article is below. Read the complete article here at brainpickings.org.


"Freud asserted that daydreaming is essential to creative writing — something a number of famous creators and theorists intuited in asserting that unconscious processing is essential to how creativity works, from T. S. Eliot’s notion of “idea incubation” to Alexander Graham Bell’s “unconscious cerebration” to Lewis Carroll’s “mental mastication.” 

In the 1950s, Yale psychologist Jerome L. Singer put these intuitive observations to the empirical test as he embarked upon a groundbreaking series of research into daydreaming. His findings, eventually published in the 1975 bible The Inner World of Daydreaming, laid the foundations of our modern understanding of creativity’s subconscious underbelly.

Singer described three core styles of daydreaming: positive constructive daydreaming, a process fairly free of psychological conflict, in which playful, vivid, wishful imagery drives creative thought; guilty-dysphoric daydreaming, driven by a combination of ambitiousness, anguishing fantasies of heroism, failure, and aggression, and obsessive reliving of trauma, a mode particularly correlated with PTSD; and poor attentional control, typical of the anxious, the distractible, and those having difficulties concentrating.

In a recent paper titled “Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming,” published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, writer Rebecca McMillan and NYU cognitive psychologist Scott Kaufman, author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, revisit Singer’s work to deliver new insights into how the first style of Singer’s mind-wandering, rather than robbing us of happiness, plays an essential, empowering role in daily life and creativity."


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Emeritus Facilitator Christine Haskins

Christine Haskins is an Emeritus Facilitator and Former Vice President of Customer Experience at Ideas To Go. She worked with customer-centered innovation for Fortune 500 companies across all market categories and industries.