Are you tired of being the only one who isn’t contributing at those weekly brainstorming sessions at the office?
Or worse yet, when you do speak up, your boss keeps shooting your ideas down in preference for those of your colleagues?
According to a new U.S. university study published in Psychological Science, the secret behind being more creative is even more simple: daydreaming.
It turns out that escaping our everyday problems and stresses – even if it’s only for a few minutes – can actually lead to more effective problem-solving in the real world.
The study tracked 276 college students the University of North Carolina Greensboro over a one-week period to prove the theory.
Researchers checked in with the participants via electronic devices eight times a day to record their thoughts, and then assessed their focus with tests in a traditional lab setting.
They found that the students whose minds wandered during tests in the lab tended to be worried. They were anxiously thinking about problems, not focusing on the task at hand.
But the people whose minds wandered frequently in real life weren’t brooding; they were dreaming when the context allowed it, and they were more often able to focus in the lab test context.
The results suggest, says the university’s cognitive psychologist Michael Kane, that people with good cognitive control—who also tend to score high on tests of intelligence and achievement—adapt their thinking to circumstantial demands.
They daydream at work when they’re free to do so [translation: the boss isn’t looking], and focus when it’s necessary.
The only danger, warns Michael, is that even if we can afford to be on autopilot and don’t need to worry about ongoing performance, daydreams that tend toward unproductive or negative topics can decrease mood and develop into pensive thinking patterns.