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Daydreaming: does it have real benefits?

By Kelley Voegelin, RYT

It’s time to give daydreaming some respect.

Instead of being dismissed as a giant waste of time, daydreaming should get the credit it deserves. That’s because letting your “monkey mind” wander and explore freely — even when you’re meditating — has real benefits that can help you become calmer and more positive — about yourself and the world around you.

woman daydreaming in pile of fall leaves

You may have heard that the goal of meditation is to draw the mind into single-pointed focus so you can be present and live fully in each individual moment. Well, meditation and the way the mind works are not that simple.Balance is beneficial, especially for our minds. We should consider easing up on rigid intentions to give our daydreams the chance to take us somewhere unexpected but worthwhile.

Daydreaming is an alternative to the traditional meditation process

Instead of controlling every aspect of the meditation experience with an “agenda” about how it should go, let’s think about cultivating a gentler unfolding of who we are. In place of feeling bad when we don’t reach some predetermined goal, let’s give ourselves the space to examine how we metabolize our experiences in life, and how we might embrace the real way we practice meditative activities.

Most meditation styles follow some kind of specific guideline. Often you are instructed to focus on one prescribed object — breath, mantra, compassion, a focal point with your gaze, etc. If you notice that you wander away from said point of focus, then you:

1. Acknowledge you’ve done so.
2. Let go of whatever stole your precious attention.
3. Come back to the focal point.

Clearly, the traditional single-pointed style of mediation is a great approach for many. Even science is proving its benefits. This style helps develop deep focus,presence in the moment, and the strong ability to concentrate — all wonderful qualities!

But all too often, the mind wanders, as is its nature, and we must coax it back to the focal point. Again, and again.

woman swinging in beautiful daydream setting of water and mountains

Though that experience is good work too!

But, sometimes after meditating, we reflect and realize we had to try to come back a lot. Or perhaps we never ended up making it back and stayed distracted. That can leave us feeling disappointed, discouraged and insecure about our ability to meditate.

What happens when you let your mind roam freely?

Let’s wonder for a minute what might happen during meditation or while going about your daily routine if you just let yourself flow with your own natural rhythms?

You’ll still breathe and think, and there will still be effort, merit and benefit to the experience.

This is your “default mode network” and if you follow your daydreams for a bit and let this organic thought process have its way, where will it take you?

The default mode network — or just default network — is a pretty new concept in neuroscience. It refers to a group of brain structures that researchers say appears to be even more active when you’re in a resting state than when you are consciously paying attention. The default network is for daydreaming, imagining the future, replaying memories, and wondering what others are thinking. It’s the mode our brains “default” to when not given a specific task but we can easily snap out of it.

Daydreaming doesn’t mean your mind isn’t engaged. In fact, something very powerful is going on in your brain when you let your mind wander.

The surprising benefits of daydreaming

Believe it or not, there are quite a few studies on daydreaming and they show it has real benefits at work and on your own personal time. Some even say that daydreaming is a side effect for smart people with so much brain capacity that they can’t stop their minds from wandering and exploring ideas. And daydreaming while meditating might actually bring on a more positive and peaceful experience.

So when you drop into a daydream, these are the qualities you’re feeding:

1. Creativity

When your mind drifts into default mode, a big crop of interesting ideas or thoughts can spring up. Since your mind isn’t being constrained or controlled, you make room for possibilities and the freedom to think about them. This freedom allows new ideas and points of view to arise. Creative thought bursts out. Solutions you’ve been seeking are suddenly just — there!

And remember your imagination? You may not have tapped into it in ages but you can access it by daydreaming.

Next time when you fall into a daydream, allow yourself to imagine the best daydream you’ve ever had and unleash those super cool and sometimes-suppressed creative brain cells.

2. Ability to envision the future

When we daydream, we expose our hidden dreams and desires to ourselves. What if this or that dream came true? We allow our minds to go there… and enjoy the feeling of it.

When I set intentions for my future, in my mind’s eye I give those dreams color,form and life. I have fun with it. I play out what needs to happen or get done in order for my wish to come to fruition.

I sit with it as a vision, a reality, a true feeling in my heart — I sit with this on my meditation cushion. I literally daydream about it. And when the future eventually presents me with this envisioned opportunity, I already have fun and creative ideas about how I want it to shape up.

woman on ladder creating a big colorful lightbulb as an idea

3. Receptivity to new ideas

A daydream occurs when we are less rigid. When we allow for less structure, we become receptive to a larger range of experience. If we are no longer constrained by lassoing our attention to the tip of our noses and following every breath in and out, we make room for more possibilities and greater awareness.

Single-pointed awareness is beneficial but it is not the only way to go. Our ability to be with an experience as opposed to manipulating it opens us up to so much more of life. We can be receptive to and curious about the sensory sensations around us. We can hear outside sounds and not be in conflict with their ability to distract us.

Instead of resisting an experience that feels uncomfortable or wrought with pressure and rules, we can become available to receive that experience in a way that makes it feel freeing.

Being available and receptive to the power of awareness is one excellent reason for meditating — and daydreaming.

4. Inner discovery

When your mind wanders around a bit, you might stumble across new and worthwhile territory. You might be able to see something familiar and develop a deeper understanding of it.

Daydreaming offers the space for you to feel better acquainted with your inner workings,desires, dreams, fears and areas of resistance. You start to understand how you deal with issues and work out problems. It’s a safe way to explore uncomfortable thoughts and memories and release them. Or it might feel good to just jump on the daydream train and see where it leads.

Daydreaming is more productive than wallowing or brooding and it’s important to understand the difference.

Give your daydreams time to bloom

The benefits of meditation and daydreaming may not show up right away because they’re processes, not destinations. But what we push away will often push right back at us even harder. If you constantly suppress your natural tendency to explore your thoughts and dreams, how will you ever get to know your own mind?

Your mind has set up shop inside the body that you’ve borrowed for this lifetime so you might want to make friends with it. Give yourself permission to dig deeper to study yourself, study your mind.

A balance of focus, sweet breaths and dreams won’t hurt your meditation practice— it will strengthen it.

orange asterisk Daydreaming is one great way to be happy. Discover more dos — and don’ts — of happiness for any woman at midlife.


Christine A. Godwin, Michael A. Hunter, Matthew A. Bezdek, Gregory Lieberman, SethElkin-Frankston, Victoria L. Romero, Katie Witkiewitz, Vincent P. Clark, Eric H.Schumacher. Functional connectivity within and between intrinsic brain networkscorrelates with trait mind wandering. Neuropsychologia, 2017; 103: 140 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.07.006. Accessed9.26.18 170189213/ 9.26.18.

Last Updated: June 13, 2022
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