Jonathan Smallwood once said that “Not all minds that wander are lost.”

Daydreaming is a behavior that is often viewed as negative; one in which in response to, children are often rebuked. However, research has revealed that daydreaming is a positive behavior that helps children become more happy and successful. Cottle

Daydreaming can interfere with the demands of the moment, and the inability to control inner chatter can lead to unhappiness and depression (to name a few). But most of our lives are not consumed by attention-demanding tasks, and most of our personal goals extend well beyond the immediate moment. By finding a balance and allowing for more self-generated thoughts, we may actually get far closer to realizing the dreams we most want for ourselves. The human capacity for mental time travel, it turns out, gives us enormous possibilities for realizing our deepest desires and strivings.

Yale’s Jerome Singer found that there are three styles of daydreaming, each associated with a distinct personality profile. The first style, poor attention control, is characterized by easy distractibility and difficulty concentrating on either the external environment or an ongoing train of thought. The second style, guilty-dysphonic daydreaming, features unpleasant emotions such as anxiety, guilt, fear of failure and obsessive, hostile and aggressive fantasies about others. The third is the positive constructive daydreaming, associated with openness to experience and reflecting a drive to explore ideas, imagination, feelings and sensations. This openness is linked to many indicators of psychological health, including happiness, positive emotions and high quality of life.

Daydreaming offers a huge arena for realizing our own potential. When given time for self-reflection, daydreams are oriented toward the future and are related to the pursuit of long-term goals (this is true for countries across the globe). Further, researchers believe that this focus on the future serves the function of “autobiographical planning” — the setting and anticipation of possible future scenarios, including the emotional reactions of others and ourselves in response to the imagined events.

In one study, psychologists developed a nine-week after-school program in which students were given the time to imagine the academic futures they desired and to practice the skills required to realize them. By the end of the school year, the daydreaming students reported a greater connection to their school, a greater concern about doing well in school, more strategies for actually realizing their dreams and better attendance. What’s more, they were better able to balance their positive expectations against feared possible outcomes. There was also a significant reduction in behavioral problems among the boys. In other words, daydreaming helped students achieve the very things educators assume it hinders.

The best predictor of lifelong personal and publicly recognized creative achievement — even better than academic indicators such as school grades and IQ scores — was the extent to which children had a clear future-focused image of themselves.

Daydreaming can enhance self-control and creativity. The more people daydream during (a) simple task, the greater their resistance to immediate temptation; they hold out for a larger reward in the future. In fact, a number of studies show that our best creative ideas don’t emerge when we are focused intensely on a goal, but rather when our mind has wandered away from the task at hand to other worlds and possibilities.

Lexie Ainge Cottle, M.A., LPCI, is a Lake Oswego resident who grew up in Lake Oswego and now has a private practice in professional counseling as part of the Compassionate Counseling Center in Tigard. She can be reached at 503-400-1512 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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