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A Big No-No Becomes a Big Oh Yes, You Better

The power of daydreaming

Lost in thought I am meandering down a misty path from my childhood. Echoes of powdery scented schoolmarms in the carefully contained prettiness of Aqua-Net hairdos wear home-sewn dresses from the latest Vogue pattern, and guide me this way or that through my school day. I am a pleaser by nature. So I guess it is no wonder to me then that some of the louder echoes from that time are those where I am being a little self critical, tuning more keenly into moments when I could have been a less vexing child to these soft-voiced, gentle ciceroni of my youth.

Instead, I am at my desk, focusing nowhere, saddle-shoes dangling and giving way to my daydreams, my guilty pleasure, bigger than I and lulling me like enchanted fawns from the schoolwork in front of me. Ask the Scorpion not to sting the frog on its back and you are in for a far better bet than getting me to ‘focus’ back then. I am successful now by common standards having been featured in Art Galleries and boutiques across the nation. But I still see in my mind’s eye the teachers’ comments written in loopy cursive across the back of my manilla report card, well meaning in their concern and lamenting in the stunted space allowed, “ Doesn’t pay attention” “ Lacks focus” Jennifer has great potential, but she daydreams too often!

I know because I still have them.

Those report cards. Because Southern mothers save every embarrassing thing from our little Southern youths with the express intent of haunting us with it later. Southern writers are never so much ‘born’ as they are whittled by the women who bore them. Which is why Bourbon could be considered medicinal.

The fact is I never shook the habit. I still have swinging feet and catch myself looking nowhere. As an artist who makes her living through creativity I consider daydreaming one of my favorite brushes to paint with. It may as well be my favorite Laura Geller Amber’Kiss lipgloss, or my ‘Marry Me’ casserole dish that’s landed me more than one serious, long-term beau. And the wiser I become, the more I value what has often been a maligned, long underestimated cognitive Ace in the Hole. Intuitively I understood its intrinsic power, but frustratingly I could never articulate for anyone else why it has been so vital to me and my success. But now I can.

Thank you science!

As highlighted in a soon to be published study in Psychological Science written by Benjamin Baird and Jonathan Schooler at the University of California at Santa Barbara, “creative solutions may be facilitated specifically by simple external tasks that maximize mind-wandering.” So, while any number of recent articles in the New Yorker, the Bacharach Blog and Nature.com painstakingly outline the study, in a nutshell it means those mundane tasks that lead to daydreaming pay off big time when you need to ferret out otherwise elusive solutions to big problems. Allowing the self to mentally meanderover simple routine tasks, like for me house cleaning, organizing or an other-than-NY- Times crossword puzzle allows our mind to work through bigger stuff offline. Barrowing from Lehrer, “The benefit of these simple tasks is that they consume just enough attention to keep us occupied, while leaving plenty of mental resources left over for errant daydreams.” And you know what, I get that.

So take that break!

So take that break! Allow for a walk on a pretty day, a :20 minute nap or a good languid stare out a rainy day window. Paradoxically enough, you are working more efficiently with a greater chance of finding your solution. Hey, we all Two-Step better with a little more space on the dance floor to move. Turns out, our innate problem solver does too!


Jennifer Aston is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.

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