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Daydreamers Are Basically Creative Geniuses — How To Harness A Wandering Mind

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It's time to start letting go of the shame of daydreaming and be proud of being scatterbrained. 

Many parents and teachers are concerned when they see children or teens daydreaming or spacing out. They wrongfully assume that daydreaming is not "productive" and is, therefore, a waste of time.

However, periodically letting your mind drift is actually good for you. It allows for creativity, exploration, and rest that the brain doesn’t otherwise engage in.

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Letting go of the shame of daydreaming is key.

The importance of occasional attention wandering is something that author Daniel Goleman refers to as “open awareness."

It’s a way of perceiving your surroundings without getting caught up in the details — allowing your thoughts to wander freely and spontaneously.

This wandering attention is how you can come up with new ideas, find inspiration,  and problem-solve creatively, which is not only useful but also quite productive.

Focused Attention and 'The Thinking Brain'

On busy days, your brain spends most of the time purposefully assembling, managing, and applying information while engaging in actions, behaviors, and self-expression.

Focus your attention on a variety of situations, people, problems, and solutions. This focus results from interactions between three parts of the brain: lower, middle, and frontal. 

The lower brain works mostly out of our consciousness, monitoring sensory information and events in your environment and running the physiological systems that keep you alive.

The mid-brain monitors and processes emotions, manages memory, and acts as a relay station for the brain.

The frontal lobes, also called the prefrontal cortex, are often called "the thinking brain."

It houses executive functioning skills like planning, organizing, sequencing, self-reflection, and impulse control that push away distractions and point the mind to a single task or thought.

The prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to develop at age 25 or so and is specifically affected by having ADHD.

Of course, cultural norms, technology, and trauma all affect our attention, as people learn to navigate through their lives, society, and the world at large. 

Wandering Attention and ADHD

You're bombarded by information every moment of every day, which creates what Goleman refers to as the "neural buzz" in the brain.

This "buzz" can easily interrupt you and overwhelm your capacity to manage your focus through your "thinking brains."

Children, teens, and adults with ADHD have brain systems that are associated with creative mind-wandering. There's some thinking that "zoning out" might actually be a time when innovative connections between new ideas are occurring.

When you make space for wandering attention, you not only give yourself more opportunity for creativity and connection, you also help minimize that persistent and overwhelming "neural buzz."

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Moreover, open awareness and mind drift are powerful tools for boredom relief and metacognitive thinking.

So, what does this mean for you and/or your child? Simply put, allow for some downtime — time when the brain can free-associate and take a break from the demands of technology, relationships, academics, and performance.

This time is critical for balance.

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Here are 4 ways to let your wandering mind work its creative magic.

1. Create technology-free time.

Use technology-free time for whatever else you or they want to do, including, and especially, nothing. Set limits for this time if your child is struggling with "doing nothing."

Consider making a list of "nothing" activities that foster brain breaks. Examples of low dopamine activities are reading, listening to music, playing in the yard, and taking a walk. 

2. Explore the great outdoors.

Spending time in nature is one of the best ways to let your mind rest and your body recharge. The key is to pick an activity that you enjoy or your family enjoys doing together.

Hiking, biking, swimming, and canoeing are all wonderful activities. If your child prefers something less active, bring a picnic lunch to the park, fly a kite, build a snowman or gather shells at the beach.

3. Play with a pet.

Playing with pets is a fun way to unplug and unwind. Most kids have a natural affinity with animals, and walking a dog or taking care of a pet for a weekend can be an uplifting experience for people of all ages.

If you or your family doesn’t have a pet, ask a friend, relative, or neighbor who does.

4. Meditate.

Older children and teens may find meditation beneficial. And with enough practice, it can alleviate stress at the end of a busy day or help them stay calm before an exam or musical recital.

Meditation is a particularly helpful tool for parents. It often helps with regaining perspective in times of stress, increasing self-awareness, and practicing patience. Fortunately, there's now a myriad of guided meditation apps and videos you can try to help you practice on occasion or in a new routine.

The time for letting go of the shame of daydreaming is now.

You benefit, in many ways, from zooming out and letting your mind wander. In the same way you feel recharged after a good vacation or a relaxing day at home, you need to give your mind a break from the constant buzzing.

Find an activity or two which will help you take a break and kickback. A little bit of doing nothing is sometimes better than constantly doing something.

RELATED: 5 Guilt-Free Ways Even An Overachiever Like You Can Relax

Sharon Saline, Psy.D., is an international lecturer and workshop facilitator and has focused her work on ADHD, anxiety, learning differences, and mental health challenges and their impact on school and family dynamics for over 30 years. For more information, visit her website.

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This article was originally published at drsharonsaline.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.