Chance, as Louis Pasteur put it, favors a prepared mind. Daydreaming incubates creative discovery.
-Daniel Goleman, Focus
This is something I need to work on. I’m terrible at giving my mind permission to wander.
It comes from a good place. Many happiness studies suggest that people are most unhappy when they are unengaged in their current activity. In other words, many people seem to be unhappy when their mind escapes the present.
But unlike most prisons, our mind has a much easier time escaping the present than it does staying put. We make terrible self-correctional officers
Recently, while supervising high school examinations, I’ve rediscovered the joy of scheduled daydreaming. Fortunately, while sitting in a quiet room watching students take a test (which may be worse than actually taking the test itself), I gave myself permission to mind-wander.
Without the encumbrances of a to-do list, books, audiobooks, lesson plans, writing, or teaching, I find great freedom in those 50 minutes of silence. I’ve often found great solutions to lesson snags or thought of creative activities worth exploring in the future.
I also find that scheduled mind-wandering allows me to relax and bring some much-needed perspective into my experience. My greatest weakness may be an obsession over learning and producing. If I have free time, I need to be active. If not, I berate my lazy-ass self. While I do a mindless mandatory task (cooking, laundry, cleaning, foot transit), I don my headphones and allow an author to spit sweet knowledge into my ear.
But when I let my subconsciousness seep into the fore, powerful insights arise. Our minds work in mysterious ways. Perhaps we need subconscious, diffuse problem-solving to produce our most influential realizations. Or maybe thinking is as ubiquitous to our consciousness as water to a fish. In other words, we actively intuit a solution but fail to consciously recall our process.
Regardless, I agree with Goleman and Pasteur. We need to soak up information through study and experience and then give our subconsciousness permission to play with that information. This can produce novel and profound ideas. If we neglect either activity, our creativity withers.
So take a break. Take a walk. Smell the flowers. Do nothing. While we are “doing nothing” our mind is, in fact, doing more than we know.