How Daydreams and Videogames Can Make Us Confident In Real Life (Yes)
The following excerpts are from the book Creative Confidence, coming out this week from Tom Kelley (author of The Art of Innovation) and IDEO founder David Kelley (who also led the creation of Stanford’s d.school).
Daydreaming gets a bad rap. Watch a classroom scene in nearly any Hollywood movie, and you’re likely to see a kid getting busted for daydreaming in class — gazing out the window or staring off into space when the teacher calls on him.
It’s a case of art imitating life because our minds do tend to wander. But a wandering mind can be a good thing.
Researcher Jonathan Schooler of the University of California, Santa Barbara believes that our brains are often working on “task-unrelated” ideas and solutions when we daydream. That could explain studies showing that prolific mind wanderers score higher on tests of creativity. And new research on the default network of the brain similarly found that our minds make unlikely connections between ideas, memories, and experiences when we are at rest and not focused on a specific task or project.
Daydreaming has problem-solving power. Sometimes it helps to stop focusing so intently on an issue, and aim for what IDEO founder David Kelley’s mentor Bob McKim used to call “relaxed attention.” In that mental state, the problem or challenge occupies space in your brain, but not on the front burner.
Relaxed attention lies between meditation, where you completely clear your mind, and the laser-like focus you apply when tackling a tough math or engineering problem. Our brains can make cognitive leaps when we are not completely obsessed with a challenge, which is why good ideas sometimes come to us while we are in the shower, or taking a walk or a long drive. (David Kelley often places a whiteboard marker in his shower, so he can write a passing idea on the glass wall before it slips away.)
So if you find yourself stuck on a problem, take 20 minutes or so off the grid; let your mind disengage temporarily. You may find a solution arriving like a flash or stroke of insight. In fact, when you are stuck on a problem, here are a couple of ways to defocus your mind and to get into relaxed attention.
Try taking a walk, away from traffic or intrusions. Poets, writers, scientists, and thinking people of all sorts throughout history have found inspiration while walking.
Philosopher-poet Friedrich Nietzsche said “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Perhaps it is because of the increased blood flow from the exercise, or the emotional distance gained by walking away from a semi-urgent issue that has been occupying your mind all day. A “thought walk” can take place any time of day or night.
Another opportunity to tap the power of relaxed attention occurs each morning — and you don’t even have to get out of bed. When you are awakened from a deep sleep, such as when your alarm goes off, you may find yourself in a half-conscious state between waking and dreaming, which is a perfect moment for relaxed attention. (We’ve used this half-dreaming state to come up with any number of new solutions and fresh ideas.)
Re-purpose that snooze button on your alarm. Start thinking of it as a “muse button,” so that you leverage those first precious moments of the day.
Try it a few times: when your alarm goes off, just press the “muse button,” and for the next five minutes, let your brain wander in a state of relaxed attention, working in an unfocused way on some challenge or problem that you have been wrestling with. With a little practice, you’ll be able to discover some fresh insights before your day even begins.
Read it all over at Wired. It’s brilliant and inspiring.