Want to be more creative? Daydream.
So says Jonah Lehrer in "Daydream Achiever," an article surveying recent research on the importance of daydreaming to brain health. Lehrer highlights studies linking daydreaming to innovative thinking and abstract reasoning, but perhaps most interesting is one researcher's suggestion that children whose every waking moment is filled with media images may be losing the essential skills imparted by daydreaming. Teresa Belton's research concluded that moments of boredom are essential to creativity, but because the children she studied "were rarely bored--at least, when a television was nearby--they never learned how to use their own imagination as a form of entertainment." Maybe we ought to set aside areas that promote daydreaming--vast tracts of land free of intrusion by mediated images--and encourage people, especially children, to just go out and be bored. Come to think of it, this is pretty much what my parents used to do, except instead of saying "Go out and be bored!" they would say "Would you for heaven's sake get out of the house and find something to do?!"
Daydreams, concludes Lehrer, help us "plan for the future, interact with others, and solidify our own sense of self. And when we are stuck on a particularly difficult problem, a good daydream isn't just an escape--it may be the most productive thing we can do."
So next time someone wandering into my office and wonders why I'm staring out the window, I'll just say, "I'm being productive. Care to join me?"