How Our Daydreams Shape Our Mental States
By Chris Brown
Your "space out" sessions may be playing a greater role in determining who you are and your future path than you could ever know. A recent study by the University of Arizona titled "What Our Wandering Thoughts Can Teach Us About Mental Health" (2021), attempted to peek into the mental health role of our daydreams. The experiment trained 78 participants to voice their train-of-thoughts aloud for a 10-minute period. Prior to the exercise, participants took a questionnaire evaluating their mental states which researchers used to study the link between mental conditions and daydreams. This research is incredibly important for teaching us about ourselves and our current states of being since, as Buddha put it, "we are shaped by our thoughts."
While most participants monologued about the present or future with neutral emotion, ruminative thinkers (as identified by researchers through a pre-exercise questionnaire) tended to focus on the past and negative experiences. Ruminative thinking, or focusing continuously on the same thoughts, is a key indicator of depression. But whether the depression supports the thinking pattern, or the thinking pattern boosts the depression is up for debate. This study confirmed that a ruminating person's monologue tended to become more focused on negative thoughts and honed on a particular negative topic over the 10-minute window. This suggests that, once triggered, ruminative thoughts hijack the attention, focusing it into an increasingly negative-focused thought pattern. These results provide insight into the architecture of depressive patterns and, if thoughts truly drive depression deeper, may allow us to transform our states by actively adjusting our inner monologues.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, researchers found a group of individuals they identified as inspirational thinkers. These thinkers' daydreams tended to be future-oriented, focusing on aspirational goals and creative solutions. They stated that they found the process of vocal daydreaming to be a refreshing break from the busy world. Based upon productive daydreams' relation to positive mental states, conscious awareness of your inner monologue may allow a positive self-transformation. Simply redirecting your focus from painful past experiences to a positive future can make all the difference. This power of the daydream appears to be highly important in determining your life path, so it is important to build up your inner thought strength.
Daydreaming Is Becoming a Lost Art
A disturbing side effect of constant external entertainment, such as through cell phones, is a severe limitation of people's ability to daydream. Not only do daydreams help support and build your emotional state, they spark creative and innovative thought and allow the processing of life problems. Without daydreams we are more prone to external input determining our futures and even our self-definition. The study noted that its results indicated an immense importance of daydreams on our mental health and internal strength. Looking at our cell phones during downtime reduces daily periods of personal resilience growth. So, instead of jumping onto Instagram during your next wait in the coffee line, let your thoughts wander and see where they take you.
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