Daydreaming Through The Problem

Storm Trooper…and then I’d buy a cabin on the lake for a Walden-like getaway, and one of the original Millennium Falcons mint in box. Man, I really wish I would have gotten one of those for my 11th birthday, but all my parents got me was a Tauntaun and some action figures. Oh, and my parents… I’d probably buy them a nice place in Florida… and… wait… what was I doing?

The next time you find yourself back in the real world, in your office chair after fantasizing about how you’d spend your lottery winnings, don’t feel bad about wasted productivity. A new study from the University of British Columbia finds that you were probably overclocking your brain’s CPU on a more practical and present problem.

Before this, mind wandering was thought to only engage the brains “default network,” the parts associated with routine mental activity. What the researchers found was that daydreaming also engages the “executive network,” which is associated with complex problem solving. The more profound your re-entry back to reality, the more simultaneously active both networks were.

“This is a surprising finding, that these two brain networks are activated in parallel,” says Prof. Kalina Christoff. “Until now, scientists have thought they operated on an either-or basis – when one was activated, the other was thought to be dormant.” The less subjects were aware that their mind was wandering, the more both networks were activated.

So, when you find yourself struggling over a complex SQL query with a million JOINS, or just can’t seem to get past a design hurdle, don’t fight it. Just let your mind wander. It will come back–and may just have a solution for you.