OPINION3 February 2014

Daydream believers and the art of mindfulness


Daydreaming is not traditionally encouraged in the workplace. But according to Helen Donald, ‘positive constructive daydreaming’ could actually improve work performance.


Both of these articles exhort the benefits of mindfulness within the business context: ranging from lower stress levels through to improved productivity. But what exactly does it mean?

Put simply, mindfulness is a psychological concept borrowed from Eastern philosophy, which focusses attention on the present moment and reflects on one’s own thoughts and feelings. It is believed to help focus the mind and manage thoughts and feelings more effectively.

Disconnecting to connect

‘Disconnecting to connect’ is certainly a concept that resonates with others. Many cite examples of making small changes in their behaviour to allow themselves more ‘headspace’ during the day. Taking the train occasionally instead of cycling into work, for example, or getting off the tube a stop early to walk part of the way to work, can enable us to focus our thoughts and better prepare for the day ahead.

But is this truly mindfulness? Very few of these examples involve the conscious and purposeful exercises that mindfulness gurus propose we engage in. Perhaps instead, these examples are more likely to be rooted in the lesser proclaimed art of daydreaming?

Daydreaming as a concept is something that everyone is aware of, and yet many of us view as a counter-productive activity that interrupts our ability to get a job done. However, when we daydream, we are actually using the same part of the brain used to engage in mindfulness activities.

Positive constructive daydreaming

In a recent article: Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming, a group of psychologists argue that, contrary to popular belief, daydreaming can actually improve our capacity to increase performance at work.

It considers a number of proven benefits that day dreaming or, more precisely ‘positive constructive daydreaming,’ can bring in to the workplace:

  • Encourages us think more creatively
  • Helps workers to become better storytellers
  • Increases curiosity to learn about other people
  • Enhances self-reflective and future-oriented thinking

The idea that we should allow ourselves greater permission to let our minds wander is a compelling one. Particularly since the benefits it purports to deliver are so neatly aligned with the qualities that market researchers often pride themselves in.

So should we be encouraging positive constructive daydreaming more actively in the insights industry? And how can we do this? A number of potential applications come to mind:

  1. As researchers, we should feel less guilty when about letting our minds wander – particularly when working on a particularly challenging brief or mulling over some big insights.
  2. We should consider how we conduct our research. Is there a role for giving respondents greater ‘room to breathe’ when researching them? Particularly when the insights you are trying to elicit go beyond top-of-mind reactions to stimuli.
  3. What if we were to recruit individuals based on their capacity to daydream? I would argue that this could be a better predictor of creativity and self-reflection than some of the ‘creative’ screening questions I’ve come across in my time as a researcher.

Ultimately, we’re still coming to terms with understanding how this more reflective, focussed part of our brain can be employed during our working lives. But considering the items above, I would argue there is a definite need to take it more seriously.

Helen Donald is an associate at Incite Marketing Planning