This week’s New Scientist magazine contains a very interesting article¹ about how allowing the mind to wander can lead to increased creativity and innovation. The article describes various research studies that have shown that ‘daydreaming’ or allowing the mind to wander can help us to solve problems that require creative rather than logical solutions and to be more inventive. Medical studies have even shown – using brain scan technology – that we use different parts of the brain when our mind wanders than we do when we are focusing closely on doing something, and that this change of emphasis is ultimately beneficial to both types of activity. Indeed, it has been suggested that the two brain areas work in collaboration – handing control and tasks between each other as the emphasis of any given activity moves from close concentration to creative thinking and back again.
Whilst reading the article, I allowed my mind to wander and consider how these findings relate to what is already known about hypnotherapy. Some of the studies mentioned by the article suggest that the part(s) of the brain used for daydreaming and mind wandering may be the same that are associated with memory storage and recall, and of course memory and recall are often drawn upon during the hypnotherapy process. It is also suggested that the brainwaves slow down and enter into a phase of ‘alpha wave’ activity while engaged in daydreaming, which is the same state achieved during hypnosis, or other states of relaxation, such as meditation. During normal waking activities the brain is usually operating in the faster beta wave range. The article implies that by allowing the mind to enter into an ‘alpha’ or relaxed phase whilst working on tasks that require creativity, we are more likely to conceptualize more varied options and therefore to come up with an inventive solution. Conversely intense focus or concentration is frequently associated with increased anxiety. Ultimately the article recommends that creative task are best tackled whilst our mood is more relaxed and tasks requiring focus are best tackled when we can be more alert and can filter out distractions. Again, this resonates with the way that hypnotherapy works. Once in a relaxed state of hypnosis/trance, our brain waves can slow down and enter into the alpha range and the more creative part of the brain can come to the fore, accessing memories more easily if relevant, and also helping us to devise more appropriate or more positive frames of reference or ways of thinking and behaving.
Whilst it was once considered bad to allow one’s mind to wander and not remain totally focused on one task at a time, science is now teaching us that in fact it may be very productive to allow the mind to wander sometimes – which has to be good news since it’s also been shown that we are prone to allowing our minds to drift for up to 50% of the time. In therapy terms, harnessing this activity should enable us to solve problems creatively, think of more solutions or even to imagine better futures or outcomes. Indeed, according to New Scientist, the ability to concentrate may be “overrated”!
¹ Dream a Little Dream, Richard Fisher, New Scientist, 16 June 2012, pp 34-37, or online here