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See Inside March / April 2011

Living in a Dream World: The Role of Daydreaming in Problem-Solving and Creativity

Daydreaming can help solve problems, trigger creativity, and inspire great works of art and science. When it becomes compulsive, however, the consequences can be dire

When Rachel Stein (not her real name) was a small child, she would pace around in a circle shaking a string for hours at a time, mentally spinning intricate alternative plots for her favorite television shows. Usually she was the star—the imaginary seventh child in The Brady Bunch, for example. “Around the age of eight or nine, my older brother said, ‘You’re doing this on the front lawn, and the neighbors are looking at you. You just can’t do it anymore,’ ” Stein recalls. So she retreated to her bedroom, reveling in her elaborate reveries alone. As she grew older, the television shows changed—first General Hospital, then The West Wing—but her intense need to immerse herself in her imaginary world did not.

“There were periods in my life when daydreaming just took over everything,” she recalls. “I was not in control.” She would retreat into fantasy “any waking moment when I could get away with it. It was the first thing I wanted to do when I woke up in the morning. When I woke up in the night to go to the bathroom, it would be bad if I got caught up in a story, because then I couldn’t go back to sleep.” By the time she was 17, Stein was exhausted. “I love the daydreams, but I just felt it was consuming my real life. I went to parties with friends, but I just couldn’t wait to get home. There was nothing else that I wanted to do as much as daydreaming.”

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