Last semester, I read in my psychology textbook that we spend six years of our lives dreaming. That’s 2,190 days spent in different places within our own minds!
When I read this, I couldn’t help but think that that’s six years that we’re technically in control of, but…not completely. It’s 3,153,600 minutes of images, thoughts, and sensations that we experience without fully expecting what’s coming, which just seems wild to me.
I can’t think of a place with more possible functions than a library. Throughout my life, it’s been a perfect location for hide-and-seek, alone time, contemplation on small or large scales, and entering worlds that could make me forget my sense of time, place–even selfhood. There has always been an inherent magic to exploring the labyrinth of towering shelves with the smell of old books in the air and new knowledge in every nook and cranny.
When applying to college, I began feeling overwhelmed and boxed in by the pressure to stand out. One evening, I drove to the public library so that I could remember how much bigger the world was and get lost in other stories. I returned home in an entirely new headspace, inspired to take a slightly different approach to my college essay. Unsurprisingly, it was the draft I ended up submitting.
When I heard this podcast episode (entitled, “The Room of Requirement”) on This American Life, it instantly resonated with me. But the magic of the libraries mentioned in the podcast is distinct from the magic I’m used to.
Imagine a library that allows anyone and everyone to drop off unpublished manuscripts. Or one that can reunite families separated by the travel ban. Though they might sound too good to be true, the podcast reveals that these places are, in fact, very real.
Nearly everyone has a unique story connected to libraries. It’s the kind of conversation topic that can lead down entirely unforeseen paths, but it’s worth inquiring. You never know what you might discover.
Growing up, teachers could always discern the difference between my academically thoughtful face and my “off somewhere wandering” face. Their natural, disciplinarian response was telling me to “focus!”
With that sort of precedent in my life, each time my mind drifts to thoughts of people, places, or events either experienced or imagined while in the midst of a late night Sawyer crunch, I reflexively feel guilty. That is, until I read this article in The Week magazine: https://theweek.com/articles/744749/why-should-let-mind-wander
Here are some intriguing takeaways:
We spend up to 8 minutes of every hour daydreaming
The wandering mind might actually be off searching for ways to cope with the stresses of everyday life
Daydreaming involves the same brain regions that are active when people are solving insight puzzles
People whose minds wander a lot are more creative and better problem solvers because their brains have them working on the task at hand but simultaneously processing other information and making connections
Having multiple hobbies allows your brain to subconsciously compare and contrast problems and solutions just as reading multiple books at the same time vs serially lets your brain juxtapose new ideas and make connections (seems applicable to a liberal arts education!)
The downside is that people spend roughly 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy
The upshot of the article, according to author Eric Barker, is to “spend most of your time focused but have rituals that allow your mind to wander on cue.” Daily rituals help people unconsciously access information that they might not otherwise perceive if they’re focusing intensely on a specific task instead.
So who knows–making Mission waffles, scrolling through your phone in the morning, or taking study breaks to walk around Sawyer could very well lead to your best idea yet.