Scientists at the University of Oslo studying the brain have a new theory that daydreaming is important to memory storage. They found that the hippocampus uses daydreaming to move memories from short-term to long-term storage, allowing us to hold onto memories – the same way that sleep-dreaming does. This happens throughout the day in fractions of moments and, just before it happens, the brain kind of pauses processing the stimulation around us so that it can focus on the memories that need to be moved.
If you find your brain drifting away during meetings, or when talking with family or friends, or during meditation, that’s because your brain is performing memory storage.
Many people have complained to me about non-Covid related brain fog. And I wonder now how much of this is due to us filling every bored moment of our day with distraction and stimulation – phone, television, internet – which prevents the hippocampus from storing memories.
Daydreaming at Work
Have you ever been in a meeting and someone asks you a question and you realize you’ve drifted? That’s your hippocampus doing its job of memory storage.
However, what is not your hippocampus doing memory storage, is when you multitask during meetings.
I see it every day: we’re supposed to be making big decisions or understanding problems, and people turn off their cameras and multi-task.
Deliberately responding to chats or working on spreadsheets or coding, instead of participating in a decision-making process is not okay.
Also, it makes the rest of us feel so disrespected when your opinion is required and you demand information that we just spent 10 minutes discussing in great detail. You are not so important that you have to be two places at once. Pay attention to the people you are with.
Mind Drift During Meditation
Learning about the role of mind-drift in memory storage also helped my meditation practice.
I, like so many people who meditate, tend to beat myself up when my mind wanders.
Meditation leaders often say, “If your mind wanders, that’s okay, just acknowledge it and bring it back.”
Now I understand that my mind wandering is the mind doing its job: daydreaming to process memories.
Knowing that, I can acknowledge that it’s happening, thank my brain for doing that job, and then return to meditating.
This has been your moment of neuroscience.