I had a (day) dream

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Why are we so down on daydreaming? Is it because it represents slacking off and laziness in a society that’s always pushing us to achieve, produce and succeed? Probably.

Daydreaming is usually seen as non-productive in a society that increasingly values productivity. It’s seen as frivolous and a distraction from getting on with your life (starting at school when teachers think you aren’t paying attention).

In reality it’s something everyone does spontaneously and although estimates vary about how often we do it, from 10-50% of our waking hours, it’s agreed that daydreams typically last for only for a few minutes each.

How can daydreaming be beneficial to you? Well can it help you to rehearse the changes you want to make in your life? Be a good stress reliever, simply give you a break? All of those things.  Specifically day-dreaming helps you, personally or vicariously, to imagine future events or recall past ones.

Daydreaming helps you learn from successes and failures and hence with planning strategies. It can also help you to re-interpret the past in the light of newer experiences. As someone said; “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood”.

Forward planning? Anticipating future events allows you to consider possible outcomes and assess the consequences of alternatives. So it improves decision-making and can also provide a rehearsal of what you plan to do.

Daydreaming relaxes constraints on planning so you can imagine being famous or having super-powers or doing something you wouldn’t normally do because of social constraints on behaviour.

It also supports creativity. Daydreaming allows you to explore amazing possibilities which you wouldn’t consider in the cold light of day and which may lead to new solutions, to that Eureka moment!

Every time you re-examine a problem your mind is able to take on board new information as it becomes available and thus come up with a different solution. Further daydreaming about success or praise for that idea can also increase your motivation to do it.

Daydreaming also helps you regulate your emotions and help you feel better or worse about something depending on the outcome. So daydreaming about the successful outcome of something you previously failed at can reduce the fear of failure. (Of course if you daydream about failure or obsess about the past; that can make it worse).

Daydreaming allows you to alter reality so you can reduce anger or other negative emotions eg revenge or embarrassment, and help you prepare new learning strategies through mental rehearsal. Fear of flying and other common phobias can be overcome using mental rehearsal combined with relaxation techniques.

And having a day-dream is like having a mini-break in which you can release tension, anxiety and stress, and return more refreshed.

Can it help you to achieve goals and boost productivity? Daydreaming doesn’t have any boundaries so anything is possible. What many companies call visioning or future-pacing is little more than organised day-dreaming. Thinking positively about future outcomes and goals is more likely to make them happen.

That’s why goal setting is so important – something to move towards. People who are “away from” in their goals ie they know what they don’t want rather than what they do, are less successful. It seems the human brain prefers positive goal setting. Nowadays athletes regularly use visualisation techniques to help them achieve peak performance.

You can also use organised daydreaming to help manage conflict. You can revisit that argument and visualise how it might have turned out differently and how you might try something different in the future. Focus on positive rather than negative aspects of your relationships. Even the client from hell has some redeeming feaures.

More mundanely day-dreaming can help relieve the monotony of boring jobs, take you mind off the job temporarily and help keep you stimulated – not necessarily a good thing if you are an air traffic controller of course but not such a problem with routine, risk free jobs.

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