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.
It seems a life-time ago when stress management courses were de rigueur and people, including me, were making a living from them. (Now it’s either resilience training or mindfulness but that’s another story).
There was plenty of research about to back up what we were doing. The famous Whitehall studies which showed that the more senior you were the less likely you were to die early. In industry after industry it was the same story. Employees at the bottom of the hierarchy suffered more ill-health than more senior ones.
One of the factors contributing to this was the amount of control people had – over decision-making and the way they spent their working day. The more control or autonomy people felt they had, the less stressed they tended to be.
Now a recent study in the US has confirmed once again that people in stressful jobs with little control at work were more likely to die.
The research followed more than 2,000 Americans in their sixties over a seven-year period.
Those in low demand jobs reduced their death risk by 15% and those who were able to set their own goals and had flexibility at work were 34% less likely to die.
They also found that the people in the higher risk jobs were heavier. Comfort eating? Less time for exercise?
26% of those who dies were in front-line service jobs and 32% worked in manufacturing – both sectors with high demand and low autonomy.
55% of the deaths were from cancer (linked this week with high levels of anxiety and depression), and 22% from circulatory system diseases.
Erik Gonzales-Mulé at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University said employers didn’t need to reduce demand on their workers but should allow them more flexibility in how jobs were done. “You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals. set their own schedules, prioritise their decision-making and the like”.
I’m having deja vu here.This is like re-inventing the wheel. We knew all this decades ago. Remember autonomous working groups? Have American businesses forgotten about US contributions to organisational psychology and research on motivation? In America most workers still don’t get sick pay or maternity pay and have minimal holidays.
Japan has its own problems with employees working too hard (see recent post)
And we aren’t much better in some respects in the UK with the worst sick pay in the EU!
Recently experts and members of parliament have expressed concern about working conditions in call centres and on-line distribution centres. Sports Direct and Asos have been criticised for having Victorian working conditions. Some of these places are like “warehouses” on the edge of towns with no windows for natural light, just like giant container units.
Perhaps I should brush off my old notes and get back on the road again. Why do businesses never learn how to get the best out of people?
After 5 minutes they were given a 40 second break during which they were shown a view of a rooftop surrounded by tall buildings. Half of them saw a plain rooftop the other half a roof covered with a green flowering meadow.
Both groups then resumed the task. After the break concentration levels fell by 8% among those who saw the concrete roof as their performance grew less inconsistent. Those who saw the meadow showed a 6% increase in concentration and a steady performance.
The researchers suggest that having a green break – whether a walk in the park, looking out the window or even just a screensaver of this kind – is beneficial in improving performance and attention in the workplace.
The measure used: “Sustained attention to response task (SART)” had previously been mapped against brain imaging so they knew that the brain responds in predictable ways in these situations. People need to be able to both maintain focus and block out distractions to perform well.
The underlying theory is called Attention Restoration theory which suggests that natural environments have benefits for people. Nature is effortlessly fascinating and captures your attention without your having to consciously focus on it and thus allows you to replenish your stores of attention control.
The 40 seconds was based on a trial during which that was the average time people looked at the meadow scene. Whether such a micro-break is the optimal length is not known.
Other aspects of this research suggest that people would be more likely to help each other after a green break. It all sounds very positive and builds on previous research which shows that having access to nature helps reduce stress levels.
Source: HBR September 2015
Alas the fear of losing your job makes people attend work more diligently (even when they shouldn’t) and the resulting “presenteeism” masks rising levels of mental health problems.
The Engineering Employers Federation (which I used to know well as at one time I was their stress management expert in the North West) surveyed 350 companies involving 90,000 workers. They found that only 1 in 10 companies provided training for managers on mental health issues. So they found a market for it – if companies were really interested.
Two fifths of the companies said long-term absence rates were increasing even though absence overall was low at 2.2% i.e. 5 days per employee a year on average. In fact half of the workers never took any time off sick.
Back problems (musculo-skeletal) are still the main cause of long-term absence overall but for a quarter of the companies stress and mental health disorders were the main cause.
These are still considered the most difficult to deal with in adjusting work to meet the employees’ needs.
The EEF’s Chief Medical Adviser says GPs should be given the tools to deal with stress and mental health issues in the same way they deal with other medical problems.
What about companies taking more interest in their employees’ wellbeing and making an effort to combat the causes of work-based stress?
We don’t want to go the way of America where stress is considered the norm and work-life balance is now work-life merge (thanks largely to high flying female executives).
See other posts
Many of us experience stress in life, whether this is in the short term from one-off projects, or long-term stress from a high-pressure career.
Not only can this be profoundly unpleasant, it can seriously affect our health and our work. However, it is possible to manage stress, if you use the right tools and techniques.
What is Stress?
A widely accepted definition of stress, attributed to psychologist and professor Richard Lazarus, is, “a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.”
This means that we experience stress if we believe that we don’t have the time, resources, or knowledge to handle a situation. In short, we experience stress when we feel “out of control.”
This also means that different people handle stress differently, in different situations: you’ll handle stress better if…
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