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Why daydreaming is a good thing

A few minutes spent drifting away can help one calm down, solve problems, increase productivity and nurture relationships

Scientists think we spend as much as 45% of our waking time daydreaming. And they believe that this helps us in many ways.
Scientists think we spend as much as 45% of our waking time daydreaming. And they believe that this helps us in many ways. (N. Jayachandran)

For most of our lives, we have been told to stop daydreaming, and get back to work. The constant refrain we have heard, from many of our teachers and managers, is that daydreaming is such a waste of time. But the truth is, all of us still continue to sit back and daydream, ever so often. And now it turns out that daydreaming is good for us.

How often have you looked out into nowhere and thought about pleasant things, or experienced your mind wandering freely across various green pastures, while you are in the midst of some important meeting, Zoom call or project work?

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Scientists think we spend as much as 45% of our waking time daydreaming. And they believe that this helps us in many ways. Here’s why.

Beat the blues

All of us experience stress in our workplaces and personal lives from time to time, and often this ends up exhausting us. Research shows daydreaming is an excellent method of getting away from stress-induced anxiety and exhaustion, and restoring us back to a state of happy equilibrium.

A Harvard University health blog authored by Srini Pillay, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, points out that letting your mind wander away into nice things, far away from perceived threats, can lift you out of any negative spirals that you may have got into. And then, when you come back into your current reality, you are able to focus on your work much better, because your mind is now feeling far more relaxed and positive. So, if you are experiencing anxiety, if a project is not going well, or a meeting has been particularly difficult, try a little daydreaming to return refreshed to tackle the tough issues.

Build relationships

We often live and work at long distances from our loved ones. Particularly during this pandemic, many of us are unable to travel to meet family or friends frequently, and we have also not met many of our colleagues in person for long bursts of time. Studies show daydreaming about people who are special and important to you, and also about colleagues and office moments that fill you with positive energy, helps keep these relationships alive in our minds. For instance, sitting back and daydreaming about a really productive physical offsite meeting two years ago, where your team and you came up with a great product or sales idea, which was then followed by some celebration, helps you maintain a positive connect with those colleagues. Of course, this is no real substitute to meeting people in person, but it helps ensure that important relationships are kept alive through positive memories.

Solve difficult problems

Daydreaming also helps us solve challenging problems that we may be wrestling with. Often, we are so heavily immersed in these problems that our mind stops working, after a while. Most of us face this mental block from time to time, and when this happens, more of linear and logical thinking, however well intentioned or intense, will just not help. But a wandering mind tends to use many different sections of our brain all together, accessing the past knowledge and thoughts stored in diverse pockets of our minds, and weaving these together for a possible Eureka moment, where the solution we are desperately seeking suddenly becomes visible to us. I have found that saturating my mind with different aspects of the issue that requires resolution, and then engaging in some relaxed daydreaming a day or two later, can be a potent combination for problem solving.

Work towards a goal

The American clinical psychologist Jerome L. Singer, who is, interestingly, regarded as the “father of daydreaming”, put forward the idea of positive constructive daydreaming, and how it can help us in planning our future lives. When we daydream about a desirable future state that we would like to be in, we are able to freely ruminate on all the scenarios and steps that can possibly lead us to this goal. For instance, if you wish to become an accomplished marathon runner, then daydreaming about all the multiple things you can do from now until then to reach this state – what you will eat, how you will build muscle and stamina, the neighbourhood runs you will begin with, the training groups you would like to join and, finally, finishing the Mumbai or New York Marathon in a burst of happiness – will help you constantly wire and adapt your mind to eventually achieve this success. Of course, for such constructive daydreaming, it is important that your goal should lie within the realms of possibility, however distant, and not veer off into some wild fantasy.

Sheer pleasure

One of the best reasons to daydream is that this is truly a pleasurable activity. In the midst of our hectic, maximum lives, daydreaming provides us a soft refuge to indulge in our most cherished thoughts. And, as all of us know, most pleasurable activities lift our mood, and help us perform our tasks with renewed energy. Like a coffee break, a daydreaming break provides us a unique sense of happiness, whether we are peering at laptop computers in our home office, or gazing out at the clean sands and blue waters on a beach. It helps us pause the world, bring up our finest memories, reflect on our lives, imagine new things, all without any immediate pressure to perform. The best part is that each of us can daydream by ourselves, without any dependence on anyone else. Therefore, even the pandemic has not affected our ability to daydream every day, wherever we are. And we can then come back to our real lives feeling totally refreshed.

Harish Bhat works with the Tata group. Daydreaming while walking alone or idly looking out of the window, has helped him come up with many new ideas for marketing campaigns, books and articles.

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