Daydream your way to better health
Galway Advertiser, January 21, 2010.
People mostly daydream about happiness, status wealth and love.
“Pay attention”. How often have you heard that command as you are firmly jolted back to reality from the world of fantasy?
It could be at school, work or while having a conversation with your nearest and dearest. Daydreaming is an offence of which most of us are guilty at some time or other. It is hard to resist the temptation of drifting off into a world of make believe when reality is less than exciting and the tasks which occupy our minds are dull or boring.
But do not think you are wasting valuable time doing this. Experts say daydreaming has an important function. Indulging in make believe prevents the mind overloading and offers it a safety valve when the rigours of life get too much for us.
Diarmuid Lavelle, a therapist and trainer who practices in Dominick Street, says the merits of this healthy habit are widely accepted.
“Science is discovering that nearly all artistic and imaginative endeavours enhance and enrich our thinking. Daydreaming improves our problem solving and increases our physical abilities. New evidence has emerged that daydreaming involves areas of the brain associated with high level complex problem solving. It is necessary for our intelligence. So Napoleon Bonaparte was right when he said ‘imagination rules the world’ – obviously he did not have enough of it though!”
Frees the mind
Daydreaming frees the mind to combine the resources, ideas and solutions for success, he explains.
“Children who play with imaginary friends were considered a little odd but now having an imaginary friend is considered a sign of intelligence. The ability to daydream or exercise the imagination is the key. Children who practice music have a higher academic achievement rate than children who do not. The same is true for those who dance, play and do art or imaginative activities. Daydreaming is also a common activity among high performing adults and is often associated with positive thinking.”
Finding solutions to problems often require that we think differently, “outside the box”, he says.
“Our idea of reality is more like a tunnel than a box because it is ongoing. The walls of the tunnel are made out of our values and our perceptions of the world. If a solution is outside the reality tunnel we simply cannot access it. Daydreaming in full fantasy creates a lot of neural activity which allows us break out of the reality tunnel and find solutions.”
Daydreaming can nurture the ability to create and hold two contradictory ideas in the mind at once and be comfortable (another sign of intelligence), he outlines.
“For many problems rational thinking, like the pro and con list, does not work because it is too narrow. This list is made from what we already have in our reality tunnel and the solution is often ‘outside’ our reality. Without daydreaming we cannot plan, adapt and execute our goals or solve complex problems. We cannot advance science, technology and evolve human consciousness.”
Most institutions view daydreaming as a scourge, something to be stamped out if we are going to learn or make it in the “real” world, according to Diarmuid.
“In today’s society we tend to put too much emphasis on the cult of ‘doing.’ If we are not doing something we feel we are wasting our time. We focus our energies on career oriented skills and tend to view pursuits of the imagination or daydreaming as less important.”
What do people daydream about? Mostly happiness, status, wealth and love – things which make us feel good. We can also daydream negatively in reaction to fear, he reveals.
Daydreaming about revenge, control over others, illicit seduction and ultimate power may temporarily alleviate fear but increases insecurity.
“Part of the unconscious mind cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Part of our mind believes and reacts to our daydreams as if they are real. We actually ‘live’ our daydreams.”
If what we are doing does not require a lot of concentration or attention we tend to drift off into a daydream.
“The brain multi-tasks while doing mundane things that do not need total outward attention. We often skip off for a little daydream at work, in school or college and even while talking or listening to others. We tend to concentrate when we need to on the present only when there is something we need to pay attention to. The rest of the time we are ‘out of our minds’. Scientists and psychologists have discovered that up to 50 per cent or more of our time is taken up with daydreaming.
While fantasising can be enjoyable and even good for your health, it has a downside, he warns.
“Focusing our thinking in a narrow band of tasks is sometimes necessary to plan some future events. Letting our imaginations run wild all the time can end up with our thinking being too open and ineffective. Being present is necessary not only when outward attention is needed but also when our daydreams become negative. Stress, anxiety or tragedy can push our daydreams into nightmares. Bringing our attention into the now and focusing on the simple mundane tasks can be a welcome escape from negative day dreams.
“Likewise daydreaming can be a good escape from the mundane if the here and now becomes overbearing. So, balance is the key between imagination and immediate reality. Daydreaming also has its merits as a way to relax during life’s challenges.
“An athlete is only as powerful as their muscles can relax. The body and mind are similar, with no relaxation there is no stamina. The best things in life are free and our imagination is just one of them. We actually need to engage in positive solution oriented daydreaming and focus on the love, friendship, health and goodness there is around us.”
He says daydreaming is simply a hypnotic state which programmes the mind. “Be careful what you daydream about because you may get it! Couples in troubled relationships daydream about the arguments and shortcomings of their partner. Couples who are successful in their relationship tend to daydream about good things they share and do with their partner. Relationships, happiness, wealth and success are made and broken in the imagination. Reality is a reflection of our daydreams rather than our daydreams being a reflection of reality.”
*The above images are isolated areas of an acrylic painting I did awhile back (36″x36″ on canvas). They reminded me of traveling through space…which led to daydreaming, which led to finding this article…