To the daydreamers. To the ones who constantly find themselves zoning out in the middle of an important task. To all of us because all of us do it, albeit some more than others. I include myself in ‘us’ and I hope you can relate to my musings on the matter. I hope to communicate that the delightful nature of daydreaming should be used to propel us forward rather than allow us to remain comfortable or stagnant in the pursuit of our goals.
We all ‘space out’ and for a lot us, these momentary lapses in attention are filled with thoughts that pertain to what we’d rather be doing in that moment, i.e. succeeding in our future careers, travelling the world, having fun or even eating some good food later.
In my humble opinion, there are many types of daydreams. There are the music induced ones, the daydreams-before-sleep and the boredom induced ones where my mind strays so far I wonder how I got there and how I’ll get back and make it look like I heard everything my fellow interlocutor just said. There’s also mind-wandering whilst working on an important task like revision or a university assignment.
In case you found my subjective account of the types of daydreams unsatisfactory, Dr Jerome L. Singer (a specialist in research on the psychology of imagination and daydreaming) has differentiated between three styles of daydreaming.
1) Positive constructive daydreaming (identified as containing wishful and playful imagery as well as planful, creative thought). I strongly feel that music-induced daydreams would fit into this style of daydream because what’s not playful and wishful about imagining you’re in the back of a car on a road trip, hands held in the air basking in the radiance of the sun?
2) Guilty-dysphoric or guilty-fear-of-failure daydreaming (identified by obsessive, anguished fantasies)
3) Poor attentional control (characterised by the inability to remain focussed on either the ongoing thought or the external task) – boredom induced daydreams anyone?
(McMillan, Kaufman and Singer, 2013).
The world of daydreaming is a vast one. For the purposes of this blog post, I am going to concentrate on ‘positive constructive daydreaming’ which has been associated with being open to experiences, curiosity, exploration of ideas, feelings and sensations (McMillan, Kaufman and Singer, 2013). These are all pretty positive associations and do not reflect the slightly more negative ones that come with styles two and three, i.e. low levels of conscientiousness for ‘Poor attentional control’ daydreaming. I can relate to this and yes it’s slightly concerning but hey, another topic for another day.
I make the assertion that the specific type of daydreams I will discuss here (those pertaining to one’s real life goals) belong predominantly to the style of ‘Positive Constructive Daydreaming’. This is based on the positive connotations of this type of mind-wandering. I believe that these are the daydreams grounded in the potential of a reality that may come into fruition.
For me, in the same way that psychologist Carl Rogers proposed the idea of incongruence between your ideal self (what you want to be) and your self-image (your actual behaviour) (McLeod, 2014), there seems to be a discrepancy that exists between the ‘me’ in my daydreams and the ‘me’ right now. This can feel frustrating at times.
Translation of the previous paragraph in 3, 2, 1…
Why can’t I skip to the part when all my goals are accomplished?
Wouldn’t my life be so much better if things really were like my daydreams?
Why this? Why that?
These are the questions that can accompany said frustration.
Ultimately, when I wriggle my way out of the colourful world of my daydreams, reality has a tendency to seem dreary and astonishingly bland in comparison.
The content of my daydreams (the bright colours, the happiness, the success) doesn’t seem to be mirrored in my daily life and sometimes in all honesty, my behaviour isn’t even conducive to some of these dreams.
I haven’t set deadlines for my goals. I’m not taking any tangible steps towards them. Empty boxes waiting to be ticked stare at me from where they’re hung on my wall, as well as a gazillion bookmarked pages on my laptop waiting to be read and a vision board that once seemed like a good idea appears sickeningly idealistic upon second glance.
For me, in moments like these, accepting my reality can be a way of escaping this frustration. Accepting that I have a 4000 word essay due in two days (4000 words of which only a shambolic introduction has been written). Accepting that it feels like my shift has only just started even though several hours have passed. Accepting that it’s 4am in the morning and I’m sat at my laptop eating (insert extremely unhealthy food item here) whilst knee deep in the weird side of YouTube. Accepting that I’m not where I envisioned I would be having zealously written a to-do-list the previous night.
Now, not to contradict myself but some of you may be able to relate the following. As much as accepting our current reality is good, for me, when I accept what could be a relatively mundane or disheartening reality, I also acknowledge the comforting role that daydreaming plays. Daydreams remind me that my current reality will not or does not always have to be a certain way. They help me create a mental picture of my goals. Further benefits of daydreaming are substantiated by the following observations,
“We mind wander, by choice or accident, because it produces tangible reward when measured against goals and aspirations that are personally meaningful. Having to reread a line of text three times because our attention has drifted away matters very little if that attention shift has allowed us to access a key insight, a precious memory or make sense of a troubling event. ”
(McMillan, Kaufman and Singer, 2013)
Nonetheless, I also feel that it is important for those of us who find ourselves lost in our daydreams to realise that our dreams don’t get accomplished by just thinking about them. Well at least that’s my personal experience. You might have superpowers.
There is definitely a euphoric sense that accompanies the painting of the perfect mental picture. But I’m sure it won’t compare to the feeling of transforming a dream into actual reality as opposed to something that just exists in my weird little mind.
I also think it’s good to remember the importance of being present (something that I honestly find quite difficult). For example, sometimes I feel excused for, say, daydreaming about my future career whilst writing an essay. And then I remember that if I don’t ‘come back to earth’, hours will go by and the essay will unfortunately remain unwritten.
Focus on the task at hand and return to the dream later, not just to dream though but to think about what you can do to make the dream tangible.
I would hate to grow old and regret not having taken any tangible steps towards achieving my goals. Can you imagine?
TEN YEARS FROM NOW:
Person (insert name of someone whose opinion you hold somewhat dear to your heart): So what’s your proudest achievement?
You: Erm, (insert said achievement here)
Person: Oh cool.
You: (suddenly plagued by the fear of appearing disingenuous) I mean I never actually accomplished it. But I dreamt about it.
*tumbleweeds blow across the plains of an empty desert*
Let’s dream and do people.
McLeod, S. (2014). Carl Rogers | Simply Psychology. [online] Simplypsychology.org. Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-rogers.html [Accessed 11 May 2018].
McMillan, R., Kaufman, S. and Singer, J. (2013). Ode to positive constructive daydreaming.Frontiers in Psychology, [online] 4. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00626/full.