Is daydreaming reserved for the lazy and the underachievers?
Traditionally, psychologists associated daydreaming with failure to complete tasks and maintain cognitive control — something that society then fed into. It's why the kid with the wandering mind at school, staring out the window and escaping into his or her imagination, was always the one being told off. And it's not a compliment to be called air-headed either.
But ever since the late 1950s, a new school of thought has started to emerge. Professor Jerome L. Singer launched what is now recognized as a groundbreaking research program into daydreaming, which is still being used by psychologists today, to prove the positive effects of dreaming while awake and reveling in your imagination.
For starters, Singer established that daydreaming is "normal and widespread" among humans: it can occupy up to 50% of our waking time.
There's also a distinction to be made between different types of daydreaming, which can vary from positive and constructive to "guilt-dysphoric" and characterized by obsessive fantasies. When it comes to positive daydreaming — where playful images, child-like creativity and planful thoughts come out to play — Singer has made a case about its multitude of benefits in daily life, from enhanced creativity and storytelling capabilities, to boredom relief, problem solving and future planning.
According to Singer's school of thought, if you play out desired scenarios in your head, reflecting on both the end-goals and the steps that will get you there, you are more likely to step up when those situations start to pan out in real life.
It only makes sense: at the end of the day who was Steve Jobs if not a dreamer? How could he, or any entrepreneur, build new products, new communities, new worlds without indulging in a fair share of fantasy, especially early on when they have to face a lot of naysayers while having nothing tangible to hold on to?
In more recent years, Natalie Massenet, founder of the now-famous online luxury platform Net-a-Porter, credited daydreaming and visualisation for the birth of her business.
Those dreams kept her going when colleagues and friends told her that the idea of buying a $500 pair of shoes on the Internet was ludicrous and she went on to build one of the luxury industry's first and most successful digital platforms. She now funds fellow entrepreneurs and dreamers via her investment vehicle called Imaginary Ventures — a name that shows how her faith in the power of dreams has never waned.
Speaking to Mimi and Alex Ikonn, real estate agent Santiago Arana also praised the power of dreaming. It got him from having nothing to making $1M in commissions in 2012 and moving up ever since to become one of the biggest real estate agents in L.A. He still makes time for daydreaming and visualisation to keep shaping and designing his life and future goals.
According to Arana, the key is to be specific, start with things that make you happy and seem within your reach — say, a walk on the beach with a loved one. Visualising in the evening is particularly effective: the last thoughts you have before falling asleep are among the most powerful. Your subconscious doesn’t even make a distinction between reality and fantasy, it just sends this vision to the Universe and works to find the fastest, most efficient way to get you what you want.
When life slows down or limitations come our way, daydreaming takes on new relevance. With more time for reflection and fewer external interactions, many of us start indulging in daydreaming more frequently — just like children often let their imagination run wild and imagine life as grown ups.
What will the next chapter of our lives, our next move look like? What will we be wearing to welcome it in? Who will be there with us to share the experience?
"Daydreaming became my favorite activity in the last year. I think about trips with friends, what we're having for breakfast — fluffy eggs, strong coffee and a buttery croissant — and our plans for the day. It usually involves touring the vineyards in a vintage car, wearing colourful scarves and linen shirts, napping, swimming and al fresco dinners in sparkly dresses," said Katerina Cook, a young professional in London, who used practices like daydreaming and gratitude to cope with the demands of her legal job and living alone. "I also think about future plans and play them out in my mind," she said, adding that, as the world reopens, her time spent daydreaming equipped her with renewed positivity and she is now seeing many of those fantasies manifesting in front of her eyes.
As Singer put it in his study, daydreaming is a natural and healthy exercise of the human brain — in fact modern psychologists encourage everyone to engage in it, spending a few minutes per day in their feel-good fantasies. Pro tip? If your mind has a tendency to veer towards the negative and all that is worrying you, use doodling or drawing to quiet those thoughts and reawaken your child-like imagination, which is always present within adults, just a little forgotten.
In addition to positive and feel-good benefits, daydreaming can be constructive too, when you put those thoughts on paper, use the power of repetition, and commit to taking action. That's where your journaling practice, positive affirmations, and daily planning will come handy, as big dreams can be broken down into small, achievable action steps, too.
"If you can also develop discipline and practice all these concepts, then it's going to work," adds Arana.
The benefits of daydreaming are clear and now recognized by scientists as much as they are by some of the most successful people in the world who have been putting the power of daydreaming into practice. Businesses, happy moments, and entire lives have been designed using the power of dreaming and imagination. Feel free to let your mind wander up in the clouds from time to time and bring the respite, inspiration, and positivity you receive from those imaginary trips back into reality.