Daydreaming the Right Way

Kurt Vonnegut called it skylarking. For T. S. Eliot it was idea incubation and Lewis Carroll chewed over thoughts with “mental mastication.” There is tremendous power in the act of daydreaming.

Many of us feel a compulsion to perform and produce. We want our work to be great and that means knuckling down and toiling over it all the time. I know that often, if I don’t produce some form of finished product, I feel like I’ve wasted my day. 

Yet many prolific writers chose another route. Charles Dickens and Ingmar Bergman only spent a few hours writing and both took long walks as part of their routine. Joyce Carol Oates had this to say: “I spend most of my time looking out the window (I recommend it).”

Allowing yourself to fool around can be tricky for creative types. The temptation to do nothing or procrastinate is tremendous. The secret is to take these restful moments as deliberate events, not as a way to play hooky from our creative endeavors. 

Mind-wandering or rehashing memories won’t necessarily stimulate your creativity. Instead, psychiatrist Srini Pillay recommends a process called positive constructive daydreaming, or letting your mind wander “on a leash.”

Planning to daydream can feel awkward. Yet that’s what he recommends. There’s a difference between spontaneously visiting castles in the air and a deliberate Hobbit-like journey into the fringes of your mind. 

We spend most of our conscious life focused on the sensory images that flood our brain. Daydreaming is all about turning our thoughts inward. 

You’ll want to start by doing a low-key activity like gardening, knitting, or casually surfing the net. The trick is to pick something that’s not too mentally stimulating. But it needs to be something — a way to keep the thinking part of your brain busy. For me, this is usually walking or driving — both times where I have an activity to accomplish, but it gives a chance for my mind to wander.

Some people find that closing their eyes helps (not helpful when driving, though). Or your might use wishful imagery, like tromping through some distant woods or flying through the air. Once you have this fantasy story started, let your thoughts wander. 

At first, it might feel like your mind is zipping all over the place. However, studies show this is simply your brain’s way of planning. It might feel like creative vomit and the sensation might overwhelm you, but stick with it. This is where you slip into an unfocused state and explore new ideas.

Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

Instead of letting everything slip into the mire of wistful thoughts and procrastination, step away from your work for a while and try to purposefully explore your daydreams. You might be surprised at the internal landscapes you discover.

Tim Kane

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