You may think that you know what daydreaming is or have your judgments about the subject: everything from the school girl with dreamy reflections of her bigger-than-life Love to the man who lapses in memory at the grocery store for the items he was ordered to purchase, but came home instead with the next brilliant solution to a work problem. We think of individuals who stare out the window or a ne'er-do-well unable to concentrate on the task at hand.
While there is a wealth of information on the intersection of education and mental health challenges and daydreaming, there has been less research on the adaptive and beneficial qualities of mind wandering. Singer has been leading the work in positive constructive daydreaming ("playful, wishful imagery and 'planful', creative thought"), as opposed to guilty dysphoric daydreaming (which is "characterized by obsessive, anguished fantasies") and poor attention control (which is "characterized by the inability to concentrate on either the ongoing thought or the external task.")
Daydreaming has an incredibly bright side as reported in this article. Instead of robbing us of happiness (or a life that sends us to the poor house), mind wandering plays an essential, empowering role in our daily lives and creativity. Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming makes clear that Singer's research (well ahead of its time) produced evidence "suggesting that daydreaming, imagination, and fantasy are essential elements of a healthy, satisfying mental life...presented evidence of correlation between daydreaming frequency, measures of creativity, and storytelling activity...[and] noted that daydreaming can reinforce and enhance social skills, offer relief from boredom, provide opportunities for rehearsal and constructive planning, and provide an ongoing source of pleasure."
In the paper, they saved the best for last, a discussion centering on "volitional daydreaming" which many of us seeking a better and better life for ourselves often employ:
"Individuals can choose to disengage from external tasks, decoupling attention, in order to pursue an internal stream of thought that they expect to pay off in some way. The pay off may be immediate, coming in the form of a pleasing reverie, insight, or new synthesis of material, or it may be more distant as in rehearsing upcoming scenarios or projecting oneself forward in time to a desired outcome. Projection backward in time to reinterpret past experiences in light of new information is also a possibility. All of these activities, which take place internally, sheltered from the demands of external tasks and perception, offer the possibility of enormous personal reward. These mental activities are, in fact, central to the task of meaning making, of developing and maintaining an understanding of oneself in the world."
After reading this article with the central theme of volitional daydreaming by Singer, McMillan and Kaufman, I immediately thought of the current trend toward meditation, yoga, positive affirmations and the process of creative visualization. In fact, the book I'm reading by Neville Goddard, The Power of Awareness, is absolutely on point. He discusses our need for an internal dialogue that makes "future dreams a present fact" by placing our attention upon our wishes and dreams. He tells the reader that she must "assume that you already are what you want to be"...and to live with that assumption as your guide.
Sounds an awful lot like, "live your dreams now", doesn't it?
Ah, this does set me to more thinking!...I'm off for a little volitional daydreaming. Hope you'll come along!
P.S. If you would like to read the article above, you can find it online at www.frontiersin.org. The paper is found in the September 2013 edition of the journal, Frontiers in Psychology.