Daydreaming, sometimes also known as “zoning out” has endless benefits. It’s a mind state that allows for big ideas to emerge, but in order to let them flow, we must be in a state of calm. How do we achieve this state during tumultuous times?
In junior high school, I won an award for “Miss Distracted.” On that day, like Zendaya receiving her Emmy, I walked up on stage excited and thrilled. I think the reason I received this rather neutral award was because I would often daydream in class and lose track of time. Let’s just say I wasn’t particularly excited about Mexican railroad routes.
Back then I was confused about what the award meant. Distracted tends to have a negative connotation and is defined as “something that takes your attention away from what you’re supposed to be doing.” Which brings up the question – what was I supposed to be doing? Like all teenagers I was in school, taking notes whenever I could, though my brain simply couldn’t stop going elsewhere. I would imagine myself traveling the world, meeting different people, and seeing new places. They were good thoughts that led to interesting paths. A Harvard Study showed that many adults reported that their minds wandered 47% of the time, leading to positive thoughts like getting a promotion or piloting an aircraft.
In other words, to daydream is to think big
Psychological research shows that daydreaming is a strong indicator of an active and well-equipped brain. That a wandering mind correlates with higher degrees of working memory, which is the brain’s ability to retain and recall information during distractions.
Our childhood and teenagehood are great time periods to do this, since we have less responsibilities and aren’t yet drowned in the endless affairs brought on by adulthood. The affairs that at many times we don’t have the luxury to set aside. But it's a relief to know that the process of daydreaming as children and adults remains the same – it's a matter of allowing ourselves to let go and let our thoughts wander.
So how do we let go?
In adulthood, we have to implement routines and individual strategies that are proven to work for us. Finding these strategies take time and are at many points a matter of trial and error. They can range from taking a hot bath or going for a run to traveling somewhere new or reading a book. What we commonly describe as “taking time for ourselves” and practicing “self-care.”
“Often you’ll hear that in order to meditate we must let go, but letting go is what actually happens as a result of meditation.”
Through a variety of meditation techniques, we’re more easily able to allow the practice to take its course without our own will interfering – these techniques range from calming to insight meditation and have specific ways of execution. The techniques make the practice less overwhelming. Apps like Headspace or Yoga classes for example, help organize the practice.
To allow meditation to happen is like saying to allow daydreaming to happen. We need to be in the right mind-state and intently allow for the practice to flow and set ourselves aside. As we get older, the daily distractions make it harder to allow for these moments. But having a continuous practice makes it easier, which is why many classrooms today are adopting this practice. Research shows that meditation in the classroom helps students become more focused, calm and rested.
And how does this help during quarantine?
Now more than ever, in semi-isolation, people are discovering new ways to listen to themselves.
With restrictions to stay at home, sometimes we have no other choice but to listen to our thoughts. Rather than attending social events, traveling, or running around getting stuck in traffic or other commitments – we’re physically still. You'd think that being at home and with more silence, quarantine would be the best time to daydream and meditate, but it’s not always that easy. Our minds procrastinate on staying still because it means fully processing our feelings as they come and go. Frequent distractions like constant messages, communication and social media certainly are a lot easier to respond to. That is one of the reasons why after a long day of being glued to a computer or phone screen, even when we no longer have to, it's hard to look away.
Define your coping mechanism
A coping mechanism is what makes it easier for us to allow letting go. My coping mechanism is travel. It allows me to feel fresh and interested in something bigger than myself. It distresses me – and not because I'm laying on the beach having a drink, but rather because I'm looking at new and cool stuff around me. I’ll admit at points I’ve used travel as a way to distract myself, but eventually, my mind catches up to me. In some ways, when I'm far from home, these thoughts present themselves in a different way. This is why I generally feel that quotes attributing all realizations and awareness to travel are a bit short on context.
Travel is an act that can encourage a mind state, but that in no way is meant to eliminate any deep thoughts or feelings. An awareness of this cause and effect makes it more likely to occur in both directions.
“Sometimes mindfulness allows you to discover a place in a new way, and sometimes the discovery of a place allows for the mindfulness.”
How does digital connection impact our mind state?
At this point, we all know digital connection doesn’t necessarily lead to a meaningful interaction. In 2012, there was a concern that social media was making us lonely even though social media was bragging about connecting people. That was back in the day when Facebook and Twitter were the most beloved networks. Before Instagram incorporated live stories, YouTube became acquired by Google, and TikTok dominated the scene with the concept to “capture moments that matter.” Now, social media is beginning to develop niche groups, with multiple groups following their preferred platforms for specific purposes.
But even if you're a part of a niche or group and follow either travel stars on Instagram or real life people experiences on TikTok, it's important to disconnect.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good photo or video. But I’ve realized that constantly taking photos with a smartphone develops a type of inability to recall our experiences, takes us out of the moment, and diverts our attention. In other words, it distracts us from the present moment. You can’t have a conversation and feel the wind blowing in your hair if what you’re really doing is swiping through other people’s experiences.
As with all techniques around fostering mindfulness, social media is one to acknowledge in the process. For example, setting specific times to use social media. Not exactly while our partner goes into the bathroom at a restaurant or while we stand by ourselves at the bar, but during specific times at home or when we have big chunks of time to do multiple things.
Because social media is truly a fairly new addition to our everyday lives, there aren’t broad strategies that may work in general ways for everyone yet. But it’s a good time to try out what works for you. Especially during quarantine. I’ve kept away from Instagram for a while, and interestingly it’s given me some time to brew up inspiration and thoughts that are now written in words.
Build the mindfulness habits that work for you
Chances are you’re a social and occupied individual. To better navigate around moments of stress, follow these 3 practices in a way that works for you:
- A practice that naturally allows you to let mindfulness take over: Spending time at home, taking a break from work, going on a hike.
- A daily routine with designated times to take a break from being “productive:” I find that when we have a lot on our to do list, we’re less likely to take breaks. Shorten the list as much as you can, and if you can’t, ask for help or think about the longer term benefits to keep you grounded.
- A relaxing daily practice: A short term activity like taking a hot bath or reading.
Moments of change are not always easy to navigate. For example, a quarantine and US elections that make us feel uncertain and lead to a lot of questions. But these consistency with these practices in both uncertain and simpler times will help us process each moment and day one at a time, opening the door for us to find joy in the smallest of things.