While your high school math teacher might not have appreciated it, getting lost in a good daydream can be plain old fun. And according to mental-health experts, there’s actually a right way to do it that stands to benefit your mental health: positive daydreaming.
According to experts, the secret to positive daydreaming starts with imagining a future accomplishment, like landing a dream job or traveling to a new city. From there, start your daydreaming technique: “Avoid making specific plans, but rather just enjoy the accomplishment, already complete, already won,” communication expert Nick Morgan, PhD, writes for Psychology Today. “Bask in the glory of it.”
Sounds dreamy, right? Below, mental-health experts expand on the benefits that taking a mental escape can offer, as well as four simple tips to keep in mind when practicing positive daydreaming in your own life.
Potential benefits of practicing positive daydreaming, according to experts
Family therapist April Mayorga, LMFT, says fantasizing can help alleviate stress and anxiety. Positive daydreaming can particularly boost your mood and help create the space needed to focus on key personal and professional objectives. “If you engage in positive daydreaming, you won’t automatically achieve your goals,” she says. “But we all know that with positive moods, we’re able to think more clearly, concentrate, and then maybe achieve certain goals or tasks.”
“If you engage in positive daydreaming, you won’t automatically achieve your goals. But we all know that with positive moods, we’re able to think more clearly, concentrate, and then maybe achieve certain goals or tasks.” —April Mayorga, LMFT
These goals don’t have to be lofty, either; simply imagining how to confidently lead a team presentation or how good it might feel to reach out to a long-distance friend can inspire the same motivation. “When we allow our thoughts to daydream, we’re releasing the wheel and letting the mind go naturally,” says Mayorga. This allows people to do or think about “something they might not feel brave enough to do in the real world.”
4 tips for practicing positive daydreaming
Ready to give it a whirl? Below are four tips to keep in mind on your daydreaming journey.
1. Have an explicit intention
First, know the goal of your daydream: Where you want to go? What do you want to think about? Mayorga recommends that, at the beginning of every daydreaming practice, you begin with a set intention.
“Be mindful of the topic you’d like to process” she says. “It could be a lighter topic or a heavier one, but think about it before you go into your process, and be aware of how it shows up for you physically.”
Since you are spending so much time in your head, it’s also important to check in with how your body’s feeling and responding.
2. Set a timer and check in with yourself periodically
Time flies when you’re lost in a really awesome fantasy, which is why Mayorga asks her patients to set a timer for five to 10 minutes for their daydreaming sessions. Once those first five minutes are up, Mayorga suggests tuning into what your body’s doing. Are your muscles more relaxed? Are you sitting up straighter? Are you smiling?
3. Make it your own—and stick to the practice
Maybe you’re a doodler and you want to daydream, crayon in-hand. Or perhaps you’re a writer and prefer to jot down your thoughts in a journal. Practicing art, playing music, taking a walk—any passion or hobby can be used in your daydreaming journey. Lauren Cook, PsyD, therapist and author of Name Your Story: How To Talk Openly About Mental Health While Embracing Wellness, says that for many, such outlets can help activate the daydreaming process or provide some grounding when needed. (Because, well, your positive daydreaming session can’t last forever.)
Whatever you decide to do, though, Dr. Cook recommends doing it regularly, and perhaps even scheduling it into your calendar. “Setting time aside to practice daydreaming is part of a healthy way to practice the technique,” she says.
3. Have realistic expectations, and only daydream when you’re in a safe, healthy headspace
Lastly, and arguably most importantly, only practice positive daydreaming when you’re in a healthy headspace and a safe environment. Also, understand its limitations: It’s not ideal when used as a coping mechanism for those in serious physical or psychological distress, nor is it meant to be a tool for avoiding pressing issues or practicing escapism.
“If the daydream isn’t physically feasible or potentially possible [to happen in real life], this can actually enhance a person’s sense of feeling entrapped by their situation and amplify their distress,” says Dr. Cook. “Learning how to cope in the actual and present situation is just as important as daydreaming.”
Dr. Cook recommends setting realistic expectations—ones that are relaxing and can build a sense of hope. “There is no ‘right way’ to engage in daydreaming,” she says. “It’s more about engaging in daydreaming at the appropriate and safe time to do so,” she says.
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