Remember the days when you had to sit on a train or bus and either read a book, or talk to the person next to you, or simply sit in silence and watch the world go by? It was not that long ago. Any time we had a few spare minutes we would either be prepared with a pad and pen or a novel, or we would sit and ponder the world around us. We had time for day-dreaming.
I can remember days off when I would sit on the back verandah with a coffee and simply think. Perhaps I would write in a journal. Sometimes, I would find myself watching a bird or the trees in the wind. I might think through an issue from my work from the previous day. Often, my mind would wander, and I could be day-dreaming about almost anything.
Today, whenever I get a spare minute, I check my phone which has over 100 apps on it that connect me with so many people and activities.
A lot has changed since 2007
Since the advent of the iPhone 4 was released (June 2007) our world has become much smaller and a lot faster. Communication has quickly become 24/7. The expectation is that we check work emails after we leave the office. We certainly check social media. Increasingly, decision making has also become 24/7. We live in a global economy. We are inundated with a 24/7 news cycle. It is the new normal. The net effect is that work has crept slowly but surely into every part of our lives.
In this new social media age, we are largely unaware of the dangers of addiction to electronic devices. Neuroscience has helped us understand that the hormone dopamine is released whenever we get an electronic notification. We are tuned to the buzzing or ringing on our phone. Even when the sound is off, and an indicator silently appears on the app icon, we are geared to respond. This dopamine hit in our brains is equivalent to what gamblers experience when they get a small win at the poker machines. It becomes addictive, especially when done repeatedly, every day and every night (150 times per day is the average number of times Australians check their phone each day). I know many people who have major emotional trauma and withdrawal symptoms on vacation if they try to not look at their emails. To be honest, I am one of them. The fact is most busy people NEVER let down. Not fully. Not ever. Not to the point where they stop and do nothing.
We are losing the art of Daydreaming
In promoting the Apple brand, Steve Jobs famously appealed to the crazy ones, the misfits, those willing to think differently. In one of the ironies of history, it has been the products his company introduced that have been partly responsible for killing off time to think. NB. Steve Jobs is reported to have been ferociously protective of his own children and only allowed them very limited access to technology.
One of the consequences of technological change in the 21st Century workplace is that the art of daydreaming is dying. It has largely been replaced by mind-numbing scrolling through social media.
What is day-dreaming?
Day-dreaming is one of the ways we humans process the events of the day. Making time to reflect is a necessary way to get the brain to slow down and relax from the millions of messages we receive every day. It is important for healthy sleep. While we sleep our brain processes many of the events and details of the day. If there is no time for day-dreaming during the day or evening, we are putting added pressure on our brain while we are trying to sleep. It is one of the reasons over 30% of Australians struggle with insomnia. Good sleep is a vital foundation for a healthy and successful life. Without good sleep nothing else works well in our lives. Everything becomes hard. Ask any parent of a newborn.
5 things we can do to restore the art of day-dreaming
- Disengage from technology regularly – Try to have one day a week when you leave your smart phone at home. Once a year, go off the grid for a week or two. This is harder than you think. Smart phone is also your camera and your calendar and your GPS. It will take commitment, but it will benefit you greatly.
- Turn off ALL devices at least 30 minutes before you go to bed – and keep them out of the bedroom. The bedroom is for sleep, sexual intimacy and reading books.
- Keep a paper written journal – Daily or a few times per week, write out what you are feeling and what is significant for you in your world. It is a form of mindfulness and it will help you better connect with yourself emotionally. It is one activity best done analogue.
- Sit still for up to 15 minutes each day – with nothing else but your thoughts. This is so hard for those of us who scroll through social media while we watch Netflix and relate to our family. Start with 3 minutes and build up to 15 each day.
- Practice walking or driving in silence – Turn off the radio, or podcast or music sometimes. Quieten your mind and enjoy your thoughts. See where they take you. Take time to dream a little.
If you do some of these things regularly you will cultivate the art of day-dreaming in your life. You will probably also enjoy better sleep. You will probably have more good ideas you remember. And you can expect to be less anxious.