Daydreaming: Gift or curse?

When I turned onto Boylston Street, I got my first view of the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Not only was I going to complete my first marathon, but I was only a few yards behind four-time Boston marathon winner Bill Rogers. I was gaining fast, running at a world record pace while ignoring the excruciating pain from a Baker’s cyst behind my left knee.  I sprinted past Rogers as I  raised my arms in celebration…..My pleasant fantasy was abruptly interrupted when I arrived at my parking lot at work and needed to get focused to prepare for a busy day. Even so, what a great way to begin the morning!

Reading James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” in high school changed my life. The story described a dominated husband who escaped into a world of fantasy, becoming a famous surgeon or a World War I fighter pilot. Our classroom discussion helped me realize that daydreaming was a gift to be cherished, not a curse to be cured.

Most parents think otherwise. I’ve never had parents ask me how they can encourage their children’s daydreaming. However, I’ve received numerous referrals to help children “pay attention,” “get more focused,” and “stop wasting time.” I’ll acknowledge that there are lots of times when daydreaming is inappropriate. Lack of focus can cause problems at work and can be a serious impediment to meaningful relationships. However, the scientific community has long recognized that daydreaming can be a healthy, pleasurable, and appropriate habit we should encourage in our children. Here’s why:

  • Pleasant stories.  We can create our own world, with magical feats and happy endings. Let’s not view these fantasies as escapes from reality, but a normal and healthy addition to our world. These narratives help us enjoy life, get through a tough day, feel good about ourselves, and cost nothing!  Your mind is your playground, constantly available as a pleasurable outlet.
  • Rehearsal for life. The field of sports psychology is built upon the notion that covert rehearsal (i.e., fantasy or daydreaming) can be of great assistance in preparing for real life events. We can use fantasy to anticipate and solve problems before they occur. We create an alternate reality like a Holodeck from Star Trek, rehearsing in our mind how we want to act in the real world.
  • Creative pursuits.  Letting your mind wander aimlessly may take you to places that give you insights into different ways of thinking about yourself or others. Within the privacy of your own inner world, you may consider options that you would never verbalize to others.

As the first place medal is placed over my head, I look up and notice Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox.  They are only one great pitcher away from the World Series, and I know I can help them beat those hated Yankees!

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