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How to daydream

By Jon Methven
New York Times

There is nothing wrong with fantasizing about imaginary realities far away from the cheerless hardships of modern life. The problem is that people are daydreaming incorrectly. Because of widespread misuse, daydreaming has achieved the rank stigma of slothful procrastination.

Yet when used correctly, by following these simple guidelines, it can reduce stress, improve productivity and ensure that you stop being a miserable jerk the rest of the day.

What is daydreaming?

When most people need a break, they take out their cellphones and begin pushing buttons to command avatars to run, jump and shoot other avatars. This is not daydreaming. Your brain is tired, tired in subconscious ways you cannot even fathom. Forcing it to survive labyrinths or shootouts or car chases serves only to wear it out even more. And television, Web browsing, scab and fingernail landscaping – these are simply distractions.

It counts as daydreaming only if you are staring into space or at the nearest wall.

When to daydream

Never schedule your daydreaming. Allow it to occur organically, like drooling. A good time to daydream might be just before lunch, or during a meeting, or in the middle of a conversation that has hit a lull.

Let’s say about 91 percent of conversations become boring after about seven seconds. This is a good time to give your brain a rest and start daydreaming about robotic slave armies, or new candy bar flavors, or pig-tuna hybrids – are they best consumed as sushi or bacon? Most speakers, consumed with their own self-importance, will continue talking while you take a well-needed timeout.

Where to daydream

Daydreaming is best accomplished in the midst of stillness and should be banned from public transportation. Sociologists would agree that a majority of stabbings on public transportation – a result of people’s standing in front of subway doors or mindlessly taking up more than one bus seat – can be traced back to incorrect daydreaming coordinates.

Daydreaming should also be banned from any waiting line. Waiting to purchase opera tickets, order lunch or deposit coins for a vending-machine snack – these all are hazardous daydream locations.

Bathrooms are good daydream spots, mostly because you can take off your pants. Also, beneath one’s desk is a secure area to allow the mind to drift.

What to daydream

“I want to daydream more, but I don’t know what to daydream about,” a lot of people probably say. For that reason, they keep rehashing the same old daydream scenarios:

The lottery: You aren’t going to win the lottery. Stop fantasizing about the cars you’ll buy, the vacations you’ll take, the house you’ll build. Stop imagining quitting your job.

What you need to be doing is daydreaming about better ways to do your job. If you weren’t spending so much time incorrectly daydreaming, you’d probably have earned that promotion by now.

Sex: By all means, have sexual fantasies. Sleep with better-looking people. Have intercourse in trees. But under no circumstances should you daydream about fornicating with nearby co-workers. Colleagues can tell when you’ve been daydreaming about having sex with them, and it’s an unprofessional way to spend company time.

Celebrities: Stop it already. Celebrity cameos are just the kind of infantile escapism that gives daydreaming a bad rap. “I bet George Clooney and Brad Pitt and I would have a great time on a cross-country road trip,” you might have daydreamed. Well, they wouldn’t. They would be totally freaked out that you’re sitting around daydreaming about driving them around the country when you’re supposed to be working.

Heroics: This is a tricky area of daydream ethics. Society needs everyday heroes, but most heroic daydreams are about scoring the winning touchdown or hitting the home run. If the daydream is not sports-related, it’s terrorist-related – tackling the suicide bomber, defeating a terrorist cell in a shootout using your iPhone Call of Duty training.

No one daydreams about donating blood or volunteering for Meals on Wheels. We’re a nation of extremes and it’s infected our daydreams.

Efficient daydreaming

Daydreaming about being a better person, or positive things happening to loved ones, or flying through the office on a dragon that thinks one of your co-workers has stolen her dragon things – these are all dynamic mental breaks that can prepare you for an afternoon of cheerfully cleaning lint out of your keyboard. To become an efficient daydreamer, you simply need to blow off a little steam so you don’t get stressed and have a nervous breakdown in front of your computer screen.

What type of fast food will the aliens prefer when they arrive, and will it be the ultimate undoing of their civilization? If you were living in a world of all puppets, could you just assume you would be in charge because you’d be smarter and stronger and all fleshy? Or would you be ridiculed because of your minority non-puppet status?

These are some solid, intellectual quandaries for your next daydreaming stint.

Conclusion

Do not daydream about the problems in your life, the evil in the world, the troubles around the next bend. That is what real life is for. Instead, daydream about things that make you smile. No summer workday is complete without a grown person staring at the wall, just laughing.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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