Our brains have a natural affinity, and an innate hunger for, daydreaming.
Whether you've been sitting in a mind-numbingly dull meeting or spending hours working at the computer, letting your mind and thoughts take flight for a mental "coffee break" is like heaving a big mental sigh.
Further, imagining the possibilities of relationships and opportunities that don’t even exist yet is easier when you're not forcing yourself to think of the perfect solution.
We all know that the easiest way to find that word that’s on the tip of our tongue is to let our mind wander away from the problem. Then, as if by magic, the word leaps into our consciousness.
Similarly, daydreaming can take us from obsessively ruminating over relationships that aren’t working. When we try to force a partner, child, or friend to act the way we want, it seldom enhances the relationship. But when we step back so our minds can play around with potential or ideal outcomes, or even more satisfying arguments, we expand our repertoire of ways to be in the relationship without forcing anyone to be a certain way. We can play out pitfalls and fallouts before moving forward with change.
Why It Works
In one study, researchers found that letting our brains go “offline” for inner reflection and daydreaming is actually doing what is needed to keep our brains healthy (Immordino-Yang, Christodoulou, & Sing, 2012). In fact, the researchers suggested, in our technologically and actively “tuned-in” lives, we may be shortchanging ourselves by ignoring brain’s the natural need for reflection and daydreaming. These activities “wipe away” the demands of the world and let our brains go on brief and much needed “sabbaticals."
With so much to think about and things to keep up with—logging in and checking Facebook updates; reading and responding to texts that take the place of conversations; following breaking news headlines; and taking care of daily chores on our after-work to-do list—we may forget to let our minds go out to play. We end up staring at screens and looking at photos of “happy couples” or “blissful new mothers” or "mega-celebrity weddings" or any of a million different snapshot moments of relationships we tend to believe are happier than our own.
But when we get on news and information overload, our capacity to devise creative solutions to relationship problems may go on shutdown.
Don’t allow the scanning and skimming of everyone else's news and updates delivered to your hands and screen by technology coerce you into comparing your relationship to everyone else’s. Creatively construct your own best relationship by imagining how you would like it to be! Extravagant daydreams are fine, though you need to temper them with reality at some point. But until we let ourselves imagine how a relationship might be improved, we'll stay locked in to the same old choices and actions, which we already know won’t ever get us any closer to a new way of being.
Right now, take your fingers off the keyboard and mouse, take a slow, deep inhale, and close your eyes or look out the window into the distance. Turn off your “thinking brain," let your “playful brain” show up—and just see what unexpected and creative relationship adjustments your brain is ready to explore.
Immordino-Yang, M. H., Christodoulou, J. A., & Sing, V. (2012). Rest is not idleness: Implications of the brain’s default mode for human development and education. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 352-364.