Illustration for article titled How To Use Daydreams To Fend Off BoredomPhoto: Eldar Nurkovic (Shutterstock)

Do you remember going to church or a school meeting as a kid and letting your mind wander and then suddenly the boring event was over? Daydreaming got us from where we were physically and got us practically everywhere, making time go by faster (or at least feel like it was going by).

But as adults, our thoughts tend to go negative when our brains get a break (or even when it doesn’t) – we worry about finances, social injustices, family problems, to experience a global pandemic – like You name it. How Dr. Erin Westgatesays a University of Florida psychology professor, daydreaming “is part of our cognitive toolkit, which is underdeveloped and kind of sad.” Here’s how to relearn daydreaming as a strategy to ward off boredom.

Illustration for article titled How To Use Daydreams To Fend Off Boredom

Why is daydreaming so hard?

Daydreaming – or conscious thinking for pleasure and / or escape – is a skill that is far more challenging than most people realize. “You have to be the actor, director, screenwriter and audience of a mental achievement,” Westgate said says in a statement about her recent research at the University of Florida. “Even if it looks like you’re not doing anything, it’s cognitively taxing.”

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Also, we don’t intuitively know how to think pleasant thoughts. “We’re pretty clueless,” she adds. “We don’t seem to know what to think about in order to have a positive experience.”

Illustration for article titled How To Use Daydreams To Fend Off Boredom

How to get better at daydreaming

In recent research published in the magazine Emotion (co-authored with Timothy Wilson, Nicholas Buttrick and Rémy Furrer of the University of Virginia and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University) Westgate and her colleagues found that daydreaming was “an antidote to boredom,” but people need a little help to to get there.

Here’s how you can improve your skills: according to the researchers::

  • Trust that it is possible to have a good experience by providing your brain with topics that you find pleasant. We can all do this once you have the concept. We give these instructions to 4- and 5-year-olds and it makes sense to them. “
  • That means: “It is difficult for everyone. There isn’t good evidence that some types of people are simply better thinkers. I’m the worst person in the world: I’d definitely rather be electrocuted, ”Westgate said. “But knowing why it can be difficult and what makes it easier really makes a difference. The encouraging part is that we can all get better. “
  • Don’t confuse planning matters with pleasure. “People say they like to plan, but when we test it, they don’t.”
  • Pick the right time to give it a try. Research shows that we are most likely to dream when our mind is minimally occupied with something else, like showering or brushing our teeth. “Next time you go, try instead of pulling out your phone,” Westgate says.

The idea here is to create a mental playlist of pleasant thoughts that you can turn to the next time you get bored instead of reaching for your phone.