Daydream with purpose.
“Go find something else to do.”
This gentle command wasn’t directed at me — it was for the dog.
I don’t know how this phrase wound up influencing me on a daily basis. But I’m glad it did, because I need the reminder.
Maybe you do, too.
Are you wasting mental energy right now?
A friend in high school came from a very nice, very politically correct, intelligent family. The kind of family who played co-operative board games instead of competitive sports.
When their family dog came around to beg for treats or interfere with dinner, he wasn’t told “no,” or “go away,” or “bad dog.” (That wouldn’t be very nice.)
He was politely told to “go find something else to do.”
I now use this refrain to stop myself from wasting mental energy, and getting caught up in old, negative thought patterns.
What does a waste of mental energy look like?
For me, it might mean worrying about what someone thinks of me, or trying to chase approval. It might mean mentally criticizing or judging others, or feeling hurt about something someone did or didn’t do. It might mean ruminating on old memories or experiences. I might also mean getting too caught up in my own fantasy land.
Basically, it’s the kind of thinking that pulls me back into old stories that don’t do me, or anyone else, any good.
Your brain is telling you a story — make it a good one.
Our minds like to build stories. They naturally tell us tales all day long: about what happened, or what could happen. About who we are, and the world around us.
These stories are just our minds’ way of interpreting the world and trying to make sense of it all. (Good luck, brain).
If you’re not paying attention, you can use up an awful lot of time and energy on stories that aren’t doing a damn thing for you. They’re just helping you stay stuck.
Trust me, I know.
Who’s steering the ship?
In high school I had a therapist (Yep, I’ve had a few over the years) who noticed I kept obsessing about certain people and experiences in my life.
Um, no kidding. I was thinking about the same things 24/7. As I walked to school, as I sat in class, as I lay in bed at night. It was constant: my brain went around and around the same story, reconstructing it, picking at the pieces, replaying my favourite (or most hated) moments.
It was driving me crazy. And yet I didn’t want to let go of my obsession. I liked my comfy fantasy place.
But one day she said to me, “you know, you can’t steer the ship if you’re too busy watching the waves behind you.”
It cracked the veneer of my daydream.
She was right.
Nonetheless, it took me years to break this habit. I eventually moved on from the high school drama but I would frequently fall into negative thought patterns, obsessing over things that had happened, or could have happened, or might still happen. Or, quite frankly, stuff that would never, ever happenbut that gave me a secret thrill.
The consistent part: none of this stuff was bringing any value to my life. It wasn’t making me feel good, it wasn’t helping me be my best self, and it was starting to hold me back.
At a certain point I had to kick my own ass and get more disciplined about where I let my thoughts take me.
That doesn’t mean I stopped daydreaming. In fact, quite the opposite.
I started to embrace my natural daydreaming tendencies and use them for good.
Move over, mindfulness.
Daydreaming is not the problem.
Actually, I believe that daydreaming — what you might also describe as reflection, thoughtfulness, or conscious creativity — is a kind of superpower.
But like all superpowers, it must be used wisely.
On the other side of the spectrum, sits mindfulness.
In very loose, general terms, mindfulness is the practice of being present and observing without judgment. It’s about noticing and accepting the world around you.
Mindfulness is great, powerful stuff. Being here is important.
But so is daydreaming.
Daydreaming is like mentally playing.
It lets your brain imagine, invent, or tinker away at a problem or idea. It lets you construct new ways of looking at things. It lets you create something where there was nothing before.
This is the space where the best innovations and ideas come from.
It’s where new ideas and possibilities wander in.
It’s a place to wonder.
Think about how important that is.
Daydreaming is an opportunity to do your best work, and become more of yourself.
After all, living the life you’ve imagined starts with… imagining.
What does grown-up daydreaming look like?
I have a wonderful memory as a kid: I was lying on the grass in the park in the summer, staring at the fluffy white clouds in the blue, blue sky, and daydreaming away.
This is the daydreaming cliché, and as an adult, it’s probably not realistic.
But you do have something amazing at your disposal right now. Something that is more useful than the occasional full-on, cloud-staring daydream.
You have pockets of time — lots of them — where your mind is just… doing stuff.
Waiting in line. Walking from one place to another. Sitting on a train. Or, let’s face it, trying to ignore annoying people around you.
How are you spending this time?
On your phone? Zoning out?
Or maybe you’re caught up in some kind of mental chatter, as your brain worries away or jumps from task to task.
Or maybe, like I was, you’re caught in some kind of obsessive fantasy, your brain telling you the same story, over and over.
What if instead of any of those scenarios, this time became the most valuable part of your day?
Don’t waste them
Those blank spaces, when you’re not actively doing something, are canvasses.
These are free spaces.
These moments are your chance to create.
And they add up.
Consider this: What are you thinking about most of the time? That time might amount to how you spend most of your day, every day.
Will you let it keep you in a tailspin? Will you waste it?
Or will you use it to construct a better life story for yourself?
One of the best things I started doing was calling myself on my own mental bullshit.
These days, I’m intentional with my thoughts. I use my daydreaming tendencies for good instead of self-harm.
I think to myself, “how can I use this time for something worthwhile?”
Here are a few examples of what I think about:
- what I want to write next. I collect ideas, letting themes form, or even putting the words together. Most of my book was mentally written in these pockets of time.
- how I can do some good with my work. Who can I help? Who needs what I have to offer? How can I move out of my own self-focused mindset and do some good for others.
- my bucket list, my next adventures. Where do I want to go next, in my life and my work?
Now, this one’s going to sound cheesy but it’s also the most powerful:
- my bigger purpose in life. Seriously. I ask myself: What kind of life do I want to live? What kind of person do I want to be? What is my message? What are my values and how am I living them today?
I use these high-level contemplations to determine my actions. I think about what I can do today to fulfill those goals and promises.
Sound cheesy? Maybe.
But this kind of intentional thinking might be the most important thing I’ve done in my life.
It stopped me from wasting time on the kind of obsession, worry and useless fantasies my brain naturally made up for me.
And it helped me write a new, better, more exciting, more meaningful story for myself. (A story that’s still in progress, by the way.)
What you can do to change your inner script today
Are you doing your own wheel spinning?
Maybe you beat yourself up a lot or get caught up in a lot of negative thoughts. Maybe you worry a lot. Maybe you’re having trouble letting go of past experiences, heart breaks or trauma. Maybe you are trying to let go of old self-limiting beliefs, fears; maybe break out of a lasting battle with body image. Or maybe you’re trying to move out of shame.
Moving on, letting go, changing our thought patterns… this is not easy to do because our fantasies and anxieties create a cozy, safe space in our brains.
So, if you want to stop thinking about the stuff that’s holding you back, you have to make the decision.
Make the decision to think about something new.
Use the little pockets of time to write a new, better story for yourself.
Go ahead and daydream.
But make your daydreams worthwhile.
Now, go find something else to do.
You know how if you walk a dog over and over again, he knows exactly where to go? You don’t have to lead him anymore, he leads you.
Your brain is like that, too. It will just repeat those patterns over and over again, unless you train it to start something new.
In many ways I have re-trained my brain to wait expectantly, eagerly by the door, tail wagging, as if to say, ‘where are we going today?’
Instead of following the same thought patterns on auto-pilot, I carve out a deliberate path.
This is an intentional choice. I do it purposely, regularly, throughout the day.
But my brain still needs discipline. Sometimes it returns to its old ways.
I can feel the tug on the leash.
My brain starts to go down the old path. That path feels familiar, inviting. It’s well worn and welcoming.
But I stop. I remember that there’s something better. I’d rather venture into new, more creative, more interesting territory.
I don’t yell at my brain. I don’t berate it or hit it with a rolled up newspaper.
I just say, “Okay, brain. That’s enough. Go find something else to do.”
This article was originally published at: https://medium.com/@camdeputter/how-to-stop-wasting-your-mental-energy-and-daydream-with-purpose-f4b19bca3e41