According to an article in the New York Times, by Olga Mecking we are caught up in a busyness trap and one way out of it is to do ‘nothing.’ She points out the Dutch call this ‘niksen’ Her article is here ‘Niksen’ suggests we put away all distractions, such as telephone, emails, television and everything we do with our minds. It is completely emptying oneself and doing nothing. Contrary to popular believe she claims that doing nothing is not a waste of time but frees us up to daydream, which I think still puts my mind at work. However, I do like the idea of daydreaming as it allows us to conjure up new ideas and frees our mind to do creative thinking. I find completely zoning out in ‘niksen’ format is difficult for me, although may have its place for some.
Unfortunately daydreaming has had a bad rap. Our early childhood schooling (at least mine) frowned upon daydreaming as a waste of time. Day dreaming was also often frowned upon at home and the negative aspects of daydreaming has crept into the workplace. In the workplace I have heard supervisors say, “Stop your daydreaming and get back to work.” Or sarcastically ask, “What are you doing, daydreaming?” The inference here is that daydreaming isn’t productive. It doesn’t lead to anything worthwhile or is a form of laziness. It’s as if someone is telling us, “Get on with what we’re paying you for and we’re not paying for your lazy daydreaming.”
Here is my take on this for what it is worth.
Daydreaming in and of itself is not laziness but a prelude to creative ideas and gives us space to become more productive. It allows the mind to wander from the tasks at hand and gives it a rest, which in turn becomes an important requirement for ideas to generate or refreshes us so that we can focus on the next task. From my perspective daydreaming is not ‘doing nothing’ or ‘niksen’ but allows our minds to wander in weird and wonderful places where creativity resides. It is a form of what I call ‘mental spacelessness’ which allows us to see things differently using creative inventiveness.
Now in order to daydream we do need to set some time apart and give ourselves permission to do just that. Because we have pushed messaging which downplays daydreaming we need to tackle it in the same way we do when we learn or relearn anything. We need to focus on the positive aspects of daydreaming as a form of creative thought engineering. And, we need to allow for some daydreaming to take place in the workplace.
However, if on-the-job safety becomes a factor, we need to be very cautious about daydreaming. The thought of daydreaming while driving, climbing, sawing, banging nails, lifting heavy objects, and such scares the heck out of me. In these instances, the supervisor or manager has every right to bring someone out of their reverie.
What we can do
Take Daydream Breaks: Give yourself permission to take daydream breaks. Look out the window, sit back and relax and free your mind of thought, stare at an object without trying to define it. It’s a bit ironic that we have to give ourselves permission to daydream, yet many engineers, artists and entrepreneurs have gone on to achieve great things because they have allowed themselves to daydream. Larry Niven once said, “Everything starts as somebody’s daydream,” and Deepak Chopra pens, “Daydream, imagine and reflect. It’s the source of infinite creativity.”
Reorganize your space. Redesign your physical space to lend itself to ‘mental spacelessness.’ Turn off the TV, put down the tablet, put away the SMART phone, put comfortable chairs in the office, turn away from your computer, add plants and flowers to the office, move a chair to allow you to look outside, or add scenic paintings to your walls. The point here is that sometimes we need to change our decor in order to change our thinking. Yes, this is about changing the way we have allowed ourselves to think which in turns affects the way we behave. The old dictum applies, “Change your thinking changes your behavior.” In this instance we are giving ourselves permission to daydream so that we can become more productive.
Break away from your space: Another technique is to break away from your space. Go for a walk in the park and let the surrounding embrace you without you thinking about what it is you are doing. Sit on a park bench, a patio, or stop along the highway and soak in a sunset, a farmer cultivating his land, or birds and critters flitting about. Lay on the grass and look up at the sky, whether that be watching the clouds during the day or the stars at night. Perhaps some of us can remember when we were kids and were struck by the various cloud formations or the flickering stars and the bright moon at night. It was during those times that our creative juices were heightened, and we saw all kinds of things in those clouds – puppies, ice cream cones and happy faces – and were struck by the vastness of the expanding universe and the smallness of the self.
Daydreaming takes us away from busyness, gives your minds a break and kick starts our creative juices. And that is OK because it just may allow the breakthrough we were seeking or the dream that sends us on a path toward greater personal or business rewards.
Thank you for reading,
Richard P. Fontanie MSW