Principles of daydreaming
We grab ourselves by the scruff of the neck every morning, plop ourselves down at our computer, and shout, “do THIS, dammit!” We drink coffee until our manufactured excitement overwhelms our looming doubt. For a little while. Then, we drift and check Twitter 500 times.
Are we faulty machines? Short-circuiting apes plucked from their environment and placed in a modern world that refuses to cooperate with what would be truly best for us?
This isn’t the fault of the modern world not being “wrong” for our biology. In fact, our biology is screaming at us in the form of distraction, trying to correct us. Twitter checking and other procrastination techniques are a reflex of your nervous system that intuits you should be doing something else. It’s trying to help.
We’re giants when it comes to lists and systems and rules – but fetuses of intuition. This imbalance means we’ve forgotten how to flow.
That’s why Hawaiians see surfing as a communion with God — a way to practice getting back in balance with intuition. When systems and intuition balance, that’s surfing — flow. Obviously, you can’t force a wave to be surfed. Or surf a wave that’s not there. But you can wait for the right one and be ready when that moment comes.
Most of us are surfers, standing on our boards at all the wrong moments, constantly pummelled by the badly timed waves. All the while, we lie to ourselves, taking selfies for Insta with the caption: “Look, I’m surfing! This is fun!” But, deep down, we have no faith we could ever really ride a wave.
Daydreaming is how your biology tries to get you back in sync with the waves.
And there are these principles of daydreaming, which I hope will remind us that work should ideally feel like surfing – not getting pummeled by a wave.
Let your eyes wander
Where your eyes point is an interesting indicator.
You’re always looking into other people’s eyes because you want to know what they want. If you pay attention, you can find out, too.
What if you did the same thing to yourself? Just notice where you point your eyes. Do they drift away from your work? Interesting data.
Your eyes flicker away from where you’re “supposed” to look because your subconscious knows more than your conscious. Let them. Stare into the middle distance. Drift off for a while.
You’re searching for the rhythm of the ocean, so to speak. If you zoomed out and got the gestalt of the waves, you could maybe ride them for real — a dream.
The problem, of course, is you first have to admit you’re not currently riding waves. You may have been wasting a lot of time. We sometimes cling to our habitual failures. It’s hard to admit the Instagram persona was a lie.
But, like the first step in AA, you have to admit you have a problem.
Look into the abyss
If you let your eyes wander on their own, inevitably, they will land on the abyss. You know, the dark parts of yourself that you’d rather not think about. This is what we call “boredom.” People don’t like to be bored. It invites too many creepy crawlies from your subconscious.
Unfelt feelings: Who am I? What am I doing with my life? Why is the world so ugly?
Just waves pummeling you.
But unless you want to keep forcing things that aren’t working, you’ll have to take a gander now and then.
Whipping yourself at a monastery is not required. Just begin to notice you’re not actually bored. You’re just uncomfortable and nearly drowning. If you can cultivate enough curiosity you can lean into that discomfort instead of trying to numb it away.
Once you become interested in the uncomfortable feelings, the boredom transforms into daydreaming.
Now you’re noticing the waves as they are, not as you wish they were.
When it’s time, you’ll know
Now you’re no longer fooling yourself and are ready to start trying to surf for real. You ask a wise surfer, “how do I know which wave to catch?”
He smiles, “when the wave comes, you’ll know.”
It’s a powerful mental model – just one that happens to annoy the systematic part of your brain. But at this point, we’re learning to relax into the daydream.
Riding a wave (and life) shouldn’t feel so hard. You should know exactly what to do next. Sure, sometimes you have to paddle like hell to get in – but “motivating” yourself to do the paddling isn’t hard. In other words, procrastination and lack of motivation are signs of too many systems and too little daydreaming.
When it’s time to catch the wave for real, you’ll know. And you’ll be so engrossed you won’t even remember to procrastinate.
See, daydreaming gets a bad rap. But it’s the only way to make life anything but a slog.
Most people are slogging it, doing incremental work – trying to ride waves they wish existed. Posting pictures online and demanding we affirm they are indeed riding the waves they wished existed.
Daydreaming is the form of attention that gets you back to riding the waves that actually exist.
Thanks for reading,