Why Daydreaming Is Productive

Time spent dreaming is every bit as valuable (if not more) as time spent doing, says psychotherapist and psychological astrologer Jennifer Freed, Ph.D. But many of us are quick to dismiss our imagination, or to dismiss those who we consider to have their heads in the clouds. Freed finds that many women have internalized patriarchal messages that devalue both their inner longings and creative ideas, and on the flip side, sees the imagination as the key to unlocking your unlimited potential. Below, she explains how and why this happens.

Just My Imagination

There are many ways to be free. One of them is to transcend reality by imagination, as I try to do. — Anaïs Nin

Consider that the only place we are truly free to feel what we feel and to desire what we desire, without consequence or reprisal, is in our imaginations. The phrase, “That’s just your imagination,” underestimates the power and energy of a robust imaginative life.

What we imagine affects our bodily chemistry. When we imagine doing something novel in our lives, it primes the brain to provide opportunities to actualize that wish—in fact, the very act of imagining stretches and strengthens the capacities of our brains. (On the other hand, worry—negative imagining—can leave a trace of psychological battery acid.) When we imagine something positive—whether it be sexual, athletic, creative, or artistic—we activate positive predispositions and chemicals in the brain and body. Our sexual imagination, for example, produces healthy amounts of dopamine and oxytocin in the brain, which increases pleasure and feelings of attachment. Dopamine also influences well-being, alertness, learning, creativity, attention, and concentration. This is how sexual fantasy and creative image-making enhance many aspects of our functioning, and bring us more happiness and life satisfaction.

Women’s Imaginings vs. the Patriarchal Narrative

The act of imagining is universal and inherent to human nature; and yet, many of us—women in particular—are embarrassed or ashamed of our sexual or creative musings. We come from a history of women’s imaginations being colonized by a patriarchal narrative that equates female longing and desire with the biblical Eve and the destruction of Adam’s purity. Men have been chronicled as the powerful virile visionaries and women for the most part have been recorded as merely seductive or adjunctive. Women have often been seen as the “femme fatale,” the “harlot,” and the “muse,” but are rarely singled out in a congratulatory way for being outrageously powerful, prophetic, and tuned in to their divine knowing.

For too long now, women have been taught to regard our inner longings and imaginations as evil, disloyal, corrupted, and insubordinate. We are taught to see our non-conforming reveries as harmful or endangering.

Our capacity to re-imagine and recreate ourselves frequently is fundamental to our happiness. And yet, even my most enlightened feminist friends will sometimes shut down their imaginations in favor of some construct that feels more politically correct. They don’t recognize that they are letting the wildness that is intrinsically theirs be repressed—to be regarded as shameful and wrong.

“For too long now, women have been taught to regard our inner longings and imaginations as evil, disloyal, corrupted, and insubordinate.”

As women seeking to maximize our vitality, we need to actively refuse to suppress ourselves; to say a firm NO to subordinating our authenticity and imagination to lifeless, conformist social norms and dictates.

Why do women talk so much about their lives in mundane terms? Why do they pay so little attention to their dreams and imaginings? What if we started each of our social conversations with questions like: “What are you longing for lately? What is centermost in your imaginative life?”

Any woman who has achieved greatness has dared to reach beyond the existing narratives and courageously pursued audaciously imagined ideas. These visionary women dared to dream despite constant noise from detractors who wanted to shut them down and shame them for not toeing the line. The hard line women are warned not to cross has been drawn by societal expectations that women should be controlled, contrite, and contained—expectations that we, unfortunately, may have internalized enough that we imprison ourselves. Suppressing the real wildness of our dreaming is one way this happens.

Imagination & Creative Expression

When we dismiss or shame ourselves for what we desire and what we fantasize about—because it is not “real,” “reasonable,” or “righteous”—we lose our vitality. We lose our way. We can become numb and complacent.

Find me a woman who complains of being bored, disconnected, or dull, and she will also be someone who has given up on the expression of her desires and dreams. Even where it is impractical to live out these fantasies, desires, and dreams, it kills the soul to not host them through some form of creative expression.

“What happens when we recover our imaginative life; when we dare to feel our longings and name our deepest desires even to just ourselves? We do not sleepwalk through our lives.”

When we stop up the river of imagination with dams of self-denial or censorship, we cut ourselves off from the generative flow of life itself. No mastery of artistic expression is required to playfully channel our imaginations into writing, drawing, dance, improvisation, or other forms of creative expression. What’s needed is for us to resist the dominant culture’s noisy hijacking of our attention, and for us to take time to honor our inner muses.

What happens when we recover our imaginative life; when we dare to feel our longings and name our deepest desires even to just ourselves? We do not sleepwalk through our lives; instead, we experience a sudden and undeniable surge of love and energy. We become animated and engaged. We become curious and defiant. This world needs to be dreamed anew to make it hospitable for all living beings and the Earth itself.

Jennifer Freed, Ph.D., M.F.T., psychotherapist and author of PeaceQ, has been teaching and consulting worldwide for thirty years. Freed is the executive director of AHA! which specializes in transforming schools and communities by focusing on peace-building peer-led initiatives. She is also a psychological astrologer.