Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hack Your Mind: 4 Steps to Take Charge of Your Daydreaming

Part One | Part Two

You have ADHD and you slip into daydreaming easier than taxes slip out of your paycheck, but you aren't happy with the amount of time you waste. Is there anything that can be done about it?

Like Pomodoro, but without the tomato juice
Since I am one of those non-stop daydreaming adults with ADHD, I have been growing irritated with the amount of time I'm losing. I am far more comfortable as Spaceman Spiff than I care to admit. Ten minutes here and there can add up to an hour of daydreaming by the end of the day. That sounds grossly wasteful, doesn't it? But what can you do?

First, go read this article here on the four stages of daydreaming. I will be referring to some of those different stages in this article.

How do you stop daydreaming?

I've spent a great deal of non-daydreamy thought on this subject and I came up with some techniques that have helped me exercise control over my own daydreaming tendencies. Before it wouldn't be uncommon for me to slip into Stage Two or Three throughout my day. Now I have learned how to keep myself mostly in Stage One.

  1. Know When You Are Daydreaming
  2. You can't stop yourself daydreaming until you get better at noticing when you have begun. I slip into daydreams with the blink of an eye, so this step was very difficult to achieve. There is the moment when you begin daydreaming and the moment when you realize you're daydreaming again. Work on closing the gap between those moments. This will eventually allow you to stop dreaming the moment you start. It may take weeks to accomplish depending on which stage your daydreaming is at, but the effort is both achievable and worthwhile.

  3. Get Good Sleep
  4. Studies have shown that when we are sleep deprived, we are literally left in a dreamy state of mind, which makes us prone to have our attention wander and lose focus. It stands to reason that if we sleep well, we will be more alert. They pay me the big bucks to come up with these self-evident statements.

  5. Eat Brain Food
  6. I have heard it said that a diet of Twinkies, pizza & cola doesn't provide the proper nutrients our brains need to regulate our bodies and stay at top form. It stands to reason that if we eat well, we provide our brains with all the nutrients needed to function optimally. Again, self-evident but often ignored advice.

  7. Retrain Your Brain with a Timer
  8. With your mind now at its best, the trick to controlling daydreaming is to train yourself to go for short periods without doing it. This is done with lots of practice. For instance, when I began writing this article I caught my thoughts drifting, so I set a timer for five minutes. I slipped into a daydream again within the first five minutes, so I reset the timer and began anew. After that, because I have been training myself, I didn't daydream again. The new habits kicked in.

    I use an app called 30/30 to retrain my mind. I have timers set for 5, 10, 15, & 30 minutes. When I make it through that timer gauntlet with no relapses, I time myself hour to hour. If you can't make it through some of the timers, don't beat yourself up. Just reset the timers and start over. Training yourself to not do something you've done without thinking for years is not an easy task.

    On days when I am struggling to stay out of La La Land, I fire up the app and train myself through one set of timers—about an hour—to give myself a tune-up. I have found this method extremely effective.

As much fun as it is to be Spaceman Spiff, time is precious and we cannot afford to waste a moment of it. None of these techniques will amount to anything unless you are filled with a strong desire to master yourself. Consider which stage your mind is daydreaming at, then set about to hack your mind. What is it that you aren't doing because you are wasting time daydreaming? Are you losing opportunities to socialize? Are you making costly mistakes at work because you drift too easily away into a dream world? Are you concerned that you enjoy the world in your mind more than the world around you?

You don't have to be a victim of your imagination. You have far more control of your mind than you realize, but you may have to train yourself for weeks before you see results. As you master this skill you can push the goal post back further and further. Just set a timer. Adults with ADHD may already be familiar with the Pomodoro method of setting a timer to regulate productivity. This variation uses timers to encourage you to go for longer and longer periods day by day.

On bad days, fall back to small increments that remind you to stay focused. On good days, you won't even need the timer. And don't beat yourself up if you need to run timers to give yourself carrots all day. Adults with ADHD with their impulse control issues and aversion to boredom are more likely to have problems with daydreaming than other folk. Just stick with it. You may miss the roar of the crowd in your mind, but you won't regret accomplishing more with your time.

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