Monday, October 15, 2012

The Shocking Truth about Daydreaming

Part One | Part Two

Adults with ADHD are renown for their tendencies to space out, but is your spacing out putting you in danger of being Spaceman Spiff in the workplace?

© Bill Watterson
I daydreamed while writing this article. Oh, I meant to just sit down and type pithy thoughts on daydreaming, but the next thing I knew somebody screamed outside and I thought, "Boy, will it be nice when that noisy family moves out this weekend." Then my downstairs neighbor appeared in my mind and said "I didn't know you guys were moving." And I stopped. What a rude thing to say! And she smiled while she said it! What a jerk. We go to church with them. They should behave better. Then a five minute alarm went off and I knew I had failed again.

Hello. My name is Douglas. I have a problem with daydreaming.

I've been training my mind to stop daydreaming recently, and I've had a lot of success. However, there are days when my mind is tired—like it is today—and thoughts leak out of my ears like multi-colored feathers carried away on warm, scented wind.

And for a moment, I wanted to lose myself in my own metaphor. That warm, scented wind is evocative. I'd like to imagine what it smells like, but then I might never finish this article.

Having a fertile imagination is a positive attribute for writers of fiction or political speeches, but fertile imaginations wreak havoc on jobs where attention needs to be paid to detail and consistency is demanded. Adults with ADHD who cannot keep their minds focused on task find themselves unemployed. Careless mistakes are the hallmark of the ADHD adult in the workplace. I found my last job had enough busy work, albeit mind-numbingly boring, to keep me from slipping away into thought, but when I came home to write I would lose valuable time. There was no boss over me to crack a whip. It is up to me to self-flaggelate.

I asked readers of this blog to answer the question "How often do you daydream?" A whopping 23 people took the time to click an answer. The other 275 per day were off saving the universe against spacegun weilding dinosaurs. 30% answered that they daydreamed non-stop (It's a problem). 52% answered that they daydreamed often (It's a lifestyle). 8% answered sometimes (It's normal). And 2 people (8%) answered "Who has time to daydream?" These are likely the same two people in everybody's high school class that got all their homework in daily and spent an awful lot of time pulling their pants back up when the teachers weren't looking.

The Four Stages of Daydreaming

Is daydreaming a bad habit? I've spent some time thinking about this. I've decided that yes, for me it is a bad habit. Daydreaming is one of the most colossal time wasters in my life. It may not hold a candle to the gargantuan amount of time I spend reading news, but it still interferes with my productivity. If I'm tired, I can spend an hour working a scenario out in my mind. Worst case scenarios…best case scenarios…revenge fantasies…success fantasies…other fantasies… When I am the main character in my own play, my ADHD mind just loves to dress me up and place me on the stage when I have other more important (i.e. boring) things to do. On one hand, daydreaming doesn't hurt anybody. On the other hand, daydreaming takes time away from dreams, goals, and aspirations: it hurts yourself.

After some consideration, I've come up with four stages of daydreaming:

Stage One is normal. Your attention drifts away. You are carried away in a train of thought and lose focus on what is around you. Then you come up with amazing new ideas or solutions, or you shake your head and get back to work. For the most part, everybody does this.

Stage Two is a dangerous. Like the famous philosopher, Calvin, you become wrapped up in the world of your own mind—a veritable Spaceman Spiff exploring vast alien landscapes. Time slips away from you, but you are very entertained. Some writers mistake this stage for creative thinking, but if it involves themselves in the scenario, it is usually just wish fulfillment in their own self-indulgent fantasy. The reason this stage is dangerous is because of the amount of time doing it. An hour of your life spent in La La Land could be problematic for deadlines, work, and relationships.

Stage Three is a serious problem where your daydreaming is so deep that you experience physiological changes in your body. Lust, hate, anger, exhilaration… Your heart races, you actually feel emotions. Your mind is temporarily tricked into a new reality. You don't lose time as much as you load it into a rocket and shoot it at the sun. Drifting into Stage Three on the job will cause you to make errors. It will detach you from the tasks you need to focus on. If done at home, you could spend more time daydreaming than actually interacting with people. The feelings in this reality can seem much more intense and compelling than real life, but nothing is more real than real life.

Stage Four is the realm of the mentally unstable, where you confuse fantasy with reality. Imagine how disorientated you are when you momentary awake from a dream in the morning. Now imagine this as a constant waking state. Fortunately, most of us never get here.

If you spend any amount of time in stages two or three, then you might have a problem that needs mastering. Daydreaming to an extreme can cause us to lose touch with our responsibilities, but we receive mixed messages about it from professionals. Many psychologists, for example, will tell you that fantasizing while having sex is normal. They encourage it even. But when you spend precious time imagining you are with somebody else, you are missing out on the opportunity to bond with the person you are with. It's not harmless; it's selfish and destructive. Is giving into your selfish desires really good advice?

So prevalent is the daydreaming problem in my own life that I spent the last few weeks thinking about this subject. I've broken the article down into two parts. Today, think about these stages of daydreaming and where you fit in them. If you are tired of wasting time, maybe you should disregard the advice of pop psychology pundits and think about what you need to do to haul your mind back to Stage One. Especially for adults with ADHD, daydreaming is too easy to abuse. Tomorrow I will cover four simple steps to help you take control of this bad habit.

In the meantime, I will waste my book writing time by daydreaming about how wonderful things will be for me when I publish my book.

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