If you’re an immersive or maladaptive daydreamer, your mind doesn’t work the same way as a non-daydreamer’s mind. It’s not just that you have stories bouncing around in your imagination. Being a daydreamer affects every aspect of how you experience the world – even when you’re not daydreaming. These are a few of the differences that I notice which I think are due to being a daydreamer.
I don’t mind-wander
Mind-wandering is that thing non-daydreamers do when their attention isn’t on the present moment. They sometimes refer to it as “daydreaming”. But it’s nothing like our daydreaming. In mind-wandering, your thoughts flit from topic to topic in a random, undirected way. Sometimes, you’re not even fully aware of what you’re thinking about. But it’s often during mind-wandering that your mind makes random connections, and you get those a-ha moments where you suddenly understand something, or at least see it in a different way.
Non-daydreamers spend up to half their waking hours mind-wandering. I do it a couple of times a week. It tends to happen during exercise. I find it hard to focus on a daydream when I’m pushing myself to the limit physically. And I believe that one of the reasons I’ve been able to stick to an exercise routine is because of the mental benefits I get from allowing my mind to roam free for that time.
I don’t worry or ruminate
Worrying is when you’re trapped in a negative thought spiral concerning possible future events. Rumination is when you’re trapped in negative thoughts about the past. Both have the potential to damage our mental health. But daydreaming gives us an alternative to worrying and rumination. Why dwell on the negatives of your real life when you can switch into your perfect imaginary life? That’s something I’ve done automatically for as long as I can remember. I didn’t realise how little time I spend worrying until my CBT therapist had to devote an entire session to explaining how it shows up for most people.
I can’t mentally pivot
When I think about a future event, I see all the details – where it will happen, who will be there, what they’ll be wearing, what the weather will be like…. And I don’t necessarily choose those details. They just come. And if it then becomes apparent that the event isn’t going to unfold exactly as I pictured it, I have to recreate the entire mental image. That’s a lot harder than it should be. It takes mental energy that sometimes I just don’t have. And I’ve recently realised that that in itself can stop me taking action. I sometimes avoid making definite plans because once I know it’s not going to turn out the way I imagined it, I have to go to all the effort of re-imagining it.
I can’t read fiction
When reading a novel, as soon as a new character is introduced, I get a clear mental image of them, just like I do with the characters I create in my daydreams. That mental image is there more or less instantly, and it’s very hard to shift. If the author adds some more details about the character a few pages later, and those happen to contradict my mental image, it’s jarring. Too jarring most of the time. It stops me enjoying the book, because I’m constantly having to adjust the way I’m visualising things.
Every single thought is a mental conversation
Every train of thought I have has to be directed at someone. I think in conversations. I might imagine I’m having a conversation with my husband, or my therapist, or one of my daydream characters. Who’s on the other end of the thought doesn’t matter, because they’re not talking back, but they have to be there. You know how some people say the best way to check you’ve understood something is to teach it to someone else? I take that idea to extremes. The only way I can get my thoughts in order, ever, is to imagine I’m explaining them to someone else.
These are just some of the ways that being a daydreamer affects me when I’m not daydreaming. It’s not intended to be an exhaustive list. And your list will be different. But the important point is that even when you’re not daydreaming, you’re not thinking the same way as a non-daydreamer. And you never will. Being a daydreamer is so much more than just the stories in your head. It’s how you think. It’s how you see the world. Your daydreaming mind is the mind you were born with. Whether you see it as a curse or a blessing is, to a large extent, up to you. But you do need to make peace with it, because it’s not going anywhere.