Most of us have certain triggers that will throw us straight into a daydream without giving us time to decide whether we want to or not. If you want to have more control over your daydreams, or you want to cut down on the amount of time you spend daydreaming, you might be wondering whether you need to limit your exposure to some of these triggers. But unfortunately it’s rarely as simple as that. Let’s have a look at some of the things that might trigger your daydreaming.
No discussion of the triggers involved in maladaptive daydreaming would be complete without mentioning music. Music is such a common trigger that it appears twice on the MDS-16. Unfortunately, I can’t discuss music in detail here because it simply isn’t a trigger for me. In fact, it’s almost the opposite. If I’m having difficulty pulling myself out of a daydream, I’ll sometimes use music to help. I have a list of songs that I like to sing along to, and having to concentrate on the lyrics generally dissolves the daydream. However, I know I’m in a minority here, and that music is a very important trigger for many daydreamers.
So what are the triggers that I’m more familiar with:
Boredom is the big one for me. My mind hates having nothing to do, and there are many tasks I do every day – taking a shower, doing laundry, cleaning – that simply don’t hold my attention. Over the years, I’ve learned to do these things fairly well while simultaneously daydreaming. Although this seems fairly harmless because I’m getting things done, I suspect I’m still missing out. Normative daydreamers tend to engage in mind-wandering while doing these things, and it’s while mind wandering that we often come up with creative solutions to life’s problems.
I’ve always daydreamed before falling asleep. As soon as I turn out the light, it’s time to check in with my daydream world. For me, it’s a relaxing and fun way to end the day, but many daydreamers find that daydreaming at night keeps them awake. The point is that, for me, daydreaming at that time of day has become a habit. Turning out the light is now a trigger for me purely because my mind has associated that action with the beginning of daydreaming time.
Sometimes I’ll be watching TV, reading a book, or even just talking to a friend and suddenly something will happen that I realise I could use in my daydream. It might be an issue I’d like to explore – perhaps the plot of a TV show didn’t go the way I expected, leaving me wondering “what if…” – or it could be a phrase that catches my attention or something about the way two people relate to each other. Basically if it reminds me of something in my daydream world, I immediately have an urge to play it out there and see how well it fits.
If real-life isn’t going well, or if something upsetting has happened, I’ll use daydreaming as a way of avoiding it. This is really about wanting to be happy. I’m happy when I’m in my daydream world. So on those occasions when I’m not happy in the real world, there’s a strong urge to swap real life for fantasy.
This is the opposite of the boredom trigger. I’m a chronic procrastinator, particularly when it comes to anything that’s going to involve sustained mental effort or intense concentration. I have difficulty summoning up the energy to get started. And one of the ways I avoid getting started is by daydreaming. I tell myself that I’ll just take five minutes… but we all know where that ends up!
The daydream itself
Sometimes daydreaming can feed on itself. If I get interrupted during a daydream, if I have to leave a scene unfinished, then I have an urge to return to it as soon as I can. Similarly, if I have one of those annoying scenes that I’ve tried from every angle and it still doesn’t feel right, or if I’ve just discovered a gaping hole in my plot, it’s hard to be fully present in real life until I’ve fixed it.
When certain actions or states trigger an addictive behaviour, it’s logical to think that removing or avoiding the trigger will make it easier to reduce the behaviour. But the problem with daydreaming is that it exists entirely within our own minds. And if you’re like me, and most of your triggers exist in your head too, it’s not that easy to get rid of them. It’s not realistic to eliminate boredom. Inspiration strikes when I least expect it. And I don’t suppose I’ll ever stop procrastinating. So perhaps with daydreaming, a more helpful approach is to focus not on removing the trigger but on changing your response to it. Learning to experience the trigger without immediately starting to daydream. And since the daydream is only ever a thought away, that’s not an easy thing to do.