Here in the UK, it’s approaching that time of year when many students will be taking exams. Studying, and in particular revising for exams, is something many immersive and maladaptive daydreamers struggle with. So here are some simple tips on how to study without being distracted by your daydreaming.
Choose the right environment
Pay attention to where you study. A public place such as a library or coffee shop can be a good choice for many maladaptive daydreamers. Most of us find it hard or impossible to daydream when there are other people around, so being in a public place can help you stay focussed.
If studying in public doesn’t work for you, try having one specific place where you study. Designate a desk or table as your study space and try not to use it for anything else. And when you sit down to study, make a routine out of it – put your books out, make yourself a hot drink, and turn your phone off if you don’t need to use it. The routine will put you in the right mindset for studying. And if you do find yourself daydreaming, get up and move away from your study space. Go into a different room, take a few deep breaths and ground yourself. Only return to your study space when you’re fully back in reality. With practice, your mind will come to associate your study space with studying and you’ll be less tempted to daydream while you’re sitting there.
Ask for help
Do you have a classmate who could study with you? You could work through practice questions together, or test each other on facts you need to memorise. Actively studying with another person will keep you focussed.
If that’s not an option, ask someone to check on you at regular intervals to make sure you haven’t got distracted. It doesn’t have to be in person; you could ask a friend to phone you at a certain time to see how you’re getting on. If you know someone is holding you accountable, you’ll be more motivated to get something done.
Plan each study session
If you sit down in your study space without a clear idea of what you’re going to do, you’re more likely to get distracted. Even deciding that you’re going to spend, say, an hour on a particular subject isn’t enough. You need to decide in advance exactly what you’re going to read, or which questions you’re going to answer. Make sure you know how you’ll get started, and, just as importantly, have a defined end point. The end point could be a time or an outcome. For example, you might say, I’m going to stay focussed until 4:00pm or I’m going to read pages 46-51 and answer the questions on page 52. By giving yourself an end point, you can finish the study session feeling proud of yourself for achieving your objective. That will put you in a better place mentally than if you study until you’re too tired, bored or hungry to do any more.
Remember, this isn’t forever
If you have exams coming up, then you have a deadline. You don’t have to stay this focussed forever. You just need to get through the next few weeks. And that means you can consider strategies you wouldn’t accept as part of a permanent solution. If your daydreaming is triggered by music, delete your playlists. You can recreate them again when your exams are over. If you daydream about characters from your favourite TV show, don’t watch that show until after your exams. If you’re stalking your celebrity crush on social media, unfollow them just for the next few weeks. You get the idea.
Be kind to yourself
By setting a defined end point for each study session, you’ll be able to congratulate yourself on what you’ve achieved, and you can use anything you didn’t achieve as part of the plan for your next study session. But even if you got distracted after ten minutes, be proud of the fact that you started at all. Celebrate what you did do, rather than focussing on what you didn’t do.
And finally, keep things in perspective. It’s normal to find studying hard. It’s normal to get distracted. Being a daydreamer doesn’t make you a worse student than anyone else. Everyone procrastinates. Just because your classmates don’t daydream doesn’t mean they’re spending all that time studying. They’re not. They’re zoning out in front of Netflix, or they’re scrolling mindlessly through Instagram. See your daydreaming as just another distraction rather than as something that automatically makes you a bad student.
Because the truth is, you can be a daydreamer and be a good student. There are plenty of immersive and maladaptive daydreamers who have been very successful academically despite daydreaming. You just have to find study skills and routines that work for you. Next week, I’ll share some ways in which I used my daydreaming to help me become a better student.