A study published earlier this year reported successfully treating maladaptive daydreaming with a combination of psychoeducation, motivation enhancement, mindfulness and self-monitoring. Although the full treatment programme is not yet publicly available, mindfulness and self-monitoring are things that any maladaptive daydreamer can do for themselves to begin to get control over their daydreaming. I’ve written about mindfulness before. But what exactly is self-monitoring? And how does it help in the treatment of maladaptive daydreaming?
Self-monitoring is very simple. All you do is record your daydreaming activities each day. Over time, you build up a picture of how much you’re daydreaming and how it’s affecting your life. So, how does having this clear picture help you take control of your maladaptive daydreaming?
It increases your motivation to change
When we see our daydreaming one day at a time, it’s easy to tell ourselves that tomorrow we won’t daydream, tomorrow we’ll be productive. But when you record your daydreaming activities every day, it’s easier to see that tomorrow never comes. Losing a few hours today doesn’t seem like a problem, because you think you can get that time back tomorrow. But when you realise how many hours you’ve spent daydreaming this week, or this month, it’s easier to see that you can’t get that time back.
It makes you aware of your triggers
Music is a trigger for many daydreamers, but what prompts you to start listening to music? Why can you sometimes resist the urge to daydream, and yet give in to it at other times? Are there certain times of day when you’re more likely to daydream? Do you daydream more after being around certain people? These questions become easier to answer when you’re monitoring your daydreaming.
It helps you track your progress
Anyone who has tried to overcome maladaptive daydreaming will know it’s not as easy as just deciding to stop. Healing from maladaptive daydreaming is a gradual process of balancing daydreaming and real life. And for most people that means gradually reducing the amount of time they spend daydreaming. Self-monitoring means you can set yourself targets for the amount of time you want to spend daydreaming and, more importantly, see whether you’re meeting those targets.
It helps you move past a relapse
Overcoming maladaptive daydreaming is not a linear process. You’ll have good days and bad days. And on the bad days, it might feel as though you’ll never be able to control your daydreaming. But if you can look back at your self-monitoring forms and see that you’re making real progress, it’s much easier to put that bad day into context. You can accept it for what it is – one bad day. You don’t let it derail your whole recovery.
Self-monitoring can even reduce your daydreaming
But the best thing about self-monitoring is that the research shows it can reduce maladaptive daydreaming in some people. Just recording your daydreaming habits, without making any effort to control your daydreaming, can actually help you daydream less.
Why this happens isn’t clear. One possibility is that as you become more aware of when and why you daydream, you automatically come up with strategies that will help you stay in reality. Another possibility is that knowing you’re going to record your daydreaming session on your self-monitoring form gives you that little bit more motivation to resist the urge to daydream. Or perhaps you find setting yourself a measurable numerical target very motivating.
How do you get started?
I’ve created a sample self-monitoring form, which you can download below. It’s a Word document, which makes it easy to customise in whatever way you personally find most helpful. Experiment with different formats and see what works for you. The main thing is to keep it simple. Self-monitoring works best if you do it every day, so you don’t want it to be too time-consuming. Set aside a regular time every day, for example just before you go to bed, to complete your self-monitoring form. You can also use this time to review the progress you’re making.
One thing I don’t recommend including on your form is what you were daydreaming about. A lot of us feel very resistant to writing down the content of our daydreams, and I don’t want you to put anything on your form that might discourage you from filling it in. What you daydream about doesn’t determine whether your daydreaming is immersive or maladaptive. So in most cases, recording the content of your daydreams won’t help you understand whether you’re making progress in overcoming your maladaptive daydreaming.
Finally, don’t worry if you don’t notice a reduction in your daydreaming from self-monitoring alone. It works for some people, but not for everyone. If you’re one of the people it doesn’t work for, that’s OK. Self-monitoring will still help you become aware of your daydreaming patterns and triggers. And that’s useful information that will help you in your efforts to bring your maladaptive daydreaming under control.