Does Idleness Breed Maladaptive Daydreaming?Last Updated:
One of the most rewarding benefits of putting together this site is getting to hear from those who have maladaptive daydreaming and their own theories as to what causes it.
While I'm quite confident that anyone can learn to be able to get rid of their maladaptive daydreaming - using some of the techniques and tricks I talk about in my book - it's much more difficult to know how exactly maladaptive daydreaming develops to begin with and what causes it to ebb or flow over one's lifetime.
One thing I've been thinking about much more over recent months is just how connected maladaptive daydreaming is to being idle. This is so much on my mind that I've considered even adding it as a question to the maladaptive daydreaming test.
Why Idleness is Connected to Maladaptive Daydreaming
I've increasingly come to the belief that you can divide all people - regardless of race, country or birth, religion, etc. - into two broad categories: those who are fundamentally creative and those that are not.
Neither group is superior or inferior than the other. Rather, creative people tend to spend much more time in their head and find little satisfaction in doing things that are rote or routine. What creative people need is constant intellectual - and occasionally physical - stimulation whether that comes through writing, programming, making videos, or thinking about problems.
This is certainly true of me. I find when I am not engaged in things that are creative and have some level of autonomy then I find myself in a much worse mood and prone to depressive spells.
This rough theory of mine was sparked again several weeks ago when I saw the excellent video put together titled, "Why passivity breeds mediocrity and mental illness" which I highly recommend.
The opening paragraph really struck with me:
"This is one of the most urgent problems for civilized man. He has created civilization to give himself security. Security for what? For boredom? His chief problem seems to be that most human beings need a certain amount of challenge, of external stimulus, to stop them from sinking into the blank stare and blank consciousness of the idiot."
Colin Wilson, New Pathways in Psychology (1972)
The phrasing of this quote is a bit harsh and likely doesn't fully apply to maladaptive daydreamers.
Because the reality is that maladaptive daydreamers don't sink into the blank stare or blank consciousness of the idiot. Instead they engage in the hyper-creative process of building an alternative world that they retreat into: their maladaptive daydreams.
The Need for Stimulus
I think most maladaptive daydreamers - myself included - are in deep need to be constantly stimulated. Now this stimulus can't be a negative - like being harassed or being in a toxic work or school environment - as that will make one prone to enter back into their maladaptive daydreams as a coping mechanism.
However, if the stimulus is positive - like some new creative endeavour - then I think it can absolutely help to dampen the tendency to enter back into a maladaptive state.
I think the reality is that many folks who engage in maladaptive daydreaming are bored for long periods of the day. While others may be comfortable with that boredom, or at least enter into a blank stare when it occurs, maladaptive daydreamers feel the need to fill every void of "down time" with their own dreaming to keep stimulated.
Now the question becomes: what kind of stimulus can you enter into your life to perhaps dampen down the desire to maladaptive daydream (while using other techniques to stop them)?
This can be harder said than done. Chances are you have no real passion in your life you always think about. That's certainly true of my experience. I've often been deeply jealous of people who from a young age develop some deep passion in sports or a type of career or type of academic discipline.
I think the best way to introduce stimulus into your life is to read very thought provoking, very vivid fiction books.
The reason why is that reading, unlike watching, is not a passive activity. If you're really engaging with the text it's impossible to have anything else occupy your mind and if you read a vivid book, chances are you'll be still thinking about it even after you stop reading.
I've never really been a fan of fiction novels, because I've always been focused on school or work in my young career. However, I've begun to force myself to read more fiction. Now I find myself thinking about what I've read and this kind of blocks out any desire to engage in maladaptive daydreaming.
I'm not saying that boredom or lack of stimulus is the only reason most people engage in maladaptive daydreaming. As I've said many times before, my primary theory is that it stems from traumatic experiences or a life going the wrong way from the way you wish it would.
However, I think boredom, idleness, and passivity all play a role in promoting maladaptive daydreaming.
I think the best way to live life - if you identify as having a more creative personality - is to try to always be stimulated in some way. To try to always put yourself in a position where you can do something creative. This could be making music, making videos, writing, studying, working out, or developing a skill.
If you're like me, you may only ever want to do things that are "productive". Part of the reason why I never contemplated reading fiction is that it didn't seem to serve any kind of purpose; it wasn't going to further my life at all.
Try to reframe "productivity" in your mind as being content. After all, the sole aim of your life should be to productively feel your life is worth living and chances are, if you're heavily engaged in maladaptive daydreaming, you don't think that's the case.
As always, be sure to leave a comment or say hello. If you haven't already taken the maladaptive daydreaming test, be sure to do so and feel free to also pick up my book on stopping maladaptive daydreaming.
Good luck and stay stimulated!