Filling the Maladaptive Daydreaming Void: Some ConsiderationsLast Updated:
Perhaps one of the most insidious parts of maladaptive daydreaming – especially for those that have engaged in it for months or years – is that it carves out such a large part of your day that it’s difficult to know, once you’ve stopped for a day or two, how exactly to fill that time.
And this inevitably leads to a subconscious desire to take the easy path out and just reengage in your maladaptive daydreaming – after all, if you have no good ideas for how to fill back in the majority, or perhaps all, the time you’re “saving” by not maladaptive daydreaming, then were the maladaptive daydreams ever so bad to engage in to begin with?
There’s some truth to this line of thinking. But it should be immediately dispelled because the only reason why you may not know exactly how to fill in this time void is because you’ve spent so long automatically diverting your free time towards maladaptive daydreaming. It’d be illogical to presume that you have a list of hobbies, activities, or interests brewing on the back-burner waiting to be engaged in or explored after stopping maladaptive daydreaming.
In stopping maladaptive daydreaming, many fall into the trap of wanting to replace their maladaptive daydreams with their most productivity-focused desires: finally getting down to writing a book, learning how to play guitar, or really buckling down on their studies or work. But, taken to an extreme, this is a mistake, and this post will discuss why.
Note: If you’re unsure if your daydreams really constitute maladaptive daydreams, then feel free to take the maladaptive daydreaming test to see how much those questions do (or do not) resonate with you.
The Need for Gradualism
This is where the real interference from maladaptive daydreaming comes in: it becomes the background music of your internal monologue – and the music playing is incredibly enticing, so you’re never fully present in any other activity.
Therefore, you want to fill the void left by your maladaptive daydreams with something at least modestly enticing. If you replace it with something you aspire to do – like finally reading Finnegans Wake or some equally thorny book – then you may find yourself, especially when you’re tired, giving in to your desire to engage in maladaptive daydreaming because your maladaptive daydreams are so much more enticing that reading a book that you know will have your eyes glazing over within a few pages.
So you shouldn’t replace your maladaptive daydreams with something aspirational – at least right away. That’s something you can gradually work towards over time. Instead, you should want to replace your maladaptive daydreams with things that are sufficiently enticing as to make you enjoy spending time on them but that (crucially) are unlikely to make you continue thinking about them much afterwards.
For example, in the past I’ve written that replacing your maladaptive daydreams with playing video games isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To many, they find this surprising since most want to stop maladaptive daydreaming because it’s a waste of time, and it’s difficult to really make the argument that playing video games isn’t a waste of time too.
But the crucial distinction is that video games (unless taken to an extreme) are a useful diversion that, upon finishing, are unlikely to lead to intrusive thoughts throughout the day. Whereas this is one of the biggest challenges with maladaptive daydreams: they never really go away, they tend to linger with you throughout the day.
Because as your maladaptive daydreams fade into the background you can pat yourself on the back and begin the process of gradually playing less video games and reading more books, doing more studying, or getting down to finally learning an instrument.
In other words, you don’t need to go from zero to one; you don’t need to replace something extremely unproductive (maladaptive daydreaming) with the most productive thing you can imagine. There can be intervening steps, and if there are it’ll require far less will power to keep gradually evolving how you spend your time toward more and more productive things.
My Personal Favorite Approach
Replacing maladaptive daydreaming with an engrossing activity – like playing a physical sport, playing a video game, watching a lecture series on YouTube, etc. – is extremely effective at filling the maladaptive daydreaming void when you’re at home.
However, if you’ve developed the issue that many maladaptive daydreamers have of daydreaming for a few minutes here or there throughout the day – when you’re in the car, when you’re taking a break at work, etc. – then it’s not immediately obvious how you can use these engrossing activities (i.e., playing a video game!) during these periods of time.
Here’s what you really want to do: figure out a way to divert your thinking, quickly and discretely, when you have some free time during the day that’d otherwise be occupied by your maladaptive daydreams. But you don’t want your thinking to be diverted to anything that’s going to take up too much of your time, or something that’ll otherwise lead to new maladaptive daydreams forming.
So here’s my personal favorite approach. over the past decade there’s been a proliferation of little books that collate the best quotes, quips, or aphorisms of famous writers or thinkers. These range from Mark Twain to Winston Churchill to Franz Kafka to Albert Einstein to countless more.
These little quote books are a fantastic thing to keep with you. Whenever you have some free time during the day or find yourself liable to enter into a maladaptive daydream, open up the book (either physically or on your phone) and read a quote or two and think about them for a few minutes.
The beauty of this approach is that it doesn’t matter what page you open up the book to, it doesn’t matter if you remembered the prior quotes you read, and it doesn’t even matter if you agree with the quotes (many people say things they themselves don’t really believe!).
However, no matter who’s book of quotes you end up getting there will be a common theme: all the quotes will be, at a minimum, short and interesting. So they should provoke just enough thinking – as you mull over whether you agree with the quote or not – to make you no longer interested in venturing into your maladaptive daydreams.
In the end, maladaptive daydreams have the same quality as water: they tend to fill any voids that exist. This means that maladaptive daydreams are liable to pop up not only when you have lots of spare time – such as when you’re getting ready for bed – but also when you really should be doing something else.
We’ve discussed many different ways to think about maladaptive daydreaming over the years, and we’ve discussed many different strategies and approaches to getting rid of them (including in my little book). However, it all comes back to trying to make sure your maladaptive daydreams aren’t overly enticing – and by replacing them with something mildly enticing, or at least mildly distracting, that’ll help break the habit.If you find yourself maladaptive daydreaming frequently through the day, then picking up a book of quotes from someone you personally find interesting is a fantastic way to do a little mental reset – instead of your mind wandering towards maladaptive daydreaming, it’ll get preoccupied thinking about the quote. Something not necessarily more productive, but something that won’t linger in the background or risk taking up too much of your time the way that maladaptive daydreams will.