Maladaptive Daydreaming and Procrastination

There’s no doubt that maladaptive daydreams are, at some level, a form of procrastination; something that people engage in to escape the realities of their life or specific tasks they have to do. And there’s also no doubt that classic procrastination avoidance techniques – like setting a timer and committing to doing work during that period of time – can help reduce down one’s maladaptive daydreaming (or at least corral when one’s maladaptive daydreams occur).

However, it’s far too glib to simply call maladaptive daydreams yet another form of procrastination. From what I’ve observed, maladaptive daydreaming often arises out of some form of procrastination – in other words, it’s something that people engage in to avoid doing something or confronting some reality about their real life.

But, over time, maladaptive daydreams don’t just become something that people engage in as a form of procrastination. Rather, they become a somewhat unavoidable part of one’s life and begin to interfere during times when one has no desire to procrastinate at all. And this is where the real impact of maladaptive daydreams comes in, and this is why classic procrastination avoidance techniques are worth trying, and may move the needle a bit, but are unlikely to rid one of their maladaptive daydreams.

Since there’s a lot of confusion about the linkage (or lack thereof) between maladaptive daydreaming and procrastination, below is a list of some of the things that separate maladaptive daydreams from your garden variety forms of procrastination (these all intersect to varying degrees with the longer list laid out in the maladaptive daydreaming tests).

Maladaptive Daydreams Are Entirely Internal

Most forms of procrastination involve some kind of outside stimulus; whether that’s looking at your phone, playing video games, listening to music, or talking to someone. In other words, what makes the procrastination occur is an outside stimulus distracting you from your internal thoughts.

However, the unique nature of maladaptive daydreams is that the “distraction” that’s keeping you from doing what you need to do is being entirely internally generated – not only that, but most maladaptive daydreamers keep their maladaptive daydreams as closely guarded secrets (never telling anyone else what daydreams they’re having or that they engage in them).

Put another way: for most their desire to procrastinate will lead them to picking up their phone, going on YouTube, etc. Whereas with maladaptive daydreamers the order is reversed: the desire to maladaptive daydream leads to the procrastination (not getting what you need to get done). This is a wholesale difference, and also explains why stopping maladaptive daydreaming is a bit harder than other things that people glob onto when they want to procrastinate (since you can block YouTube, or lock your phone in a drawer, but you can’t turn off your mind).

Maladaptive Daydreams Occur Even When There’s no Desire to Procrastinate

One of the telltale signs of maladaptive daydreams is that they occur even when there’s no reason for them – they’re kind of like water that just fills in the cracks of one’s life. So, for example, those that have engaged in maladaptive daydreaming for years will often find they fall asleep maladaptive daydreaming and then begin engaging in maladaptive daydreaming shortly after waking up.

Put another way: maladaptive daydreams happen to be what maladaptive daydreamers choose to engage in when they’re trying to procrastinate – they’re just the most suitable tool for the job, but rarely does a maladaptive daydreamer only engage in maladaptive daydreams when they’re trying to procrastinate. Instead, maladaptive daydreams tend to be the background noise to one’s life – some days for several hours out of the day, some days for much more than that.

Maladaptive Daydreams Involve Scripts

One of the oddities about maladaptive daydreams (and there are many!) is that when one takes a step back one’s daydreams often seem boring: because for most maladaptive daydreamers they’ll go through the same type of daydream over and over again, often changing up only subtle elements along the way.

This stands in contrast to most forms of procrastination where one is always looking for some kind of novel stimulus. But maladaptive daydreams are the equivalent of trying to distract yourself through watching the same episode of the same show over and over and over again. There are many potential reasons why this is the case, but one of them is that it’s a bit easier on the mind to keep going through the same kinds of scripts, with the same kinds of characters involved, as opposed to trying to generate new daydreams over and over again.

Maladaptive Daydreams Involve the Self

I’ve talked before about the different types of maladaptive daydreams that exist, but most revolve around oneself as the main character (this may be an idealized version of oneself or someone who looks entirely different but has aspirational characteristics).

Once again, this stands in contrast to most forms of procrastination. Because most chronic procrastinators will engage in activities that remove the need to think about themselves in any context because to do so would generate pangs of guilt about all the procrastinating they’re doing. This is why the most common forms of procrastination involve scrolling social media, watching shows online, playing video games, etc.


There’s a natural linkage between procrastination and maladaptive daydreaming, and it’s true that for many people procrastination is the gateway to more intrusive maladaptive daydreams. However, the reason why many struggle with their maladaptive daydreams is because they default toward thinking that they are simply another form of procrastination, and that the best way to tackle them is through classic procrastination avoidance techniques.

However, this ignores the uniqueness of maladaptive daydreams relative to most other types of behavior that people engage in when trying to procrastinate. In fact, this is why I’ve often said that when one’s trying to overcome their maladaptive daydreams it’s not a bad idea to substitute maladaptive daydreams for another unproductive type of activity that keeps one actively engaged (i.e., playing video games).

Because the biggest issue that maladaptive daydreams cause (at least in the experience of many) is that they seem to never be far from the front of your mind. And having them run in the background of one’s mind, even when one is trying to focus on something else and isn’t trying to procrastinate, can lead to frustrated, muddled thinking. This is why many maladaptive daydreamers often comment that they have felt like they have perpetual brain fog, and that this brain fog is lifted shortly after overcoming their maladaptive daydreams.

But, as I’ve repeated many times before, the first step involved in stopping maladaptive daydreams is recognizing what they’re unique attributes are, and only then beginning the process of disentangling them from your mind.

As always, I hope this post (and all the others I’ve done over the years) is a bit helpful. I wish you the best of luck on your journey.

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