The following tips have helped me curb maladaptive daydreaming, or at least the most heinous instances where MD is the primary activity of focus. For example, I’ve completely gotten rid of moments where I’m listening to music and pacing around the room while daydreaming. However, I should stress that one isn’t going to get rid of MD completely. As I said in my earlier post, it’s really a manifestation of near-unconscious thoughts, such as the strong anxieties around one’s social standing or a strong limerence/obsession with a fantasy. To “re-wire” your thinking or to stop thinking about an obsession are more daunting challenges, and by “curbing MD” I’m just talking about getting rid of the egregious indulgences where one is undeniably wasting time and going into a daydream trance while barely being aware of it.
Having said that, the following advice will actually help re-wire your thinking and rid yourself of the unconscious processes driving MD as well. But, that will be slower, less deliberate, and so require patience. For example, I still catch myself daydreaming even without music when I’m on a walk, or a run, or waiting in line somewhere, or pacing back and forth while resting between sets. You can still catch yourself amidst these moments and shortcircuit the process, much in the same way you become aware in meditation, but it will still happen.
Just get rid of music
For me, high-tempo and very upbeat music (usually dance music of some kind) was the main trigger and backdrop for my MD. So, I just decided to stop listening to these kinds of music at all times in my life. The only music I allow in my life now is the classical channel on the radio while driving or lofi/chill beats, ambient jazz, or bossa nova (at very low volumes). In other words, music which will not trigger MD. Actually, my association of this particular kind of music and MD is so strong that it actually worked to my favor, because it makes daydreaming with any other kind of music or silence much less appealing. To many, this advice is hard to hear because they really enjoy music and want to believe that somehow it’s possible to disentangle music from MD. I too loved listening to upbeat music, especially while exercising. It literally changes the entire atmosphere of whatever I’m doing. It can make me run longer and harder, lift more weight, and motivate me like nothing else can (and I’ve tried stimulants). Sometimes, it’s almost as if I can feel the aural dopamine surging through me as the song hits just the right moments, and I am very prone to getting goosebumps in dramatic moments. It’s actually quite a strong drug for me and many others. There are many reasons outside of MD why I would encourage less music listening in general and less “putting on music as background noise in your day to day life”, as I think it poses a unique harm in your conception of self, but this is the subject of a future post.
Stop keeping track of what others are doing, or get rid of triggers for your anxiety
This will almost always mean spending less time on the internet. I never really noticed it for many years, but my MD often came about in response to a heightened moment of anxiety. For example, if I was on the internet and found out that one of my peers won a prestigious award or was hired for some nice job, then I would become jealous and anxious about my own future, and would resort to MD. If reading something online triggered in me insecurities about my appearance, or romantic woes, or my incompetence in some social regard, then I would resort to MD. Even merely reading certain kinds of news, or discussions about certain subject matters among anonymous nobodies on the internet could trigger anxiety, and then MD. You may see that the common theme is the internet. So, I just decided to get rid of all social media, all “recommendation feeds” (e.g., anything fed to you by a recommendation engine which is usually the front page of any major social media website), and all instances of “snooping/stalking around on the internet to find out information about other people”. I even made it a rule to never google the names of other people, unless it is for a very specific query. Also, it goes without saying that I stopped reading all forms of news. This has led to an enormous boost in my well-being and a new found calmness that did not exist before. And this advice is also quite difficult to hear for many terminally online “information/consumption”-addicts because it tackles issues that go above and beyond MD, but it really has made a difference for me.
There are many objections that could come up in response to this. One might say that this is a very escapist tactic and is kind of like running away from the world to avoid feeling insecure or anxious. I’d respond that perpetual engagement with all the internet, constantly being anxious and bedridden with worry, and becoming so easily emotionally undulated by the most frivolous of things you read and see are what is escapist. I understand that some of the goals of mindfulness and shadow work are to confront your darker feelings, and not be afraid to embrace their reality. I have no confusion about this: I am not in denial of any of these anxieties or how obsessed I am with comparing myself to other people. There’s a parable or saying about drinking wine mindfully, and so really noticing the stupor of drunkenness, and then electing to getting rid of the drinking once you become fully aware of what kind of effect it has on your body. I’m doing the exact same thing.
One might also argue that it’s possible to curate your internet experience as to be wholesome or to only read about things which do not instill anxiety and insecurity. That’s great if it’s possible, but I’ve never been able to do this and don’t have any desire to.
One might also argue that it’s good to keep abreast of what others are doing and read the news, because it is the worldly thing to do. Even independent of anxiety or maladaptive daydreaming, I’d still completely disagree and will write a future post about this. I shouldn’t really have to say too much though. There is great recognition in our culture nowadays that social media and the internet have outsized negative effects on mental well-being.
Note that I still talk to people in real life, and I don’t forcefully restrict subjects of conversation to shield myself from anxiety or triggers, as that would make conversation awkward. I find that talking to people in real life is actually the best way to “keep abreast of their lives” or find out about the news. Snooping around on the internet to find out about other people’s lives without their consent is at this point just creepy and perverted to me.
It’s almost cliche advice at this point if you’re already familiar with the wellness/self-improvement space, but it really does work. The typical fantasies, anxieties, and worries about the future that arise in MD will also arise in meditation. It’s the best time and place to practice becoming aware of these things, without indulging in them.
Shadow work and journaling
While meditation is good for becoming aware that you’re MD-ing at all, shadow work and journaling are what I find most helpful for actually dissecting the reasons I MD and what uncovering what underlying malfunctions give rise to these phenomena. All the understanding in what I wrote about success anxiety and how MD works for me in the previous post came about from shadow work. You have to be careful with shadow work, because if you have an overactive mind (which often MD-ers do), it’s very easy to fall into the trap of over-psychoanalyzing and over-medicalizing yourself. I used to do this myself. It’s best to avoid doing shadow work in a very emotional or stressful time, and you need to find a time where you’ll be calm, measured, and non-judgmental. I find that using simple shadow work prompts/questions, or bulleting simple and short sentences (such as early memories of when I would MD, or when I would feel anxious about something) work best. What has never worked well is just free-form writing paragraph after paragraph which is very unstructured and quickly devolves into emotional rambling.
Being guided by another person (such as a therapist) can also help protect against this trap. However, I have no experience with therapy and am admittedly very privileged to have never needed to. But, it’s worth trying if you find it very daunting.
Become more interested in life and doing things in general
Although my MD was mostly a cope for anxiety, there was also a degree of boredom and restlessness which often triggered it. The antidote to this is to just have a fulfilling and interesting life that you look forward to participating in, thus decreasing the “need” and allure of MD.
I found that, as I’ve taken my life much more seriously throughout the past year, and just become more invested in things like doing my job well, fitness, health/diet, cooking, refining my computer setup, learning other languages, reading books, etc., I have just become less and less motivated to MD at all. Note that I am expressly not promoting hustling to becoming as productive as possible, or becoming a fastidious and obedient worker drone, or optimizing your time schedule to squeeze every minute of output. I’m against all these aspects of self-improvement culture (again, a subject for another post), and instead encourage you to select for yourself what should be the serious and fulfilling parts of your life. I sincerely hope it is not internet browsing and consuming content though, as per the above advice.