How much time do you spend daydreaming? And how much is too much?

Some daydreamers spend many hours daydreaming every day. In fact, for some of us, daydreaming is our default state of thinking – we always have a daydream running in the background whenever our mind doesn’t need to be 100% focused on the present moment. But are you spending too much time daydreaming? And how much would be too much?

Daydreaming is only maladaptive if it “causes significant distress or impairs your social, academic, occupational, or other important areas of functioning”. There is no mention of time in that definition. If you enjoy daydreaming for six hours a day and are still able to hold down a fulfilling job, have a satisfying social life with real-life friends and generally look after yourself, then your daydreaming is not maladaptive. However, if your real life is so busy that you never have a moment to yourself, then spending even an hour a day in your daydream world might mean neglecting important real-world tasks.

So the level at which your daydreaming becomes “too much” is very personal to you. You need to consider honestly how you’re spending your time, how important your daydreaming is to you, what other things are more important and what things you’re happy to sacrifice to free up time for daydreaming.

I’m talking here about focused daydreaming, by which I mean daydreaming to the exclusion of everything else. You might be lying on your bed daydreaming, or you might be pacing or listening to music or doing some other activity that helps you to get into the daydream. But you aren’t multitasking in the sense of daydreaming while you take a shower or do housework. That type of multitasking daydreaming will be the topic of a future post. So for now, just consider the time you spend focused on daydreaming.

If you feel guilty about the amount of time you spend daydreaming, it’s likely to be because of what you’re not doing with that time. Is your house a mess because you’d rather daydream than tidy up? Are you constantly late for work because you daydream instead of getting out of bed when the alarm goes off? Do you let friendships slide because you’d rather daydream than spend time with your friends? If any of those things apply, then you’re probably daydreaming too much.

On the other hand, if you’re happy with both your real life and your daydream life and feel you have a good balance between the two, then you likely have your daydreaming under control and no matter how many hours you spend doing it, it’s probably OK. Plenty of people have hobbies that take up many hours of their time. I’ve found that I function better in the real world when I have a daily check-in with my daydream world. I need the boost of love and confidence that I get from daydreaming to get through the challenges of real life. So for me, the optimum amount of daydreaming time is definitely not zero.

If you need your daydreaming time, but haven’t yet found the right balance, here are a few tips I’ve found to be helpful:

  • Get the real-world stuff done first. Don’t tell yourself you’ll just have half-an-hour daydreaming and then you’ll get on with your chores – time flies when you’re in the daydream world and you won’t notice when your time is up. Even if you set a timer, you’ll probably be at a crucial point in the plot when it goes off and you’ll be tempted to just give yourself another few minutes. It’s better to use daydreaming as a reward after you’ve done whatever you need to do in the real world.
  • Do NOT start daydreaming the minute you wake up in the morning. This is one of my worst habits, and I don’t yet have any good suggestions for how to break it. When you’re still half asleep, it’s even harder to exercise any willpower about stopping when you intended.
  • If a certain level of daydreaming is important to you, acknowledge that and set time aside for it in your day. I make sure I go out for a walk every afternoon (I daydream better outside) and use that time to check in with my characters. I pick the route before I go out according to how much time I want to spend in the daydream.

Remember, there’s no time limit beyond which your daydreaming is automatically “too much”. There’s only “too much for you” or, more specifically, “too much for your real life”. If you think you’re daydreaming too much, if you want to cut down but you’re finding it hard, or if your daydreaming is stopping you from getting important real-life tasks done, then your daydreaming may be maladaptive and “too much”. But if you’re achieving everything you want to in your real life, there’s no reason you shouldn’t spend your free time however you choose – including daydreaming.

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