3 simple hacks to turn your daydreaming into a healthy habit

For most of us, excessive daydreaming started out as a coping mechanism. A coping mechanism is any strategy our mind uses to protect us from psychological harm. In the beginning we were doing what we needed to do to protect ourselves. Excessive daydreaming often begins in childhood, when many of the psychological stressors we were exposed to were outside our control. But as we got older, our daydreaming became a habit that prevented us from fully living our real lives.

Daydreaming may not appear, on the surface, to be as unhealthy as some of the other coping mechanisms people turn to when they’re under stress. Daydreaming doesn’t damage our physical health; it doesn’t harm our bank balance, and it doesn’t usually carry much risk of embarrassing us in public. But it also doesn’t solve the problems we’re running away from. In general, any coping mechanism that seeks to avoid the problem rather than working to solve it is not healthy. But there are ways to adjust our daydreaming so that it moves away from being an unhealthy coping mechanism, towards a soothing form of self-care.

Limit the amount of time you spend daydreaming

Needing to daydream to escape the discomfort of an unresolved real-life problem is not healthy. But choosing to spend some time in your other world as your treat to yourself at the end of a long day is no different from enjoying a movie or a good book. If you’re in control of when and for how long you daydream, and if you can look honestly at your life and acknowledge any problems that need to be addressed, then you’re not using your daydreaming as a coping mechanism and you don’t need to worry about the occasional indulgence. If, however, you feel you have to daydream to escape the pain, that’s likely a sign that you are using your daydreaming in an unhealthy way.

Use your daydreaming to address your problems

If something in real life is bothering you and you don’t know what to do about it, you could try asking your characters for advice. When you haven’t been able to solve a problem on your own, it may seem strange to ask for help from people that only exist in your mind, but I’ve found it can be surprisingly helpful. Talking to your characters can help you see the situation from a different perspective. They can offer you comfort and support. And, if you appear in your daydreams as an idealised version of yourself, you can also tap into what that stronger, more confident you would do.

Building a realistic vision of a better future

You can also use your daydreaming skills to create a positive, but realistic, vision of how you would like your life to be in the future, when your problem is solved. By realistic, I mean only include in your vision the people and places that are part of your real life. Your celebrity crush can’t appear unless you know them in real life. The same goes for anyone who left your real life a long time ago but might still be hanging around in your daydreams. Keep it real. With what you have and from where you are now, how would you realistically like things to be? What is the best outcome you can hope for in the situation you’re in? Focus on the details, build a vision of the life you would like to aim for. That vision can become your goal, and you can then ask your future self what first step you took to make that goal a reality. Being able to visualise the goal is critical to achieving anything in life, and it’s something we daydreamers are particularly good at.

When life throws problems in our path, it’s essential that we look after ourselves so that we are in the optimum state to face our difficulties head-on. Daydreaming in a gentle healthy way, allowing our characters to support and encourage us, and keeping a positive future vision in mind, can help us navigate life’s challenges with the minimum of stress. Daydreaming can help us tap into the best version of ourselves, and can help to reassure us that whatever storms we’re currently facing won’t last forever.  

How to be as awesome in real life as you are in your daydreams

I’ve written before about why it can be hard for daydreamers to set goals. But despite that, we all have things we want to achieve, whether that’s getting a promotion, buying a bigger house or just finding the courage to join the local choir. And the good news is that you can use the talents you have as a daydreamer to bring you closer to your real-life goals. There are three steps that can help you super-charge your confidence and ensure that the things you want in real life can finally be within your reach.

Energy

I’ve just spent five days participating in the Tony Robbins Ultimate Breakthrough 2022 challenge. If you’ve ever watched Tony Robbins in action, you’ll know he’s all about energy. And with good reason. When you’re energised, you feel motivated, enthusiastic, ambitious. Going after your goals feels easy and natural. If you try to make progress on your goals when you’re feeling depressed or tired, it’s going to feel like climbing a mountain with a heavy load on your back. You’ll give up before you’ve made any real progress. So, it’s important to raise your energy. Tony Robbins gets people up on their feet dancing and shouting, which is a powerful way to boost your energy. But we have another equally powerful tool at our disposal – our daydreams. Do you have one scene in your plot where you feel unstoppable? The moment you save the world with seconds to spare, or when you walk up on stage and kiss your celebrity crush in front of thousands of people? You can use that scene to change your energy. Daydream just that moment. Feel the power; feel the energy; know, without a shadow of doubt, that you can do anything. Then bring all that fire, positivity and confidence back into your real life and immediately take the next step towards your goal.

Encouragement

It’s so much harder to do anything in life if we’re doing it on our own. We all need a little encouragement from someone who believes in us. But some of us have hidden from the world and played small for so long that not only have we lost faith in our ability to achieve anything, but those around us have lost faith in us too. They don’t encourage us to push ourselves, because they’ve seen how much we beat ourselves up when we fail. But our characters believe in us. Even if your daydreams tend to be action oriented, as mine are, there’s probably still a love interest in there somewhere who absolutely adores you. Or maybe you have a mentor character or a best friend. Bring that person out of your daydreams and imagine they’re sitting in front of you right now. Explain to them what your goal is and why you want it. They believe in you and your abilities, and your happiness is crucial to their very existence, so you can count on them to support you no matter what. Let their encouragement push you forward until you’re able to believe in yourself.

Experience

If you’ve ever come across Mary Morrissey, you’ll have heard her say that everything is created twice. Before anything can be created in real life, it first has to exist in the mind of the person creating it. An important part of reaching any goal is being clear about what the goal is and why you want it. And the best way to do that is to imagine yourself, six months or a year from now, having achieved it. We daydreamers are great at imagining. We can actually step into that future. We can sense every detail – what our life looks like, who we share it with, what the people around us are saying and, most importantly, how it feels. We can experience the positive emotions that we will feel when we’ve achieved our goal. Because it’s those emotions that will push us forwards. Once we’ve experienced just how great our future could be, we’ll naturally want to move towards it. It may become easier to take action than to not take action.

So the next time you want to achieve something and you just can’t seem to motivate yourself to take the action you need, remember: energy, encouragement, experience. Three powerful ways that we can use our talents as daydreamers to move confidently towards any goal we choose.

Treatment of maladaptive daydreaming disorder

You’re either an immersive daydreamer or you’re not – that’s a function of the way your brain is wired and will never change. But whether or not an immersive daydreamer develops maladaptive daydreaming disorder (MaDD) depends on a whole range of things, many of which are still not fully understood. MaDD is not officially recognized as a mental disorder, and only a limited amount of research has been done on it, mostly by Professor Eli Somer and his team at the University of Haifa. Because MaDD is only just beginning to be recognised by mental health professionals, no treatment has yet been scientifically proven to help sufferers.

In this video, Professor Somer discusses in detail some treatments that he believes have the potential to help sufferers of MaDD. Although I recommend watching the video in full, below is a brief summary of the treatments he discusses.

Motivational interviewing

Motivational interviewing is a conversation between the client and a therapist. It explores the reasons why the client might want to change their behaviour (in this case daydreaming). Often, a person with MaDD is torn between wanting to stop daydreaming, thereby reclaiming the time they’re currently losing to the habit, and wanting to continue daydreaming, because it’s fun and provides a temporary escape from real life. Motivational interviewing is known to be helpful in treating substance abuse, and in theory should be helpful in any situation where a behaviour or habit is enjoyable in the moment but causes problems or distress over the longer term.

Address any coexisting conditions

MaDD is known to be associated with depression, social anxiety, substance misuse and several other mental health conditions. Research is ongoing to discover the cause-and-effect relationships. For example, it could be that having MaDD makes it more likely that you will develop depression, or it could be that having social anxiety causes you to withdraw from others and therefore makes it more likely that you will develop MaDD. At the moment researchers simply don’t know what other conditions cause or maintain MaDD. But if you have one or more mental health conditions in addition to MaDD, it makes sense to address the other conditions in the hope that doing so will improve your MaDD.

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of mental disorders including anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. CBT involves changing our feelings and behaviours by changing how we think. It involves noticing and challenging unhelpful thoughts so that we can treat ourselves with kindness and compassion, and thereby feel better about ourselves. The skills learned during CBT can be applied to many areas of life.

Self-monitoring

Recording when and why you daydream, and for how long, can be helpful in several ways. It can help you to identify, and then avoid, situations or triggers that make you more likely to daydream. It is also a way of holding yourself accountable to yourself – you may be less tempted to daydream if you know you’re going to have to log the time on your self-monitoring form. It can also help you track your progress, which allows you to celebrate even small reductions in the amount of time you spend daydreaming.

Mindfulness

I’ve mentioned mindfulness many times. Meditation involves focussing on one thing, for example your breathing or the sounds around you. This means that your focus is away from your own thoughts and daydreams. You are focussing on something outside of your mind. Meditation can be a difficult skill for daydreamers to master. But mindful awareness of the present moment can also help to take your attention away from your daydream world and can raise awareness of your daydreaming triggers. (See this post for an explanation of what I mean by meditation and mindfulness, and the difference between them.)

Research into MaDD is continuing. The first clinical trial of a treatment for MaDD has been conducted by Professor Somer and Dr Oren Herscu. Until the results of this trial are published, we won’t know exactly what treatment they used. But Oren Herscu’s doctoral dissertation (abstract available here) indicates that it involved an online self-help programme consisting primarily of mindfulness and self-monitoring. This trial offers a glimmer of hope that a scientifically proven treatment for MaDD could be available even before the condition becomes widely known and understood among mental health professionals.

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.

Mindfulness for daydreamers who can’t meditate

I’ve mentioned mindfulness before on this blog. I believe it’s a great tool for maintaining our mental health and for helping to get control over our daydreaming. But if you’ve tried traditional meditations that encourage you to sit still, clear your mind and focus on your breath, you might have found it too difficult and decided that meditation isn’t for you. You’re not alone. I suspect that we daydreamers find it more difficult to clear our minds. After all, we have a lot of stuff going on in there. We aren’t dependent on the external world for our mental stimulation, so sitting still with our eyes closed doesn’t cut down the mental chatter. Any daydream that was going on before we sat down to meditate will probably still be running in the background, ready to pop into our awareness as soon as we have even a momentary lapse of concentration.

But I want to make a distinction here between meditation – by which I mean sitting in stillness and focusing your attention on your breath, bodily sensations, sounds etc – and mindfulness – by which I mean paying attention to the present moment regardless of what you’re doing. So if you’ve tried meditation and decided it’s not for you, it could be time to try some mindful activities.

You can be mindful in any moment, regardless of what you’re doing. Mindfulness is simply about noticing and mentally describing what is happening and being fully in the moment. For example, you could try some or all of the following:

  • When eating, make a point of noticing the taste, texture and temperature of each mouthful of food.
  • Next time you’re in the shower, notice the sensations of the water and soap against your skin.
  • Sit outdoors and notice sounds – birds singing, traffic passing, the wind in the trees.
  • Pick up a small everyday object (such as a pen, hairbrush or cup) and study it closely. Turn it around to observe how it looks from different angles, notice how it feels in your hand – it is light or heavy, warm or cold, rough or smooth?
  • Notice how you feel. Are you happy, sad, angry, calm, tired, energised? What sensations in your body tell you that you are feeling that way? What thoughts do you have when you’re experiencing this emotion?

You don’t have to be mindful for any set amount of time. It’s better to get into the habit of being mindful as often as you can throughout your day, and if you only manage a few seconds each time, that’s fine. Every time you make the effort, you’re training your brain to pay attention. The important thing is not to judge yourself. It doesn’t matter if you give up after a couple of seconds; what matters is that you made the attempt. And when you’re noticing your thoughts and feelings, it’s important not to judge those either. Mindfulness is about being aware, not about judging.

Mindfulness is likely to feel quite artificial to begin with. You might be wondering why you need to pay attention to such tiny details, or you might be frustrated that activities take longer when you do them mindfully. But remember, this is about training your brain to think and work differently, and, like any skill, the more you practice, the more natural it will feel.

Many daydreamers listen to music, pace or have some other activity that they do while daydreaming. Once you’ve practiced mindfulness in other contexts, you could try using it to break the link between your activity and your daydreaming. For example, if you listen to music while daydreaming, try listening to the music mindfully instead – focus fully on the sound as it comes into your ears, try to notice each note and the pauses between the notes, notice where you can feel the rhythm in your body, notice any emotions the music evokes in you. If you pace, then practice mindful walking – notice how the ground feels beneath your feet, mentally follow the sensations in each foot as it strikes the ground and leaves the ground, notice how many paces you take as you breathe in and how many paces you take as you breathe out.

When we spend all of our time daydreaming, it’s very easy to tune out the real life that is taking place all around us. But if we want to be more involved in that real life, if we want to lead a happier or more productive life outside our daydreams, the first step is to notice the life that is happening around us. Mindfulness is a great way to start.

The beginning of chapter two

It’s been a transformative few months. In the middle of October I had a mental breakdown. It had nothing to do with being a daydreamer. I’d been trying to struggle on through lockdown-induced burnout, pressures at work and a complicated family situation for far too long. Everyone has their breaking point, and I found mine. I cried for two days solid; I thought the most compassionate thing I could do for myself would be to end my life, and the only reason I didn’t was that I could barely put a coherent thought together, so getting out of bed to find a knife or take an overdose was just too much effort. 

After several days in crisis, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital; I ended up staying for four weeks. I remember waking up on the first day in hospital wondering how things could have reached this point and whether I was ever going to be able to recover. But over the next few days and weeks, the world slowly started to look brighter. 

The thing about being in a psychiatric hospital is that it’s a safe place and you’re surrounded by the most caring people (both staff and fellow patients). You leave your pretences and judgements at the door, along with all the day-to-day stressors that contributed to the crisis. You’re looked after while you work on yourself. And it’s hard work. We had three to four hours of group therapy every day, and as a result of that, not only was I able to make sense of what had happened to me, I was also able to start to understand some things about myself.

One of the first things I realised was that the old me died when I had the breakdown. I will never go back to being my old self, because the person I was doesn’t exist any more. Things will never go back to the way they were, because the way things were made me ill, and if I go back to that life I will just get ill again. What happened to me was one of those rare turning points that only come along once or twice in a lifetime – those moments when you know everything is going to change. In one of our therapy sessions, we were invited to draw a picture that represented how we were feeling. In that moment, I didn’t know how I was feeling, so I just went with the first thing that came into my head. It was an image of a dragon’s egg cracking open inside a volcano (because, obviously, I’m a daydreamer so I wasn’t going to come up with anything mundane). It was only when I reflected on it afterwards that I realised I was trying to represent the ultimate in new beginnings, and that whatever I end up doing with the rest of my life, I’m going to do with with fire and confidence and passion. 

I only mentioned my daydreaming once while I was in hospital – not because I was embarrassed or trying to hide it, but because for the most part it wasn’t relevant to everything else that was going on. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t still with me. It got me through the early nights when I was still adjusting to the medication and couldn’t sleep. I’m sure only a daydreamer can lie awake in bed all night and feel completely at peace.

One thing I realised during my time in hospital was that I’ve spent my whole life suppressing my authentic self because it felt safer to be the person that the people around me wanted me to be. Fear of rejection led me to reject myself. It was only in the safe environment of the hospital that I felt able to let down the mask and be more authentic. And that’s where I’m profoundly grateful that I’m a daydreamer. Because when I suppressed my authentic self, I didn’t lose touch with her completely. She became my alter ego. My authentic self found expression in the one place where she was safe from rejection and judgement – my own mind. The person I become in my daydreams isn’t the person I would have liked to have been, she’s the person I was born to be, the person that until now I wasn’t brave enough to be. 

A few days before I was admitted to hospital, I asked my daydream mentor how to begin my healing journey. And what he told me was “It’s not a healing journey, it’s a learning journey”. He was right. I learned so much about myself in hospital, and I’m still learning, both inside and outside the daydreams. We never really stop learning. So perhaps I don’t need to know where I’m going because I’ll never arrive. I’ll always want to keep going – learning new things, living new experiences, dreaming new dreams. When I left hospital, I told everyone I’d reached the end of chapter one. I’m looking forward to writing chapter two.   

PS – Regular readers might notice that I’ve changed my display name on this blog. My real name doesn’t entirely feel as though it belongs to me any more, so I’ve decided to blog under my daydream name for the time being. It feels more me. 

Signing off for a while – a daydreamer’s personal journey

This is going to be a much more personal post than I’m used to writing. And it may not even make much sense. I’m finding it hard to string a coherent thought together at the moment, but I wanted to write this because I may not post again for a while. Daydreaming has been my lifeline in the last few days – if I wasn’t a daydreamer, I’d be in a much darker place than I am now.

A week ago, real life caught up with me. Nothing to do with my daydreaming. I’ve been under a lot of stress for a while, from various sources both at home and at work. I knew I was heading for burnout, but I thought if I just kept pushing through, things would eventually get better. And then one day last week I couldn’t push through any more. And something in me broke. Something in me died. And I’m still trying to figure out what’s left, and what I’m going to do with it.

Previous generations would have described what’s happened to me as a nervous breakdown. But apparently we don’t use that terminology any more. So I’m left without the words to describe an experience that I know is going to change my life.

I’ve been signed off work for a month, but I already know in my heart that I’ll never be able to go back to that job. I was there for seventeen years, and I walked away overnight. I’m in the process of contacting therapists, in the hope of finding someone who can help me figure out where I go from here. Thankfully I have a wonderful husband, who has stepped up and supported me despite having his own stresses right now.

But in the week where everything fell apart, my daydreaming saved me. In two ways.

First, my alter ego is still intact. I have no idea who I am in real life any more. So much of the person I used to be is gone and I have no idea who I’m going to be a year from now, or even a month from now. But in my daydreams I’m still that same courageous, brilliant, energetic, loving woman I’ve always been. She’s not going anywhere. She’s my anchor, my one remaining sense of self. And she’ll guide me as I rebuild. I think I’ll come back stronger because she’s inspiring me.

And second, I still have my characters. They haven’t gone anywhere either. My daydream partner and my daydream mentor have been at my side constantly for the last week. They’re helping me figure out what to do. They’re keeping me safe when reality feels like a scary place to be. They’re giving me gentle course corrections when my thinking gets muddled and irrational. I honestly don’t think I would have survived the last week without them.

Yesterday, I asked my daydream mentor to help me figure out the first step in my healing journey. And what he told me was “It’s not a healing journey, it’s a learning journey”. I’m not sure what he meant by that, but I think he’s right.

I hope I’ll be able to come back to this blog again in a few months. I think I’m about to learn a lot about myself, and about how my daydreaming shapes who I am. I hope I’m going to have so much more to say. Until then I’m going to rest, and learn, and discover and grow and heal.

Can you have a healthy relationship with someone who only exists in your head?

A fundamental part of the way we daydream is that we make up characters. They might be completely fictional, brought in when the plot line requires them, or they might be based on someone we know or wish we knew. If these characters stick around for any length of time, it’s likely we’ll become emotionally attached to them. We can love them – and feel loved by them – every bit as powerfully as the people we love in real life.

That can be hard for normative daydreamers to understand. Logic suggests that if the person isn’t real, then the relationship isn’t real and therefore the emotion isn’t real. And if all of those things are true, a daydream relationship can never be a healthy alternative to a real-life relationship. Many people would say that daydream relationships are fantasies that we should try to let go of. But is that true? Or is it possible to have a healthy relationship with someone who only exists in your head?

Reasons why a daydream relationship may not be healthy

Daydream relationships are all about you. Your daydream partner always wants what you want and always acts in the way you think they should, so you never need to compromise. They don’t have feelings that conflict with yours. They don’t have problems of their own. They don’t turn to you for support (unless you want that). The relationship evolves completely on your terms. And that’s not good for you. Learning to compromise, learning to consider someone else’s feelings, learning to grow together with another human being is what encourages us to be the best we can be. Without that challenge, there is no growth.

We know that our characters aren’t real. Is it only possible for you to love your characters because you know they’re not real? If your daydream partner magically appeared in real life, would you embrace them and live happily ever after or run away as fast as possible? If it’s the latter, then maybe there’s something about real-life relationships that scares you, and you’re using your daydream relationships to avoid facing up to that. Alternatively, if your character is based on someone real, does your daydream relationship make you feel bad because it highlights how much more you want from your real-life relationship with that person? If that’s the case, again, you aren’t seeing your daydream relationship as real. You’re not enjoying it for what it is; you’re focussing on what it isn’t.

Sometimes you need practical support. No matter how much your daydream partner loves you, they can’t cook dinner for you when you’ve had a tiring day, they can’t help you fix your computer, they can’t make you a warm drink when you’re in bed with flu. Your physical self sometimes needs a bit of practical support, and that only comes from a real person who cares about you.

Reasons why a daydream relationship can be healthy

Your partner may not be real, but your emotions are. Loving someone is a magical thing, whether that person is real or imaginary. Our relationships with our characters can provide us with a sense of connection that is very hard to match in real life. Our characters are there for us whenever we need them, they never let us down, they always have time to listen, they reassure us that they love us unconditionally, no matter what we are struggling with. Not many of us are lucky enough to have someone like that in real life.

Your daydream partner helps you tune in to your self-love. You know that your daydream partner isn’t real, that whatever they feel and say and do is coming from somewhere in your own mind. And isn’t that a beautiful thing? Because that absolute and unconditional love that they feel for you is really love that you feel for yourself. The fact that your daydream partner exists at all is a sign that somewhere, deep down, you feel worthy of that kind of love. And once you realise that, you can tap into that feeling whenever you need to.

Your daydream partner can gently hold you accountable. When you care about someone, you don’t want to let them down, regardless of whether that person is real or only real to you. Your daydream partner wants the same things you want, their wishes for you are shaped by your wishes for yourself, so you can be sure your daydream partner will gently guide you in the direction you need to go. When things get tough, they’ll gently remind you of the commitments you made to them – to yourself. And they’ll speak to you far more lovingly, far more kindly, than most of us speak to ourselves.

Relationships with real people can be healthy or unhealthy. Your relationships with your characters are no different – except that you’re in control. If you recognise that the way you feel about one of your characters isn’t bringing you joy, then consider whether you should write them out of the plot. But if you have characters who add love, connection and meaning to your life, hang on to them. Because when you are constantly filling up on love every time you visit your daydream world, you’ll have so much more love to give the people around you in the real world.

The High 5 Habit, daydreamer style

I watched a video by Mel Robbins last week about her new book, The High 5 Habit and was inspired to sign up for The High 5 Challenge. So what exactly is the High 5 Habit, and how does it fit into a daydreamer’s lifestyle?

The High 5 Habit is simply this: every morning when you go into the bathroom, you look at yourself in the mirror and you give your reflection a high five. Why? Because high fiving someone is a symbol of connection, of encouragement, of celebration. Traditionally, we high five someone to say “well done” or “you’ve got this”. How often do we say those things to ourselves? How often do we stop to consciously celebrate our achievements? The high 5 habit is all about helping you to like and celebrate the person you are. It’s about encouraging and empowering yourself.

But immersive and maladaptive daydreamers see the world, and themselves, a little differently than normative daydreamers do, and that means there are a few things that could come up when we try to develop the high 5 habit. Plenty of people, regardless of their daydreaming style, don’t like themselves very much, but daydreamers are particularly prone to this. If you become an idealised version of yourself in your daydreams, you might constantly compare your imperfect real-life self with your perfect alter ego. And that almost guarantees that you’ll end up very focussed on your shortcomings and imperfections.

In addition, the simple act of really looking at your reflection may be uncomfortable. If your daydream self looks very different from your real-life self, looking at your reflection can feel strange; you may not completely identify with the person who’s looking back at you. If you find it awkward to look at yourself in the mirror, that discomfort will show in your facial expression. The person you see will be a stressed, slightly unhappy you, not the joyful version that your friends and family see. If you don’t like looking at your reflection, that’s all the more reason to try the high 5 habit. Trust me, it gets easier, and it doesn’t take long to notice the shift. What helped me was to think positive thoughts while looking at my reflection, and noticing – really noticing – how my facial expression changed. I realised that when I smile, I really don’t look that bad.

The power of the high 5 habit lies in the way it allows me to connect with, and talk directly to, my alter ego. It’s another way I can bring my idealised self into my real life and draw on her strength and wisdom to help me navigate my real-world problems. When I look in the mirror, I become my alter ego, but the person looking back at me remains my real-world self. (This immediately makes it much easier to face my reflection – it’s not me, it’s the other me.) So my alter ego is doing the talking and I’m doing the listening.

It’s very easy for my alter ego to cheer on my real-world self. She’s better than me in so many ways, but she also knows that she came from me, that everything she is and has, is within me on some level. Her courage, her resilience, her wisdom are all within me somewhere. She knows that I have the potential to become her. And she wants me to feel as much joy in my world as she feels in hers.

So when I look out of the mirror, I can bring all of my current worries and challenges to my alter ego, and she can reassure me that I have what it takes to work through it. She’ll tell me that I’ve got this. And when I try to argue, when I say I’m not brave enough, or not good enough, or not likeable enough, she’ll show me the best of me. Being both of my selves at the same time helps me to get things in perspective. And when I’m feeling empowered and supported and ready to take on the world, that’s when I high five myself in the mirror with enthusiasm and determination, and get on with my day.

A high five is about connection. When you high five yourself in the mirror, you are connecting yourself to your brilliant alter ego, and you’re forming a partnership. You’re in this together. And that means you can do anything.

Learning to make choices and trust your intuition

Navigating the complexities of life involves making decisions. Some decisions can have profound consequences for the way life unfolds, so it’s natural to be afraid of making the wrong choice.

We can make choices in a logical, left-brained way, where we carefully list the pros and cons of each option, look at the likely consequences, and choose the path that seems most likely to take us where we want to go. Or, we can make a right-brained choice, where we let our subconscious do all the work, listen to our intuition and make the choice that feels right. The best choices come from doing both – where we find an option that feels right and makes logical sense.

But many daydreamers make real-world choices entirely from a place of logic. And when we do that, we take ourselves out of the equation. We might make the logical, sensible choice, but if that’s not the choice that’s going to make us happy, can we really say that it’s the right choice? We need to at least be in touch with our own needs and feelings and emotions. In other words, we need to learn to at least listen to our subconscious.

But the thing is, our subconscious tends to talk in whispers. And we’re not very good at listening. Our minds are never still. When we spend too much time in our daydream world, our subconscious has fewer opportunities to talk to us about what’s going on in real life. We don’t stop long enough to notice all those little coincidences, all the fleeting random thoughts, which are the language our subconscious uses to speak to us.

We also have a hard time tapping into our feelings. In the context of making a choice, we have to envisage possible future scenarios and sense how we would feel in each case. But when we do that, who is doing the feeling? Is it our real-world selves, or is it our alter egos? We spend so much time being our alter egos that feeling their feelings comes as naturally to us as feeling our own. So we need to remain aware of which of our selves is making the choice, and which has to live with the consequences.

Our daydreams come from our creative right brains. Even if our daydreaming is under control, there’s still a risk that the only way we drop out of a daydream is by dropping into our logical left brains. Viewed as a whole, real-life and daydreams, maybe we have a good balance between logic and creativity, but do we have that balance in each of our worlds? Or are we living real life from a place of logic because our creativity and intuition have someplace better to be?

We need to make sure we can tune into our feelings and our intuition in our real lives. But that doesn’t necessarily mean daydreaming less. Daydreaming is the exercise that keeps our creative right brain active. But we need to use those skills outside the daydream as well.

So many of the thoughts and behaviours we think are automatic are, in fact, the ways that our subconscious tries to keep us safe. Negative feelings are messages from our subconscious that something isn’t right. If we don’t listen to those messages, we can’t make the course corrections necessary for our lives to improve.

We need to make an effort to tune into our subconscious, to listen to and to trust our intuition. And to do that, we sometimes – just sometimes – need to stop daydreaming long enough to be really present with ourselves. We need to compassionately ask ourselves how we’re feeling and what we need. We have to let our minds be still and just see what comes up. We should honour the person we are in real life and not just the person we become in our daydreams. And then, perhaps, we can finally get to know our real-life selves.