Daydreaming: The Psychology of Zoning Out

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think" by Brianna Wiest. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you zone out a lot? What is the psychology behind daydreaming?

Daydreaming is a mundane act, but it can reveal a lot about your subconscious. According to Brianna Wiest, the author of 101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think, your daydreams are the projection of the things that you feel you most lack and are relying on others to fulfill.

Here’s what your daydreams may reveal about your subconscious needs and desires.

What’s in a Dream?

In psychology, daydreaming refers to the state of consciousness where your mind wanders off from the external environment and turns internally. According to Wiest, your daydreams reveal exactly what type of feedback you’re subconsciously seeking from others to feel good about yourself. Therefore, Wiest suggests that you figure out exactly what feedback you’re craving from others by exploring how other people react to you in your daydreams. Once you’ve noted what types of reactions you’re craving from others, find a way to fulfill these needs for yourself.

  • For example, you often fantasize about meeting a “perfect” person who falls instantly in love with you and tells you that you’re the most beautiful person in the world. This suggests that you’re waiting for other people to tell you how much they love you and how beautiful you are so that you can feel those things about yourself. However, if you find a way to love yourself—whether it’s through affirmations, visualizations, mindfulness, EFT, or something else—and appreciate your beauty, you’ll no longer feel the need to seek this feedback from others.

Your Daydreams Point to Life Areas That Dissatisfy You

According to psychologists, your daydreams don’t only point to what feedback you’re craving, but also to what you need to feel satisfied with your life. You rely on daydreams to provide a therapeutic mental escape from reality: You’re more likely to get lost in them and rely on the comfort they provide when you feel dissatisfied with the real world and can’t see a way to fulfill your needs. For example, when you feel lonely, you’ll daydream about being surrounded by friends. Or, when you feel bored, you’ll daydream about doing something stimulating. 

Therefore, as you work through Wiest’s method, pay attention to when you rely on daydreams—this will reveal the dissatisfying life areas that you’re trying to escape from. Then focus on ways to increase your satisfaction in these areas. For example, if you often daydream because you feel bored at work, increase your satisfaction by taking on interesting or challenging work projects that provide more mental stimulation.

Daydreaming: The Psychology of Zoning Out

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Here's what you'll find in our full 101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think summary :

  • Why the only way to make yourself feel better is to change the way you think
  • How social conditioning influences the way you unconsciously think
  • How to manage your thoughts and feelings about yourself and your experiences

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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