How to Stop Daydreaming So Much: 2 Tips to Stay Focused

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Mind Illuminated" by Culadasa, Matthew Immergut, and Jeremy Graves. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Does your mind often wander into another world? How can you stop daydreaming so much?

Daydreaming can be a fun way to escape reality, but it’s not practical when you have important things to attend to. It hurts you especially when you’re meditating because that’s when your focus should be at its strongest.

Keep reading for advice from The Mind Illuminated on how to stop daydreaming so much, whether you’re meditating or doing any activity that requires focus.

Achieve Strong Concentration

To achieve strong concentration during meditation, you must learn how to stop daydreaming so much (what the authors call “mind-wandering”). Daydreaming is when something in your background awareness captures your attention, causing you to lose concentration on your breath. For instance, the sound of a distant lawn mower might remind you that you need to mow your lawn, which might remind you of all your other chores—and before you know it, you’ve forgotten your breath.

During this phase, aim to minimize daydreaming so it never lasts more than several seconds per meditation session. (Shortform note: If you can limit your daydreaming duration to several seconds per 15- to 45-minute session, you’ll arguably be significantly less prone to daydreaming than the average person—at least while you’re meditating. One study found that people spend nearly half of their waking hours daydreaming.)

Let’s explore two of the authors’ tips for overcoming daydreaming.

Tip 1: Use Positive Reinforcement

When you meditate and you begin daydreaming, there’s typically a moment when you suddenly realize your mind has wandered. The authors explain that the seconds leading up to this moment aren’t in your conscious control. So, how do you consciously try to minimize daydreaming when realizing you’re daydreaming is an unconscious process?

According to the authors, by using positive reinforcement, you can consciously train your subconscious mind while meditating. Any time you’re meditating and you suddenly realize you’ve been daydreaming, enjoy it. Congratulate yourself for having this revelation and delight in how it feels to be present again. Over time, this repetitive positive reinforcement will train your subconscious mind to awaken from daydreaming more frequently.

Train Your Subconscious Mind Outside of Meditation

By following the ideas of author Joseph Murphy, you may be able to use positive reinforcement to consciously train your subconscious mind outside of meditation, too. 

In The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, Murphy says that your subconscious mind pushes you to behave in certain ways by guiding your intuition. You can influence how your subconscious guides your behavior by controlling your conscious thoughts. When you repeatedly have positive conscious thoughts, those thoughts leave positive impressions on your subconscious. As a result, your subconscious guides you to pursue positive experiences via your intuition. 

For example, Murphy says that when you visualize what you want in detail, you leave a strong, positive imprint on your subconscious mind. As a result, your subconscious mind will guide you to act in ways that make you more likely to achieve what you want.

Tip 2: Categorize Your Thoughts

A second way to overcome daydreaming is to categorize all of your thoughts (a practice the authors call “labeling”). Categorizing a thought as soon as it surfaces prevents it from continuing or evolving into a new thought. This interruption halts your daydreaming so you can return to concentrating on your breath. 

Additionally, make these categories neutralthis prevents you from judging your thought as “good,” or “bad,” which might spawn more thoughts about its goodness or badness. For instance, mentally reviewing your chores is “list-making”, remembering yesterday’s weather is “recalling”, and thinking about how to ask your boss for a raise is “brainstorming.” 

(Shortform note: The authors’ emphasis on making categories neutral echoes a lesson in Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, a foundational text of Taoism (a Chinese philosophy). Lao Tzu says that you should refrain from categorizing your surroundings and other people as “good” or “bad,” and he adds that such categorization warps how you see reality. For example, if you think of the city as “bad” and the countryside as “good,” you might begin to view everything associated with the countryside (like its people and industries) as bad. Instead, Lao Tzu says you should strive to be objective by embracing all experiences and relishing the present moment.)

How to Stop Daydreaming So Much: 2 Tips to Stay Focused

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Mind Illuminated summary:

  • That the true goal of meditation is to reach enlightenment
  • The 10 sequential stages you can follow to improve your meditation practice
  • Cultural, historical, and scientific insights about meditation

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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