As you elegantly step out of the limousine onto the red carpet, cheers instantly erupt from the waiting crowd. You reward them with a dazzling smile while the night sky lights up with hundreds of flashes from paparazzi cameras.
In one perfectly manicured hand you hold the new diamond-encrusted phone Apple designed especially for you. In the other, you clutch the Oscar you won the night before for Best Adapted Screenplay of your own best-selling novel (your legendary acceptance speech was both hilarious and moving, by the way).
Your phone rings. It’s Adele. What? She wants to duet with you on her new album? Well, how could you refuse? You’re not sure how you’ll squeeze it in, what with addressing the United Nations, the fitting for your new Marvel superhero costume, and collecting your Nobel Prize in Stockholm. But sure, Adele, anything for you. Suddenly, you hear a loud voice say:
“Due to signalling failure, the following trains have been cancelled…”
It’s then you remember you’re standing on a draughty train platform with a load of other cold and weary commuters, while a one-legged pigeon pecks at your shoe.
It’s not unusual to daydream about fame, wealth, celebrity and success. Who hasn’t?
As a young child, I spent quite of a lot of my time dreaming I was Daphne from Scooby Doo (don’t judge me – I’m sure she had hidden depths). But in adolescence, I not only started turning to food to cope with life, I also began regularly disappearing into my head for the same reason.
I once heard it described as pulling up the mental drawbridge and that’s exactly what it feels like. I can withdraw to the safe space inside my head, where life is happy and wonderful, the good guys always win and everything’s under my control.
I’m not alone. In the years I’ve been working with clients with overeating issues, what’s emerged is there’s often a correlation between binge eating and daydreaming.
So what? What’s wrong with retreating into the realms of fantasy? It’s not bad for you like binge eating and it doesn’t hurt your body. So why should it matter?
Like anything, it only becomes a problem if we do it regularly as a way of coping with life.
So, while they may not be obvious, what exactly are the downsides of daydreaming?
It removes you from reality
Which is fine if it’s occasional. Habitual escapism, however, means there’s something you’re attempting to get away from in your actual life – feelings, relationships, challenges, for example. If you’re spending a lot time locked up in your head, your issues don’t get resolved – feelings aren’t processed, relationships can’t be worked on, challenges aren’t overcome.
It perpetuates perfectionism
How can the Real You live up to Fantasy You? If, in your daydreams, you’re incredibly talented, attractive, successful, wealthy and popular, the real you can only appear flawed and disappointing by comparison. The more dissatisfied you feel with yourself and your life, the more likely you are to turn to food to escape. If you constantly daydream you have the perfect body, how satisfied are you going to be with your actual body?
It promotes instant gratification
Daydreaming means instant results and success – you’ve no sooner thought of writing a book than you’re daydreaming it’s a smash hit. In reality, writing a book takes time and effort. It’s important to learn to persevere with the things we want to achieve – such as getting fitter or making peace with food. If you’re hooked on the immediacy of daydreaming, it’s harder to accept the effort that real life takes.
It impedes risk taking
It’s easy to take risks in your mind because you can ensure everything works out well. But life is risky. Being a human being is risky. There’s no guarantee of success but we can learn so much and benefit so greatly from taking risks. I don’t mean risks that endanger ourselves or others, but the risk of doing something different – creating art, changing career, ending an unhappy relationship.
It takes up time
Time that could be better spent actually living your life. Time you could use to work on things that genuinely make you feel better – self-development, writing a journal, practising gratitude, preparing a wonderful meal for yourself, clearing stuff out of your house, getting outside.
I’m not suggesting you have to give up daydreaming. I certainly don’t intend to – I’ve had some of my best (and stupidest) ideas while daydreaming. But I realised a while ago that nothing was going to change in my life unless I got my head out of the clouds and started being realistic about who I am, what I truly want and what that involves.
So how do you make sure your daydreaming doesn’t have a downside?
Put in a daydreaming boundary
You don’t have to stop daydreaming altogether but consider a boundary to keep you anchored in reality most of the time. If there’s a problem in your life, the best place to work on it is in the here and now. Why not take some of the energy you use to daydream to actively work on self-acceptance?
Use daydreams as a signpost, not an escape
Are your daydreams clues to things you really want but think you can’t have? Use the information they provide to improve your real life. Do you want to find new friends, do some training or go travelling?
Action not inertia
If you really want to be happier, healthier, more fulfilled or more successful, get out of your head and do something. Nothing takes the place of realism, action and determination. We’re all capable of changing our lives for the better, we just struggle to believe that’s true. Action is how we prove it to ourselves.
Don’t spend your life wishing you were perfect or someone else entirely. If you do, you’ll keep turning to food to console yourself for not living up to the fantasy.
Instead, spend the time getting to know the real you and understanding what you really want. Then you can set about making your dreams a reality.
Because we all deserve to live the life of our dreams.
Isn’t it time you started living yours?