Obsessive Compulsive Daydream

By Shamus Posted Sunday Jul 30, 2017

Filed under: Personal 63 comments

I don’t normally watch Vlogbrothers videos. I know they’re the titans of YouTube and beloved by millions, but their topics don’t often land in my particular wheelhouse. (For me, Numberphile, Tom Scott, and Deep Sky Videos are where it’s at. And also CGP Grey when the planets align and he makes a vid.) But once in a long time the YouTube suggestion heuristic offers up a Vlogbro video that catches my eye, which was the case this past week: What OCD Is Like (for Me).

Link (YouTube)

(No, I don’t know why I’m talking about this sort of oddball mental stuff two weeks in a row. It’s not a sign of any particular trouble on my end. Probably just random chance, or the result of too much introspection.)

I don’t know anything about OCD aside from the pop-culture depictions of it, so this made for an illuminating video. OCD is, as I suspected, badly portrayed in media. I do not have OCD, although I’d like to use this as a jumping-off point for a tangentially related topic…

John Green talks about how a particular idea will stick in his mind and he won’t be able to stop worrying about it. While I haven’t experienced his particular problem of ongoing vexation, I am familiar with the idea of having an idea that sticks with you for weeks and months and kind of grows on you despite it not having any practical value. In my case it’s a completely harmless personality quirk rather than a source of stress or dysfunction. Which is nice. But it also made me wonder if this is a common thing. Does everyone have a clingy idea or scenario that won’t leave them alone?

In my case the thoughts revolve around impossible hypothetical situations like:

What if unlikely disaster X suddenly happened? How would I handle it? What should I do?

What if I was somehow able to have a conversation with (usually deceased) person Y? What would I say to them and how could I use that time productively?

What if I was suddenly responsible for Z? (In this case, Z is usually an enterprise or business I’m ill-suited to run, not something I have a lot of experience in.) How would I handle it? Of course, the correct answer to “What if I was suddenly in charge of something I don’t know how to do?” is “abdicate and leave someone else in charge”, but these situations kinda run on dream logic where you’re inexplicably trapped in a situation and you need to make sensible decisions in a senseless situation.

I’ve been doing this sort of thing since I was a child. Adults used to call it “daydreaming”, but anecdotally I get the impression that daydreams are usually wish-fulfillment fantasies on the part of the daydreamer. These are not really that. They’re certainly interesting scenarios, but they’re not really wish fulfillment. If they were, I’d spend a lot more time thinking about winning a million bucks and being buff like Captain America and a lot less time puzzling over what I’d do if (for example) I found myself floating all alone on an unknown sail-powered boat on an unknown ocean with no land in sight.

These thoughts are sort of my default topic to think about. It’s what I think about when I’m in the shower, or waiting to fall asleep at the end of the day, or while waiting for Windows to finish updating. The exception to this is when I’m in the middle of a programming project. In that case, I think about the programming instead of the hypothetical. In this way, taking on a programming project is a good way to finally wipe the slate clean and stop obsessing over the dang thing. When I come up for air a month later, the scenario will have lost its hold on me and a new one will begin to form.

I can’t stop thinking about these things, but unlike someone with OCD it doesn’t seem to do me any harm. I get sort of sick of thinking about the same one after a few weeks, but it doesn’t cause stress, intrude on my relationships, keep me awake, or interfere with my work. I’ve tried to capture this mental fidgeting by turning a scenario into a novel or story, but it’s never worked out. The ideas might make for a good premise for a book, but there’s not enough substance to turn them into something interesting without adding characters, motivations, and a three-act story structure. As it turns out, I get sick of the idea long before that sort of structure develops.

Is this common? Hard to say. It’s really hard to find information on this kind of thing. What’s the average person’s daydream like? Is it normal to have the same one for weeks or months? I dunno.

Do you daydream? Is it wish-fulfillment or problem-solving? Do you ever find yourself thinking about something after you’ve become sick of it?


From The Archives:

63 thoughts on “Obsessive Compulsive Daydream

  1. Yerushalmi says:

    Problem-solving for me. Whenever I’m listening to a podcast about politics, half of my brain is listening to the podcast and the other half is picturing exactly what I would do, who I would try to convince, and what I would say if I went back in time and had nothing but the podcast to prove that I was from the future.

    1. Zak McKracken says:

      Pretty much that.

      Exceopt I imagine being in some politician’s shoes and how I’d react in the same situation.
      …of course that means deliberating for quite a bit on stuff which that person had do come up with in seconds during an interview, and ignoring some of the context which that person would have been aware of but no me. I invariably come to the conclusion that I could do these things so much better and be totally integer.

      … and then I get out of the meeting I was having that daydream in and get a little annoyed with myself about that one thing I should totally have said but did not. And now I look as if I didn’t care about X but actually I had a really good reason, I just forgot to bring it up at just the right moment…

      My ideas are usually a little more short-lived than Shamus’. They may last for days, but sometimes I’ve got several of them in a few minutes. Sometimes they come in such quick succession that I just remember feeling really good about that cool idea I had to solve some problem but can’t for the life of me remember what that problem was because my mind immediately raced on to the next topic. And then I forget that one, too, because I was trying to get back to the one before, to find out what I was feeling so great about a minute ago.

      If I had to guess, I’d say these hypotheticals are probably a mutated version of children’s pretend-play.

  2. Ester says:

    I do the hypothetical situations, too. Sometimes really far out (what would I do if Russia invades my country?) and sometimes stuff that will come up someday, only it’s too far in the future to answer today (which school will I send my kid to?). I feel better having a plan of action for if/when things happen.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I too, do the practical(-ish) thought experiments, like “How would I cope with a zombie apocalypse?” On the one hand, it’s a sort of fun exercise, but on the other hand, if I’m out shopping, it will lead me to make impulse purchases. Nothing so expensive to be worried about, but it takes up shelf-space. e.g. I have a box full of waterproof matches in the garage, in case I need them in some post-apocalyptic scenario. ^^;

  3. Daimbert says:

    The only reason my blog exists is to get me to stop thinking about things that otherwise I’d be thinking about for weeks or months. I don’t do the sort of daydreaming you do, but I tend to focus on arguments or reasoning and things like that. So writing a blog post about the issue that I’m turning over in my head helps me to move on from it, as it seems that once I’ve written it down I stop thinking about it so much, at least, if not stop thinking about it at all.

  4. Grudgeal says:

    No, I don’t think clingy ideas or daydreams are uncommon. I have them too.

    Granted, I have a mental disorder (not OCD) so I may not be speaking for everyone. My own clingy ideas can get rather unpleasant at times. The treatments are there to make sure my emotional state and my clingy ideas stay at arm’s distance, lest they lock hands and form a downwards spiral into real-life long-term unpleasantness.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Numbers.Sometimes Ill find some problem involving statistics or just random bit of counting,and it will occupy my mind until I solve it,or find a solution for it online.Its usually benign,but sometimes it can really be annoying and even influence my other activities.Luckily,that happens rarely.

    1. pdk1359 says:

      I’ll do this, I’ll come up with a silly problem and lightly obsess over it.

      Like one time I was enjoying a wish fulfillment daydream where I was super strong and had a staff made of some applied phelbotinum. Then I was trying to figure out how heavy it was and the day dream halted there, so I spent the next two hours wondering about metal densities & doing calculations. right up until I got distracted by something that required my actual attention and dropped the idea.

      Another time I wasted around fifteen hours over the course of two weeks working out a progression of nanite expansion.

      Mostly I just have wish fulfillment daydreams or stories I tell myself when I bored, but every so often I throw in a puzzle and then I want the solution despite it not having any connection to anything but a few minutes of head-only fiction.

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      I do this thing where I divide time into smaller and smaller increments and count fractions of it passing in my head. Stuff like “I have X shifts left till my vacation, that’s Y hours, that’s Z minutes, that’s V seconds, Q minutes have passed already today that’s this many percent, means that today I have this many percent of the whole left, means that every minute is now this fraction of all the time left today, which is this fraction of the time left till my vacation, which is this fraction of the time left till the end of the month/year/some other event”. It’s been something of a way to kill time at work (and reinforce the idea that yes, time is passing and I’m closer to going home) but recently it’s been getting slightly out of hand and I do that even in my free time and it sometimes basically locks me out for a couple minutes (not in the sense that I’m going to stop in place while crossing the street or mid-sentence, more in the sense that I’m sitting in front of the PC or lying in bed or standing in the kitchen and just… observe the time pass I guess).

      For full disclosure I was not diagnosed as “autistic” but I have “tendencies for repetitive behaviour”.

  6. Dreadjaws says:

    Both. I do have the ocassional “World falls into chaos, I turn into superhero” or “I awake after the apocalypse and help humanity make a comeback” fantasy, but I also regularly imagine myself in an Elseworlds situation, whereas I’m “put into strange times and places – some that have existed, and others that can’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t exist” and I’m being forced to deal with it.

    These can range from simple things that I soon forget about to complex stuff that keeps me away at night, sometimes even forcing me to launch a browser on my phone to google some stuff.

    The most common, though, is imagining me getting into an argument with people based on what could possibly happen after certain actually-occurring situation (for instance, I find someone at work used my coffee cup and didn’t wash it, so I imagine myself getting into a heated argument about it). These things almost never happen, mostly because I avoid talking to people in the first case, though usually because they’re actually non-issues that solve themselves (in the previous example, for instance, my coworker texts me to apologize for not washing the cup).

    I don’t know why it happens so often. I never get into arguments with people in front of me (my only arguments are online), yet I keep imagining myself doing it.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I occasionally have nightmares about the type of office-encounter you describe, even though awake I would not be in such a situation. e.g. I wake up in a cold sweat so bad I can’t get back to sleep, because in my dream my manager insulted me, we got into a huge fight, and I resigned. In real life, 1) my manager would have a chat with me about something rather than a public insult, 2) neither of us is the type to have angry arguments, and 3) I would just talk with my manager or someone else if such a situation ever arose. Thanks brain, I just want to sleep properly. :S

  7. Kathryn says:

    I have OCD (the real kind), so yes, I have obsessions. I don’t mind the ones like the extremely elaborate Mars colonization daydream I had (and kept adding to and updating) for at least a decade. (I stopped that one when I had kids, because while I had no problem moving myself to Mars, moving the kids is a different story.) But I could definitely do without the suicidal ideation. It puts a crimp in my style.

    The stuck in your head aspect you describe applies more to poetry for me. Sometimes I get a line from a poem stuck in my head, and the only way to get it out is to recite the entire poem from start to finish. Consequently, I have dozens of poems memorized. I like poetry anyway, but a lot of those I memorized in self-defense.

  8. methermeneus says:

    While I do have periods where I’ll start thinking about hypothetical situations like you’re talking about (and, yes, I think each instance of it, at least, is daydreaming, even if it’s not always wish fulfillment), they’re not generally as long-term as what you’re talking about. For example, my daydream of winning the lottery is generally stuck at consulting with an accountant, because that takes long enough in any kind of detail yet I end up thinking of other things (work, tangential ideas, breakfast, whatever) long before my meeting with the accountant ends.

    On the other hand, I have been known to obsess about stories in m head for years. I can’t seem to write them down coherently enough to let others read them (not for more than a couple chapters at a stretch, anyway), but I’ll play character interactions, action sequences, whatever in my head over and over in my head, tweaking here and there, forcing myself to stop when conversation turns into soliloquy or infodump, until the dialogue is snappy and the action both realistic (with appropriate sci-fi/fantasy alterations to reality, of course) and entertaining. Then I move on to the next scene.

    As you can perhaps imagine, I don’t tend to finish these stories. Also, since the ideas come from whatever captures my attention, a lot of it is fanfic. I still sometimes come back to the same Sailor Moon story I started back in high school. Usually, what crowds these out is that I can only have two or three at a time, so if I get reminded of an old one or start a new one, something else will fall by the wayside for a few months.

    1. Kathryn says:

      *checks to see if I wrote this comment*

      Seriously, swap Harry Potter in for Sailor Moon (and college for high school), and this is me. Especially the accountant detail on the lottery.

      1. methermeneus says:

        Well, I feel less alone now. Have you ever tried writing any of it down and putting it online? I’m always up for a good HP fanfic.

  9. TheAngryMongoose says:

    In my teens, for a good two years of my life, whenever I was alone with my thoughts (and sometimes in conversations with people) I would think about different ways to split words into equal chunks. Like, Marmalade could be “Marm-Alade” (which chunks of different sizes) or “Mar-Mal-Ade” (Which is bad because while they are the same size by letters, they are slightly off the syllables which would be “Mar-Ma-Lade”). I’d do this with a word until I felt I had found a split that was satisfying, or was convinced there wasn’t one. I’d also be thinking about the shape of the word on a keyboard while doing this (When Swipe typing became a thing it felt like I had been using it for years already)
    It got pretty stressful, in that it felt like it got in the way of my thoughts, maybe kept me from sleeping (but I’ve always been bad at that), and felt weird to do while talking with someone – and yet I couldn’t stop myself doing it.
    Not sure how it stopped because by that point I wasn’t aware enough to notice it had.

    Okay, much more on topic. “What if I was somehow able to have a conversation with (usually deceased) person Y?” I do a lot, but usually along the lines that they’re dead and might just be interested. The scene seems vaguely inspired by that scene in Bill and Ted’s BA, and I tend to tell them about the things they have inspired since death. More generally I find I have a lot of conversations with people I know in my head, normally along the lines of explaining something I care about that they don’t necessarily know about… weirdly it’s often the same person for few months, and then my mind finds a new person it wants to lecture. I’m pretty sure if I had an actual conversation like this it’d bore the hell out of that person.
    I also have a few scenes I play out while listening to music, usually in my old secondary school.
    I can’t say this daydreaming has ever felt imposing though. It passes the time when I’ve been left alone with my thoughts. Usually I figure out what I want to and move on.

  10. Spades says:

    I’ve got Pure OCD and it sucks (like a lot of other mental illnesses) when its not under control. Basically, a thought or worry will enter my head and I get extremely anxious about for hours, days and sometimes even months on end. Sometimes, it’s not even thoughts it’ll be actions that I did that I’ll ruminate over for a long time.

    It sucks but I (mostly) have it under control now.

  11. Rivlien says:

    Yeah OCD is portrayed pretty badly for the most part, it goes deeper, for this example I’ll just take an example in a filthy mug, it goes deeper than just having the compulsion to do something, E.G clean a filthy mug.

    For me my OCD involves everything being ‘in order’, which is very deeply invested in my rhythm and lifestyle. I’ll eat a particular thing on a particular day of the week, visit a place at a particular day of month, play games for a particular set of time, everything has to be where it should be, and everything obviously needs to be clean.

    When I look at the aforementioned filthy mug, it is not so simple as “That is filthy I should clean that,”. Which is what most people would think I imagine.

    I will look at that mug and I will think “That mug is filthy, I need to clean it RIGHT NOW,”. And so I will.

    What if I don’t get to clean it? Well imagine that feeling again, the feeling of “How filthy, that is annoying,”. Imagine now that instead of annoyance, you felt like you might actually die any second right now. Imagine that level of stress. That if you do not clean that mug right now you are going to drop dead and your wife is going to leave you and your kids will fail at all their endeavours and take up drugs and your workplace needs you and your dog just got ran over and it is all happening RIGHT NOW just because you didn’t clean that mug and you should be ashamed of yourself you pathethic failure of a human being why didn’t you clean that mug you’ve ruined EVERYTHING!

    It is that sort of stress.

    Quite unpleasant really.

    1. Spades says:

      Yeah this is basically my experience with OCD. If you don’t do certain actions (called “rituals”) then you’ll experience high levels of anxiety.

    2. King Marth says:

      From someone without the all-important “negatively impacting life” symptom, I’ve recently started considering the compulsions as having morality tied to them. The mug left on the counter is *wrong* and leaving that alone feels like leaving someone in a terrible situation, which makes it hard to do nothing when it’s so simple and easy to make concrete progress on making the world better. Also, people who misalign light switches are monsters.

      The plus side to this layer of distance is that it keeps me from acting on compulsions that are too much work; it’s uncomfortable to leave things *wrong* but given I already do that with a lot of things in the world, I can leave a few things alone even if it’s technically within my power to improve them. As long as the level of discomfort from actually doing the compulsion is greater than the level of discomfort from ignoring it, I can move on.

      But not double-checking door locks. That one isn’t even irrational, my front door is left unlocked all the time.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Do you mean light switches where up is off and down is on?

        1. Zak McKracken says:

          …like every light switch in England… and that seems to be the only rule people are following around here. Light switches are at random distances from the floor or the next door, and keys need to be inserted in random orientation (upside down or not) and must be turned in random direction to unlock a door. This place is not OCD-friendly! At least you still push down door handles to open doors.

    3. Zak McKracken says:


      Here’s hoping you can deal with this in a good way…

      What struck me is that while I’m sometimes obsessively ordering things (all my pens at school had to be properly in order, and I always had to step on cracks in the pavement, or else I’d fall through or something), in many ways I’m the exact opposite these days: All things need to be spontaneous, and I can only clean up if it’s really really necessary, I hate detailed plans (or planning), and I cannot manage to even get a regular sleep schedule, not to speak of eating or doing things. Whenever I’m in danger of sleeping regularly, I’ll find some excuse to stay up later in the evening … but when and if I decide to do something in an orderly fashion, I obsess over it. I can spend aages tweaking photos, formatting figures for documents I’m working on, aligning stacks of papers … when at the same time my desk looks like a tornado went through the office.

    4. methermeneus says:

      Whenever I think about OCD, I always think of Marc Summers. He once did an interview/home tour, and he had to keep stopping to straighten the rugs and wipe off the fixtures.

      Let me reiterate: the man who hosted Double Dare and What Would You Do? has severe OCD. That man is a true Canadian hero.

  12. Kronopath says:

    Stuff like this is actually why (to the best of my knowledge) the DSM-5 (basically the psychiatrists’ bible for diagnosing and treating mental illness) doesn’t just give a list of symptoms as the criteria for identifying a mental illness. Instead, it adds one last criteria to the end, which is, “Is this negatively impacting your life?” If it isn’t, it usually isn’t considered a mental illness (or at least not one worth treating).

    Without that last bullet point, the line between “just a weird personality quirk” and “mentally ill” gets very blurry.

    1. King Marth says:

      This is very important. This is the difference between using the disorder as a label to understand yourself and using it as a sign to seek actual treatment.

  13. I daydream, but it’s generally me telling myself stories (I’m generally not in them).

    I do a lot of running through scenarios out loud in the car, but that’s more “quelling the social anxiety” than daydreaming. I have no idea when I started doing that, but it’s a habit now.

    I’ve vaguely considered what I’d do if certain apocalypses happened, but the one that my brain’s stuck on is the New Madrid Fault going like it did in 1804. My plan in that event is to hope my house is 6.0 earthquake-resistant and watch the Midwest drown as the levees and dams break.

    Actually, now that I think of it, there might be drowning around here too, as all the lakes in north GA are created by dams, and I kinda doubt those are any more earthquake-proof. Be glad I live on the other side of the hills around the river valley, then, I guess? Improvise a boat? Hope all the sewer plants are downriver from me so I can drink river water if needed?

  14. Lazlo says:

    Let me also throw my hat in the ring of “not at all OCD, but yeah I do this kind of daydreaming too.” Sometimes it’s about Zombie Apocalypse survival (and I use that as a placeholder for *any* sort of disaster which leads to my personal four horsemen of the apocalypse theory, famine, death, breakdown in transportation, and breakdown in rule of law, but that’s a discussion for another time) which sometimes leads me off onto strange tangents (Like if you’d want to see a breakdown of US per-capita farmland by county arranged by decile, I’ve got you covered: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0rdiDDbjoFmSTVOOUhaWEd6bm8/view?usp=sharing)

    Sometimes it’s politics, like what kind of small but highly impactful change could be made either now or historically in US politics, and what kind of effects might it lead to? Did the Permanent Apportionment act of 1929 lead to the eventual ruin of the US government? (probably)

    But a lot of times, it’s financial. Like I’ll go into a little mom-and-pop store, browse around for 15 minutes, and then go to check out with $20 worth of stuff and start thinking “So, while I’ve been here, there have generally been another two customers. Let’s assume that I’m here at a reasonably busy time, so the 3 erlangs I’m observing is double the normal rate and put it at 1.5. If my visit is also typical, then 15 minutes per visit would indicate one customer per 10 minutes, or 6 customers per hour. Assuming their products have a 50% markup and once again, that my visit is typical, that means about $60 per hour in margins on inventory. The store is open for 10 hours per day, 6 days per week, so that’s $3.6k per week, or around $15k per month (very roughly). Assuming building, power, fees, taxes etc take up 50% of that, then that leaves $7.5k per month for employees and profit (and since this is a mom-and-pop shop, those are sometimes the same thing). There was one cashier, assuming around minimum wage that’ll cost the business about $15/hr, or $900 per week, or about $4k/month, so that means potential profits of about $3.5k/month.” It’s all rough back-of-the-envelope calculations, and I fully believe that it’s at least half completely wrong, but I’m always interested when I see generous assumptions leading to negative numbers, or conservative estimates showing extreme profits, as to *where* I’m most wrong.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Nice map! :)

      As for the rough-calculations thing, I do it too, but not just idly, but at work. e.g. If I get stressed about the upcoming salary adjustments (we do it roughly every 6 months by department, so the finance team can get it over with in a timely fashion), I’ll start doing calculations about how much people make, how much I make, how much the company makes in total, how little I’d need to make before I get fired… Not the most fun time. It’s especially annoying to get bent out of shape over, since 90% of the time, the reality is just something like “Oh neat. We all got 1% raises roughly in line with inflation, one person got promoted, and the one guy who hasn’t been performing well has spoken with his manager to get a reduction of hours so he can focus more.”

  15. Syal says:

    Daydreaming’s a pretty normal thing. I’ll often end up trying to think my way out of a fictional confrontation with someone either criminal, or highly arrogant and stupid, going through what I’d try to say and where in the room to stand to block them from weapons. They’re usually just one-offs though, replaced with a different situation the next time.

    Music will stick like that sometimes; I’ve hummed some songs non-stop for weeks. (Then there was the time on watch I hummed a song for two hours straight, and when two-hours-one-minute rolled around I forgot how the song went and had to switch to a different one.)

    Other than that, I’ve got some story ideas that have been kicking around for years, some of them for a decade now. Mostly that’s my fault for not actually writing them down. Occasionally I get lucky and find someone else has written down something similar enough for me to call it done.

    (…first thing to do when trapped on a sailboat is pull the sail down, write “Help” across the front and the back, and hoist it back up.)

  16. I’m a chronic daydreamer, and it’s usually a combination of wish-fulfillment and problem-solving that turns into a sort of storytelling session.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I tend to do that too, although it’s annoying when it happens to me in the middle of the night when I’m trying to get back to sleep. For example, I wake up (for whatever reason), then my brain’s like, “I feel somewhat rested after three hours of sleep – time to stay awake contemplating the optimal freight-shipping strategy, under the assumption that blimps are twice as cheap as in reality!”

  17. Echo Tango says:

    The ideas might might for a good premise for a book

    I think you meant, “ideas might make”.

  18. Edith says:

    Problem solving, but it’s more… global? Like, what would a society look like if it had to deal with X complication? I build sci-fi and fantasy settings in my head instead of imagining me personally going through those situations myself.

  19. “Do you ever find yourself thinking about something after you've become sick of it?”

    This happens to me a lot. For some reason I have a certain amount of angst that implodes mentally. It’s a state of conscious where my mind subconsciously seems to be angry at others both for their choices and the way they’ve influenced my own outcomes.

    It’s not really a daydream, more of a nightmare. It never affects relationships, but I’ve likely acquired this state of mind/obsession over negativity due to a psychological thing where the terminology escapes me. An example of this terminology, however, is you want to do A (for example, play guitar) but you’re forced to do B (play piano/do some other thing).

    My mind seems to dwell on negative states of mind. Typically this goes away by playing games or listening to music (mostly music), but I’m not sure why.

  20. Locke says:

    My usual problem solving daydream is being flung back in time to my body at some point in the past, usually five or ten years old, and figuring out how to use my knowledge of the future to my benefit.

  21. General Karthos says:

    I actually never really thought about this. When I’m doing something mind-numbingly boring and nearly automatic (painting a wall, mowing the lawn, driving a long distance) my mind tends to drift away from the task at hand, while my brain does everything automatically that I need to do to accomplish the task.

    I do a lot of writing for play-by-post roleplaying games, and I find that I tend to drift towards that, thinking up situations for what could happen in game, good imagery I want to use, how I want my character in any one of a given number of games to react to the situation that just developed. Thinking along those lines actually occupies more time than writing in almost all cases, except for the very long, elaborate posts.

    When I’m not thinking about writing, and not worrying about bills, or work, or family issues, I think most of it is wish fulfillment. I buy a lottery ticket now and then, not because I believe I will win, but because fantasizing about what I would do if I DID win is worth the price of admission.

    I was a Boy Scout. I hated the military hierarchical structure, and I never bothered to become an Eagle Scout [though I did reach the second-highest rank in the end] but I loved camping and we went camping once a month. Way more than I’ve gone camping since. I also learned a LOT about survival, and dealing with the unexpected, so hypothetical situations I might get into in real life, don’t cause me a whole lot of concern. I’m either prepared for the situation, or I’m not.

    But if I’m, using your example, stuck in the middle of an unknown ocean on an unknown sailing boat with no land in sight, I at least know how to maximize my chances of survival. And I know how to sail, how to build a fishing pole, make a hook, rig bait, catch, clean, and cook fish, how to navigate by stars and the sun…. All thanks to Boy Scouts. This isn’t an endorsement of them, of course, but I did learn a lot that could help me in these hypothetical sorts of situations.

    Oh, but I do have a tendency when faced with a tense situation where I have no control to always imagine the worst possible outcomes, usually many of them that are all contradictory or completely contrary to what I know will ACTUALLY happen. For example, when my debit card information was stolen on a Friday evening, and the credit union I’m with isn’t open on weekends (now they take calls on weekends, but back then they didn’t), I spent the whole weekend worrying about whether or not I’d be able to get my money back and imagining all the terrible things that could happen. In the end, it took five minutes and I didn’t lose a penny. (They had a pretty good idea that I wasn’t in Amsterdam, where the guy was making all the purchases from.) But there were days of worrying about it in there.

    But when I’m in control, able to make my own decisions, and can own the consequences, I’m not nervous. So I don’t sweat the hypotheticals, unless the outcome of a situation is out of my hands.

  22. tzeneth says:

    I personally range from the occasional paranoid (what would I do if a gunman came through that door to rob this place) to the more practical (how would I handle this argument if opposing counsel brings it up). I’m a young lawyer so the thought experiments run a lot on the practical side due to me wanting to be prepared for potential arguments to not make myself look stupid or as stupid because as a young lawyer, you really don’t know everything (no matter how much you want to).

    I also have the fantastical ones like other people have listed where I consider the zombie apocalypse to being nuked and that post apocalypse (assuming I somehow survive the nukes as I believe my location is on the top 500 targets in the US, at least during the Cold War).

  23. Cuthalion says:

    My recurring daydreams come in three formats:

    1) Imagining what I’d say if I were answering questions, usually as a politician being interviewed, a speaker at a con panel, or being grilled due to some opinion I’d expressed. Of course, no one ever interrupts me, and I always come off very persuasive. I think this mode of imagining is how I process moral, political, and theological questions to figure out what I think of them and why.

    2) Imagining that someone from the distant past (often ancient Rome) was following me around, and I was trying to explain the modern world to them. Credit cards, cars, supermarkets, etc. How does all this stuff work, and how can I explain it without depending on other related knowledge? I don’t think I had these as a kid; maybe they’re my way of making sure I’m navigating the adult world without missing something?

    3) Imagining I’m in the same situation as a fictional character and doing things better. Usually this happens when I watch a show where a character does something that annoys me. If you’re going to have superpowers, use them right, dangit!

    Hm… all three of these have to do with me imagining that I’m smarter than other people. I wonder what that says about my arrogance level lol. ^_^;;

    1. JudgeDeadd says:

      This “explain the modern world to a person from the past” seems to be somewhat common, judging from this and other comments. I’m having these kinds of thought experiments too — when I’m commuting around the city, I sometimes begin thinking: What if a person living in my city, but 40 years ago/60 years ago/90 years ago, could right now see through my eyes and listen through my ears? How long would it take them to realize that they’re looking at the future? How would they react to the different things they perceive? What would they think about our clothes, our technology, our advertisements?

  24. Christopher says:

    I’m a newbie comic book artist. I always come back to scenarios or concepts for comics I’d love to make, or that have just stuck with me since I’m a teen and have grown affectionate towards despite them being probable trash. I often fantazise about fight scenes in the style of shonen anime, for instance, which is the sort of thing I could never make based on skillset, location, time, money and everything else in my life. It’s a kind of daydreaming, but of the annoying sort where I would really want to be able to make it, which is more like longing.

    If I just daydream, I usually imagine gorillas running on top of crash barriers if I’m riding a car with someone or imagine scary creatures in the dark or stuff like that. Less wishful thinking and more an idle brain either trying to entertain me or getting frightened by the atmosphere/darkness/being alone.

    What if unlikely disaster X suddenly happened? How would I handle it? What should I do?

    This explains those zombie posts. Sounds like you’ve got a sound mind for running a blog based on whatever is catching your interest.

  25. Maryam says:

    I have imaginary conversations in my head all the time, but I don’t think this is out of any uncontrollable compulsion. Due to my social ineptness (from what factor I’m not really sure) this is the only way I can be prepared for some conversations. I have to have thought about the topic beforehand and have the words I want to use all ready in the back of my head. If I need to come up with them on the spot, I just can’t do it. Either my mind goes totally blank and I can’t even come up with what I’d want to say, or I know the concept but I can’t articulate it readily and
    I end up stammering unproductively.

  26. Steve C says:

    Shamus, what Youtube channels do you watch?

    I remember you mentioning on the Diecast that you don’t watch TV anymore. That your recreational TV time has been replaced by Youtube. Personally I wish I could do that. There’s just not enough of stuff on Youtube I want to watch. Except I know that I’m wrong. With a few million years worth of content on Youtube I know that there has to be more than stuff on there that I’d like, I’ve just never found it.

    So I’m curious what non-TV options you fill your time with.

    1. Droid says:

      If you told us some of your interests, anyone here might be able to help you, not just Shamus, whose time is very limited.

      1. Steve C says:

        Very similar interests to Shamus given all the content for this blog and topics on the Diecasts.

        1. Droid says:

          Well, then. Let the Great Wall of Text be raised until it touches the clouds:

          CinemaSins: They basically make videos where they show scenes from a given movie that they want to “sin”, which means they want to make a cheap joke about it (mostly that overlaps with them pointing out the flaws in a movie, but as they themselves point out: they are not reviewers and sin counts are not representative of how good/bad a movie was)
          DrawCuriosity: She has very interesting videos on a wide variety of scientific topics. She was a guest YouTuber on Tom Scott’s channel once.
          ExtraCredits: They started out discussing video game development, but now have really interesting series about history as well.
          Historia Civilis: If you are interested in (mainly) Roman history, he makes excellent videos about that topic.
          Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell: Some quality videos about topics including human society, astrophysics, politics and technology.
          Lindybeige: Want to hear a British dance instructor ramble endlessly about history/larp/RPGs and various other topics, feel free to check him out.
          Veritasium: He provides edutainment similar to Tom Scott’s computer science / security videos, but about more diverse topics.

          And since you mentioned Numberphile, here are some higher-level maths channels:
          3Blue1Brown: His “Essence of X” series are by far the highest-quality and most approachable explanations of high-school / first-semester maths topics. Even if higher-level maths is not your thing, check out one of his videos.
          blackpenredpen: A maths channel, nothing very exceptional about it, but solid.
          Mathologer: He makes videos very similar to Numberphile, but puts more maths-heavy content in as well, even though I think at least the beginning of his videos are all very Numberphile-like. Great content, overall.
          MindYourDecisions: That one is a bit annoying sometimes, because the channel mixes very clickbait-y easy “viral” questions with actual interesting statistical/stochastic questions. Also a bit cringy with the self-advertisement at the end of his videos.
          PBS Infinite Series: Another really good channel, talking about geometry in higher dimensions, different types of infinity and topology.
          standupmaths / Matt Parker: Another maths channel (plus secondary channel). The topics are not as exotic as with other channels, but he is very entertaining to watch at least. You might know him from Numberphile.

          1. Fade2Gray says:

            Lindybeige is truly impressive. I don’t watch his channel as often as I used to, but the way he can discuss a topic at length and in detail without getting boring and do it all in one take without constant jump-cuts is a genuine talent.

        2. Droid says:

          For RPG stuff:
          Web DM: Talks almost exclusively about DnD 5e. Has a nice campaign video.
          Shadiversity: Has a few videos about RPG rules and such, but most interesting are his worldbuilding/writing videos. Also talks a lot about medieval castles and their portayal in different media, as well as possible weapon choices for things like centaurs, merfolk and other exotic beings.

          And if you’re into hearing absolutely fantastic narrators talk about:
          Dark Souls Lore: VaatiVidya.
          Eve Online History: Rooksandkings.

          1. Fade2Gray says:

            I’d like to second Shadiversity. His is one of my favorite channels right now.

            If you’re interested in videogame reviews, I’d recommend ACG. He has a very colorful, old-school review style where he really digs into the games he discusses.

            I’m also amazed no one’s mentioned LGR yet. He does a lot of reviews of classic PC games and tech. IMHO, his is one of the best channels on YouTube. Shamus has mentioned him a few times and often shares his tweets.

            If you’re interested in Chinese news, China Uncensored (get your mind out of the gutter) is a fun Daily Show style take on China related news stories. (It definitely gets a little political, so fair warning)

            Note: I’m a Patron for all of the channels I mentioned (in addition to Shamus), so that should say something about how much I like what they do.

    2. Cuthalion says:

      He mentioned a few at the start of the post:

      For me, Numberphile, Tom Scott, and Deep Sky Videos are where it's at. And also CGP Grey when the planets align and he makes a vid.

      If you think your tastes are similar, you might take a peek at those.

      1. Steve C says:

        Already do.

  27. Confanity says:

    You know what this reminds me of? Earworms. (That is, the little bits of songs that run through your head unbidden, not anything horrifying.)

    Apparently the current belief is that an earworm forms when your brain is trying to replay a song but can’t remember it all, so it keeps on trying and trying and you end up with the part that you remember playing in your mind’s ear on repeat. Supposedly a good way to get rid of the earworm is to simply listen to the song again and let your brain fill in the missing bits and feel satisfied.

    The question for Samus is whether an equivalent filling-in would be practical: could a daydream about suddenly finding oneself on a sailboat be dispelled by looking up some information on sailing? Or would the amount of research it takes to satisfy the brain and close the scenario end up being more of a pain than just enduring the daydream?

  28. Mormegil says:

    So what you’re trying to say is that not everybody obsessively looks at spaces under buildings and tries to work out if they would work out as a place to live in case they ever became homeless?

  29. “having an idea that sticks with you” I think that’s called life goals for some.

  30. Jack V says:

    I don’t think I get this. I do sometimes go off thinking my own thoughts, but I can see where they come from, they’re something I’m interested in, and I can switch to something else. (And thank god, I don’t have intrusive unpleasant thoughts, or at least, only incredibly rarely which I think is normal.)

    I have heard, many brain-things tend to go together, and it’s not exactly clear why, so I wouldn’t be surprised if someone had a moderate form of one thing also had a mild form of something else, etc.

  31. Zekiel says:

    I have sympathy for this; the idea of persistent and frequent unwanted thoughts (as the chap in the video talks about) is something I can kind of imagine and find pretty scary, precisely because its out of my control. One of my scariest experiences is having a migraine and getting something stuck in my head on a loop (it was a quote or scene from The Simpsons, which sounds utterly ridiculous) and I *could not stop thinking it*. It was like a computer getting stuck in a loop. It’s happened precisely once to me in my entire life and I have profound sympathy for people who experience something similar on a regular basis.

  32. Fade2Gray says:

    I do the historical figure conversation thing in my head too (though sometimes its just generic person from x time period). The conversations tend to focus more on how I would explain modern life to these people and what their reaction would be than on them telling me anything interesting about themselves or their time.

    And then there are video games and occasionally books. If I’ve been playing or reading something particularly interesting (or terrible) I often slip into daydreams where I explain what I find interesting (or aggravating) about the game/book to someone who knows nothing about games (or the book).

    This whole explaining things to people who know nothing about said thing seems to be a recurring theme in my daydreaming. Another frequent daydream I have is where I teach random mundane topics to my future children.

    I also tending to write stories in my head (usually something fantasy or sci-fi), but I usually obsess about the world building and history of the setting and never getting anywhere with the actual story (and what I do come up with is usually fairly dull, even to me).

  33. Trix2000 says:

    I daydream quite a bit, though it often leans towards wish-fulfillment (it turns out it can make for cheap anywhere entertainment :P).

    I do also spend a significant amount of it considering random concepts that enter my mind – often things that are unusual and/or something I would otherwise take for granted or ignore. A common thing that crops up is when I consider certain words, like “why is ‘crops up’ a thing?”

    On the plus side, it means that introspection comes fairly naturally to me and often.

    1. Fade2Gray says:

      A common thing that crops up is when I consider certain words, like “why is “˜crops up' a thing?”

      I do that a lot too. Every once in a while a particular word will get stuck in my head (like “pants”, both the American and British meaning) and I’ll puzzle over whether or not I can figure out where it came from* before looking it up in an etymology website.

      *I usually don’t get anywhere near the actual origin of the word.

  34. Rick says:

    I might try and do this sort of in-depth planning next time I have mental downtime.

    Currently I just take the number 2 and double it over and over (without writing anything down) until I think I’ve gone wrong then check on a calculator. Last night I got to 2^20 and it checked out. But maths isn’t really my thing.

  35. default_ex says:

    I have certainly experienced exactly what your referring to. Multiple times over in a year or two long stint. Was working on a parallel game engine where I was doing everything possible to avoid any unnecessary blocking. This was before we had awesome libraries around just for this purpose during the period where a lot of the concepts appeared that such libraries were built around. The premise meant ditching damn near everything I knew about how to work with data structures we commonly need and instead engineer new means of doing the same functionality without requiring any thread locking or wait cycles.

    I had nights during that time where I got off my computer, turned around and plopped into bed only to find myself stuck awake thinking about the problem at hand. Dozed off to find myself dreaming about the problem. Woke up still thinking about the problem, sometimes woke up because I solved it while dreaming on it and wanted to get the concept down on paper before it faded away by the waking process. It was both exciting and torture at the same time. While I don’t regret treating the problems so seriously, I do take steps now to avoid having myself get like that again.

    I’ll try to talk about the problems I’m facing in abstract terms to anyone willing to invest a little thought or even just a listening ear. In the case of thinkers they tend to help find solutions I would have never considered and in the case of listeners at least it doesn’t consume my every moment of thought. In one case I wrote a paper and submitted it to a book calling for papers in the field it was pertinent to just to get it out of my head.

  36. CrypticSmoke says:

    Kind of amazed someone else does this to be honest.
    I really thought I was the only one.
    (For me though, the only way to clear my head is to force myself into a high stakes situation that just eats up all of my cognitive processes. Usually some kind of permadeath (or permadeath’s scrawny cousin, really really shitty death) game and just doing crazy ill advised things until I either choke or push the boundaries of what I thought I could do. Although then in the afterglow (or aftermath, depending) I’ll get caught up in trying to break down how things went right/wrong, what the addition or subtraction of certain variables would’ve changed, and the whole vicious cycle starts again.

  37. Christian Severin says:

    For months after reading Andreas Eschbach’s “One Trillion Dollars” (just get it at your local library: it’s a story about some shmuck inheriting $1,000,000,000,000 and what he does with basically unlimited wealth) it would color my entire worldview. Several times a day, when I would watch the news or read an article or talk to people or just ride my bike, I’d wonder in the back of my head if investing in this business or donating to that NGO or bribing this politician would be a good lever to improve the world. It got better after a few weeks, so that nowadays this kind of daydreaming only happens, say, monthly — but until then, it had become annoying.

    I’m not sure “One Trillion Dollars” is Good Literature: the protagonist has to act a bit dumb at one point to make the plot work, and especially the end seems a bit rushed. But I thought about the book about 100x as long as I spent reading it.

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