Top Tip #5

Tip: Don’t keep zoning out and get lost in your head or anyone else’s; instead, develop the life skill of staying zoned in and ENGAGING YOUR REALITY.

LEVEL 1 – The training technique

Most people know what I mean when I ask them: Do you get lost in your head? By that, I mean do you mentally disconnect from reality and get lost in your imagination, thinking fantasies and fantastic thoughts that are not real or realistic? Being lost in your head is a state of mind we can call dissociation (from reality). Many people spend too much time dissociated, which can be very problematic.

People can be dissociated and not realize that it is a problem. Understanding any problem, including this one, is half the battle won. The first step in managing dissociation is awareness when it occurs. This involves intentionally monitoring yourself for being dissociated (lost in your head). The second step is to “wake yourself up” out of dissociation.

​There are different ways of doing this, such as snapping your self with an elastic band you can wear on your wrist or some other wake up stimulus. Then, you need to get up and engage your reality in a way that requires deliberate focus and thought such as pursuing good goals. The antidote to dissociation is “busyness” that engages you in your reality. Note that you can be busy but still lost in your head all day while doing mindless routine tasks such as washing dishes, cutting grass or pulling weeds, and such.

There is another form of dissociation from reality besides being lost in your head that is also worthy of note. You can also spend volumes of time disconnected from reality by getting lost in external time consumers that absorb your attention away from reality such as T.V., video games, computers, mobile phones, and so on. These are often activities that, upon completion, have nothing to show for the time and energy spent. Management of this form of dissociation from reality is similar: shut the source off, wake yourself up, get up and get busy in activities that constructively engage your reality.

LEVEL 2 – The training tool template

Make a chart with three vertical columns for charting dissociation. The heading for the column on the left is “the date.” Label the middle column with the heading % of the time spent today dissociated from reality and label the right hand column as % of today engaged in reality. At the end of each day, estimate the % of the time of day spent in both states of mind. Monitor what is happening and try to shift from time spent in dissociation to time engaging your reality.

LEVEL 3 – Try a trial test to see what happens

Set up experimental days to deliberately spend more time than usual in dissociation and other days more time than usual busily engaged in reality. Assess which feels and works better for you, especially in the long run. Doing it deliberately both ways helps you to assess and take control of the process.

LEVEL 4 – The target goal

I suggest you train yourself in the life skill of engaging your reality 90% of the time you are awake. This can leave 10% of your time, if you wish, to dissociate and get lost in your head. It could be even better if you were to spend that 10% constructively using your imagination and the mind state of dissociation for creativity, invention, positive imaging and success rehearsals, problem solving, and beneficial self entertainment.

LEVEL 5 – Typical cases in point

Many of my patients report spending large portions of their day lost in their heads in harmful ways; some, up to 90% of the day. A common example would be worriers imagining their worries happening or coming true.

LEVEL 6 – The theory

Dissociation and engagement in reality are two mutually exclusive states of mind. The engaged state of mind is focused on reality, the dissociated state is not. Although you can rapidly switch back and forth, you are either in one state or the other at any given moment. Since our real life exists in reality, it makes sense that it is reality we should spend our time engaging as best we can. It is important to remember that we are talking about you engaging your own little unique bubble of reality, not that of others.

Excessive dissociation can be a major mental health problem. I observe that the experience of dissociation to imagination is usually not pleasant; instead, it is usually a negative experience involving dwelling on negative thoughts that amount to what I call “day mares” or your worst nightmares that generate negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, depression, guilt, hurt, and regrets. Dissociation to externally generated fantasies such as horror movies can also end up being disturbing. Although dissociation is a passive activity, it can be quite draining. In spite of all that, it can feel difficult to avoid and terminate or even somehow attractive. Metaphorically, it can feel like being sucked into a difficult-to-resist black hole. It strikes me that tough as reality can be, it is very often easier to deal with it than negative thoughts in dissociation. I think this still holds true if the imaginary content is not emotionally upsetting, such as imagining winning the lottery, or being a superhero.

Dissociation to imagination may be a primitive mechanism that was useful to keep people safe by imaging the worst so that it can be avoided, or to learn lessons from bad outcomes from the past. In modern civilization, it seems generally unnecessary, unhelpful and harmful.

It is worthy to note that there are many other ways, besides dissociation on internal and external subject matter, whereby people spend volumes of time avoiding reality, such as substance use (addictions), isolation, extending help to others while avoiding their own reality, and so on. All time spent avoiding your own reality is generally upsetting and unproductive for your life, as problems build up, and your life can go out of control.

People are more vulnerable to dissociation when concentration is impaired, when alone, not busy, bored, lacking sensory stimulation (such as while being in dark, quiet), etc. This is why being busy with engaging activities in reality is an antidote to dissociation.

LEVEL 7 – Try more tests and trials

Think about the realities in your life both good and bad that are not getting the engagement they deserve because you spend too much time dissociated from them. There, you may find many opportunities to try applying the life skill of engaging your reality in a purposeful way. We will be discussing goal setting later (life skill #9), which is a good way of engaging your reality.

LEVEL 8 – Tracking your progress

Your training tool in Level 2 can serve also as your tracking tool.

LEVEL 9 – Take off

Use this life skill to launch yourself away from the problems it can help you solve or resolve and to go on to a better way of living in which you can feel good and function well. Make an extensive list of the specific problems and issues this life skill empowers you to rise above and leave behind. Visualize yourself doing so.

LEVEL 10 – Texts for this topic

Dysfunctional dissociation can be a handicap for smart thinking. For further reading I can recommend

Please note: Books are not available at this time.