Being Watched Makes Me Perform Better: The Strange World of Daydreaming

Following an odd daydream that I have regularly, I looked into it and was fascinated by what I found.


7/14/20233 min read

This article may be better as a session with a therapist, but it’s something I’ve noticed and wondered if I’m alone.

The setup is pretty straightforward. On occasion, when I’m in the gym and I notice someone nearby, I have fantasies about how they’re watching my performance. It continues that they’re impressed by how fast I’m going, by how much I’m lifting or by my technique. There’s nothing sexual about it. And I’m not impressive!

But the odd thing is, I subsequently tend to get a surge of power or energy. As a result, I actually go faster, lift that extra rep and keep better form.

The thought pops into my head. Not all the time and it’s not something I cultivate. And until right now, it’s not something I’ve ever considered in any great depth.

I’m sure there’s a psychologist out there who can tell me I need to be liked by people or that my father never gave me enough attention (this is probably true!). For now, I’m not concerned. I’ll take the boost whenever it pops into my head.

The thought prompted me to look further into the world of fantasies.

First, some terminology. Fantasies and daydreams are the same thing. In colloquial English though, you hear fantasy, you think there’s going to be some sex aspect. But sexual fantasies are just one type of the broader phenomenon. Nevertheless, to avoid further tittering, let’s stick with daydreaming. The official scientific term is mind-wandering. And we do an awful lot of it.

It turns out psychologists know quite a bit about what it means, why we do it and what value it has.

Wait until you read how much time we all spend on average doing it. Take a guess now before you get to it further down the page. Wtf?

1. It’s something we all do. All the time.

Everyone does it but some people do it more than others. There are two ‘networks’ in your brain. The working memory network and the default brain network. When we’re awake and concentrating, the working memory network is in full swing. But when we’re off daydreaming and when we’re asleep, it’s the default brain network that takes over. For most people, it’s a binary system: only one network can be active at a time. However, some people — notably schizophrenics — have both operating simultaneously.

2. Daydreaming serves a purpose.

It can be entertaining, distracting, help you deal with emotions, and provide a subconscious way of dealing with a problem.

Einstein daydreamed about someone racing a beam of light, which began the process that led to the theory of relativity. And Mary Shelley’s inspiration for Frankenstein came about as a result of a daydream.

It can simply be a way to deal with a boring task. And sometimes acts as a mental dress rehearsal for future events.

3. It can mean you’re more creative and productive.

There’s a lot of research into daydreaming and some of the findings contradict each other. However, there are some general theories. Creative people tend to daydream more. including children. Adults who daydream more tend to be more productive.

4. On average, humans spend 30 to 47% of our waking hours daydreaming.

A third to half of your life?!! That’s astonishing. The main time people stop daydreaming? Aside from being asleep. It’s during sex. Makes sense I guess — the one time you really want to be in the moment.

— — — —

So. Fantasize away. Daydream to your heart’s content and don’t worry about whether you’re normal or not. You are.

And while I’ve never heard of anyone — nor could I find any reference about it on the web — getting energy boosts from thinking people were admiring their lifting technique — I’m going to skip that session with a therapist and accept that I, along with all my fellow humans, have some odd daydreams from time to time.