For as long as I can remember, I have daydreamed about riding a rollercoaster to school in the morning. Right from my front door to the classroom. This persisted into high school, university and I still today daydream about this on long journeys. I love the thought of hopping into a high flying, adrenaline-pumping rollercoaster first thing in the morning to see the view and make my way to where I need to go.
Now I could talk about my love of rollercoasters in so many ways, how I wanted to become a rollercoaster engineer but mechanical mathematics was my nemesis at school, how I have religiously played Rollercoaster Tycoon my whole life, or how I was lucky enough to grow up in California in close proximity to Disneyland, Legoland and my beloved Six Flags. No, actually, I wanted to write here about the “ah ha” moment I had that inspired me to write this blog. How my rollercoaster daydreams were born out of my self-regulation.
I started diving deeper the other day, thinking about why the thought of a roller coaster to school was just so appealing to me from a young age. That got me thinking about what it was like getting out the door as a child and my journey to school every day. I had a pretty solid morning routine, I rarely overslept, I ate breakfast, I watched a set chunk of Good Morning America, had my lunch packed in advance, but somehow the morning would end with us flying out the door and me being the last child through the school doors in the morning. Why? Self-Reg helps me unpack so many aspects of this, and just to name a few:
I now realize I struggled with the home to school transition in the morning. Leaving the safety of my Mum for the hustle and bustle of a school. This also explains why I attached so closely with my elementary teachers, they had the power to co-regulate me and cue safety.
I’m not a morning person, yes I can be up, ready and grumpy free but being alert enough to engage in school first thing, not quite. Even to this day, my flow states are most commonly in the afternoon or evening.
The first part of every day was everyone standing up and saying the pledge of allegiance, and that always felt like a chore to me that could be missed.
I had to always see the last part of Good Morning America where they showed a happy “fluff” piece, which pushed me dangerously close to leaving time. No surprise this positive story would give me the little energy boost or dopamine hit to send me on my way for the day.
I believe there was an underlying social discomfort that started appearing at the end of elementary school where social dynamics began to shift and these daydreams really began to settle in.
And what did daydreaming about rollercoasters on the way to school do? It helped increase my energy and reduce my tension, providing me with some of the necessary resources needed to tackle the day ahead. Although I wasn’t getting that rush of being on a coaster, even just thinking about it helped me relive the joy that I glean from them. There is evidence that simply recalling an event can reactivate the neural structures involved and help strengthen and consolidate the memory (Lehmann & McNamara, 2011). And with the hippocampus in the limbic system, we can easily extrapolate that if I feel calm on a coaster, then remembering that moment can cue similar stress-reducing benefits.