So, that nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach, while you’re guiltily pressing ‘Next episode’ on Netflix? That’s all the things you dream of doing and just never quite get to! Some call that ‘procrastination’–the romantics amongst us call it ‘daydreaming’.
Daydreaming is a powerful tool, but like all tools, it can become dangerous and work against us if not used carefully. You see, daydreaming opens up your mind. By letting your mind roam free, you are bringing your intelligent and creative sides together, and the results can be mesmerizing. But what happens if all you do is daydream? And, most important, how can we ever stop, when it’s so enjoyable?
Not all daydreaming is created equal—the ‘reality test’
First of all, you have to come clean: do you really want your dreams to come true? Perhaps you are using daydreaming as a way to relax, to avoid stressful situations and to just entertain yourself. That doesn’t mean you should always take those dreams seriously.
It might be fun to imagine being super famous, gawked upon and sought after—but would that really be something you want in your everyday life? Some things are better left to the imagination! Or perhaps, you really, honestly believe you want to become a doctor. But are you willing to spend all those years studying, stressed and sleepless? Is it something that will bring you happiness or are you simply hooked on the idea of being someone others will look up to? Sure there are other ways to achieve that—ways that will be closer to your own heart!
So, next time you are daydreaming, try bringing that dream just a tiny bit closer to your actual life—how do you feel about that? Are you comfortable with your dream as part of your reality? If you are, then keep reading!
‘He’s making a list and checking it twice”
Make a plan! List all the things you want to achieve, all the things that have passed the ‘reality test’ we mentioned earlier and stare at it for a long, long time. Is there anything on there that gets you really giddy? Perhaps you have ‘own a bookstore’ on your list—does the thought of books, old and new, make you want to jump with excitement? Great! Now take a step back. Think that before you have your own business, it would be a good idea to work at one for a while, to learn all the ins and outs. Are you still exited? Or maybe the dream has lost its glamour a bit? Now take a further step back—you can do some online research to discover the practicalities of making a living as a bookstore owner. If the prospect sounds boring, and all that really gets your attention is the actual fact of being a bookstore owner, then perhaps you should reconsider. After all, we can’t just jump into whatever dream we have conjured—we will have to first do all the legwork to get to it. If you can’t even think of doing that, then you’re setting yourself up for failure!
Don’t give disappointment a chance!
Disappointment can be your worst enemy when it comes to achieving your dreams. You begin your journey all starry-eyed and happy and then, bam! You are down on your face, swearing off anything that reminds you of your shattered dream. Wanted to become a sommelier and failed the first test after studying for a whole… week? No wonder now you don’t want to even use wine in you cooking—all those apricot smells you won’t be able to identify wafting beneath your nose, that would be hard on anyone! That’s what happens when we sabotage ourselves—we fail and that makes us believe we are doomed to fail in everything. And that hurts! Protect yourself and your new-hatched dream and start small—find a first step that is within your possibilities (if you can’t, then at least one that is within human possibilities) and go for that. Don’t forget the mantra “if at first you don’t succeed, na na na na na na, try again, try again.”
Pavlov, at your service
Next time you find yourself drifting off into fairy-tale land, don’t think of what will happen when you reach your goal. Think of what you will do to reach it. That’s right, use daydreaming to beat daydreaming! By visualizing a successful path to victory, you, first of all, get new ideas on how to actually get there, and second, you are conditioning yourself for success! Just like Pavlov’s dog, our brain won’t know the difference and will slowly get comfortable with the idea of you being the person you want to be—hopefully convincing you, too! If you truly believe in yourself (and your brain roots for you), then there will be nothing standing in your way. Because even if you don’t get there on the first try, your self-assurance will help you try again and again and again.
Mistakes? What mistakes?
Sometimes we are afraid of even trying because we are not used to making mistakes. We have been conditioned all our lives that mistakes are a bad thing—they will get us bad grades, scornful looks, the pity of those around us on trivia night. Imagine a world where mistakes were celebrated! ‘Well done!’, your teacher would say, ‘you spelled this completely wrong! Now you are a tiny bit closer to actually knowing how to spell it!’ If this was your world, you wouldn’t think twice before jumping head in into new, potentially mistake-ridden territory. You would be delighted by the chance to learn through your mistakes. Now, since you can’t change your past/the society/your password because you forgot the secret question and no longer have the same phone number, change what you have control of—your own perception. See possible mistakes as a challenge you can’t wait to face—and there will be almost nothing you can’t do!
Find a buddy!
The best way to get over that first hurdle on the way from ‘dream’ to ‘action’ is to find someone to do it together. Nothing better than another person nudging you to deliver on your promises!
It would be great if we all could just do the things we want to do! But since that’s never easy, why not capitalize on the fact that humans are social animal? Peer pressure works, and we can use it to our advantage! So, either chose a friend with the same goal as yours and develop an action plan together or join a group or club of like-minded people and let them carry you along, towards the land of fulfilled dreams! For example, if your dream is to become a writer, find a writing group in your neighborhood, or an online community of writers in your niche. You won’t believe the effect their presence will have in your life! Other people might just be the grounding you needed to take action!
Leave some eggs out—there might be other baskets
By framing your dream in terms of ‘I either achieve this, or I don’t know who I am anymore’ might help spur you into action, but is it a good strategy overall? If we define who we are by our dreams and, even worse, by our success in achieving them, then we risk leading very unbalanced internal lives. Think of your dreams as something that you own—they should answer to you, not the other way around. You should be able to draw strength and inspiration from your goals, see them as a chance to form connections and get to know other people and new situations. They should not be a heavy sword hanging over your head, threatening to destroy everything you know and love at the first mishap. You would never (I hope) bet everything you own on a single number, would you? Then how can you bet your precious self on one single dream? You are so much more than that. You are your friends, your family, your interests, your thoughts, your actions. Rest assured that a dream is just one part of all that. It might be a large part, but it could never encompass everything that makes you you. So, next time that sword comes swinging, remember that you are much bigger than this—and no matter the dream, it will always be the expression of just one part of you.
Can’t stop daydreaming?
What happens when you just can’t get out of that cloud of hazy light and wishful thinking? What if you spend a hefty amount of every single day, dreaming about a different life? Then, jokes aside, you have to take a serious look at whatever is chasing you away from your current life. Perhaps you have outgrown your job/living arrangement/relationship? When was the last time you took stock of the ins and outs of your existence? You have to remember that no amount of daydreaming will ever solve a real problem—it might sometimes give you a new insight into a situation, but even then, you will have to duck beneath the clouds and take action. So, while ‘better late than never’ is technically true, it is even more true that ‘the earlier the better’. Look around, take inventory and start changing whatever is pushing your thoughts into the safe embrace of dreamland.
It’s not a failure if you don’t want it anymore
No, really. Just because we know and talk about ‘grit’ and perseverance and ‘whatever doesn’t kill you’, that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice our lives for something we wanted when we were three. If the reason you are giving up is not because you are afraid to fail, then, in a twisted paradox of nature, it’s okay to fail! Put the dream down, step away carefully, and then run like the wind into the embrace of a new goal and a new dream. Don’t stop dreaming, is all I’m saying, but don’t let yourself be trapped into the one dream.
Now, go do all that!
There you go, now you are all set to go and achieve your dreams! If only you had known that all you needed was an article, right? That, and a worthy dream, of course. Well, and some perseverance, strength of character and, of course, determination. Oh, and self-awareness and an open mind—always keep an open mind. Well, no one said it would be easy, just that it’s possible!
And remember to frequently check back upon yourself—am I enjoying the process? Does the end goal still bring me joy? It’s important to reassess every once in a while, so as not to spend your energy on things you no longer want.
In the end, dreams are there as a stimulating force, to get us moving, to get us trying. What matters are not the dreams in themselves, but what they teach us about ourselves. Use your dreams to challenge your perceptions and your abilities, but don’t let them bring you down—after all, there are always more to come!