If only, you say to yourself.
If only you could make your dreams a reality. They may be small hopes, like seeing your favourite artist play live. Or they may be huge, like attending the premiere of the film version of your novel. Your dreams have the feeling of wistfulness about them.
You pick names for your fictional characters and decide who will play them on screen. Maybe you imagine walking down the aisle with that perfect person. Or crossing the finish line of the New York Marathon, exhausted and happy.
And you hide your dreams away because dreams are for children and you have a real, adult life to attend to.
Dreams Are Not Allowed
From the moment of birth, you’re taught how to behave and how to gain acceptance in the world.
Adulthood consists of submitting when life knocks off the corners and edges that don’t fit in your assigned box.
Adulthood means growing up, and growing up means forgetting all those ridiculous daydreams.
Your parents and teachers told you not to waste your time dreaming, because it doesn’t lead anywhere. They taught you that success comes from hard work here in the real world, doing serious jobs. You took that lesson to heart, put your head down and followed whatever path they chose for you. You became realistic about what you could achieve.
You forgot to look up at stars and sky, and wonder.
You were caught in a trap and told it was the right place to be. Society rewards conformity with peer and elder approval and punishes the maverick with exclusion and ridicule. Who wants to be that guy?
But your dreams didn’t go away completely. Occasionally you glimpse them out of the corner of your eye, when your brain drifts in a boring meeting or long commute. Sometimes the sight of someone else with your dream makes you envious or sad, and you can’t fully explain why.
You know, deep down, something’s missing from your life.
Realists Are Failures
Not one of the technological and artistic advances we now enjoy were created by realists. Sure, when it comes to implementation, refinement, and exploitation, a concrete approach is essential. But concrete builds solid foundations. It does not let us fly.
Everything that exists in the world begins as an idea. An idea has no mass. It can be as expansive as your imagination. In other words, ideas are limitless. Work must be done to manifest ideas in the real world, but dreaming is free.
If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses.
Realism doesn’t produce innovation, it produces incremental improvement. To produce something new, you must first dream a new dream. That’s how the world got cars, airplanes, telephones, computers, and video games.
That’s how you’ll get where you want to be.
Time To Grow Up
When you decide how to behave in a given situation, the voices of caregivers and authority figures loop endlessly, and often unrecognised, in your inner conversation.
Your father no longer scares you so that you never look him in the eye, but when faced by an aggressive manager that’s exactly what you do without thinking. And you wonder why you can’t assert yourself.
School days are far behind you, but when you browse painting sets online your old art teacher whispers that you don’t have an artist’s eye. And instead of wondering why you’re looking at paints, you click away. That’s not for me, you say.
Here’s the thing. You’re an adult now. No-one is the boss of you. You get to decide how you act at all times, and you take responsibility for your actions. At some point, you need to stop blaming parents, caregivers, teachers or others in your past for how you respond to life now.
The past experiences and attached emotions that make up much of your inner self-talk are no more than an outdated script. Once you realise that your reaction today is based on the memory of a conversation that’s decades old, then you free yourself from it. That was then and this is now. You can choose to respond differently and write a new script.
That’s when you grow up.
Start Your Second Childhood
“The creative adult is the child who survived after the world tried killing them, making them grown up. The creative adult is the child who survived the blandness of schooling, the unhelpful words of bad teachers, and the nay-saying ways of the world. The creative adult is in essence simply that, a child.”
Everyone has their share of bad experiences. You’ve been shaped by them to some extent. Now it’s time to turn the page and write a new chapter with new rules. Acknowledge what feels bad and let it show you where you need to seek something better.
This means rediscovering your inner child. You might consult books such as these to guide your journey. Or you might simply need to let go of your old programming and try new ways, such as the artist dates in Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way.
We are all innately creative. It is possible to be a functional adult and retain childlike wonder and creative flow. Both are essential to a sense of wholeness.
From Reality To Fantasy
Now you know that cultivating dreams is not only good but essential and nobody can tell you otherwise, it’s time to examine what that means for you.
Although dreams look very different on the outside, they can be stripped down to a small number of basic desires.
- Security: safety, stability
- Love: belonging, bonding, intimacy
- Esteem: respect, confidence, achievement
- Self-actualisation: spontaneity, knowledge, purpose, and meaning
Understanding your underlying drives will help you see whether different approaches to similar goals are right for you.
One person might value respect, another stability. The first is happier writing well-reviewed literary fiction, the other writes copy that sells. Their dreams might look like ‘my novel is featured in The Times Literary Supplement’ versus ‘I support myself by writing for others.’
Both are writers but their dreams lie on different paths. Our desires form a hierarchy of needs and we are happiest when the earlier needs are met before seeking out the higher ones. That might mean your dream is on hold while you work on strengthening the foundations of life.
This visualisation exercise is designed to bring your dream into focus so that you can use it in the real world. I’m going to talk about writing, but it can be applied to anything you want to create.
Get comfortable and close your eyes. Breathe slowly. In the future, you’ve achieved your dream. What does it look like?
You’re typing on a new laptop in a cosy study, and your days as a wage slave are behind you. You’re holding a copy of your book in Barnes and Noble. A bus drives past advertising the film of your book. At a party, you say confidently, “This is my latest project.”
Now zoom in on specifics. What are you wearing? Is the bubbly in your glass Prosecco or beer or mineral water? Use all your senses. Turn up the brightness and create a vivid picture.
There Are No Limits
If you want to be a number one bestselling author, touch the cover of your book. If you want to finish first in a triathlon, hear the spectators’ cheers. If you crave acclaim from family, feel the glow in your chest. It can only come true if you first create it mentally.
When you have the picture and the feeling that comes with it, fix it in your mind with an anchor. The anchor is a physical sensation. Linking the sensation with the vision makes it easier to recall. Pinch your thumb and middle finger together firmly while picturing your dream in all its multicoloured glory.
Practice frequently until you can recall the dream with ease, simply by pressing your thumb and middle finger together.
Great athletes use visualisation to increase their chance of winning. They have a clearly defined image of success, and that allows them to work towards it knowing that they are heading in the right direction. And the image can be a comfort when things are not going so well. The prize is still out there, waiting for you to reach it.
Where Are You Going?
It doesn’t matter where you’re going, as long as the destination matters to you.
Once you have a dream fixed in your mind, you can check activity against whether it moves you closer to your goal or away from it. That might mean giving up chocolate because you’re training hard, or putting your great novel aside to make enough money to live on by writing copy.
Either way, you’re in charge. You own your decisions and their consequences. You stop making excuses. Your destiny is in your hands.
Go get it.