Category Archives: Food for Thought
What do you do if you have a dream, but everyone around you keeps telling you to be more realistic and to give up the dream? What if they want you to pursue a more “sensible” and traditional career route?
You ignore them. You shut out the naysayers, and you stay focused on your dream.
It’s the only way. Because in our lives, we will always have naysayers, we will always have negative people, and if we listen to them, we will never pursue our dreams.
Today we’ll look at how to do that, and to make those dreams a reality.
Reader Valerie asked me recently:
I’m barely 17 (turning 18 next February), and I have set goals for my life. But in the world that we live in, where everyone’s encouraged to get a steady job, find someone to settle down with, and have a family, I rarely find support for my “crazy” dreams. I want to live in Hong Kong, work in the fashion industry, and I refuse to get married before I turn 30, if I even find someone to marry.
I know that my goals and dreams are completely in my grasp, but with all these speeches about “the real world” that people my age hear constantly, I tend to doubt myself a lot. How can I stay true to myself and stay motivated?
Look at Valerie: she has a dream, and she’s ready to take the plunge, to take a risk, to change her life just to make that dream come true. She knows what she wants, she has a plan, she’s willing to do more than most of us are willing to do to get what she wants.
And yet, she has doubts, because dreams such as hers are not considered realistic. Those doubts, my friends, are what will stop any of us from achieving our dreams.
Doubts are The Enemy
We all have doubts, and they’re unavoidable. And sometimes, it’s good to be realistic, because you need to be able to analyze whether a dream is achievable or not.
But if the only thing stopping you is fears and doubts, and not some insurmountable obstacle, then you need to banish those fears and doubts.
Why? Because a doubt, as innocuous as it may seem at first, has a way of creeping its way into your subconscious, into the depths of your heart, like some kind of black and evil creature that has infiltrated your body. The doubt lingers at the back of your head, without you being aware of it, and will eventually conquer your dreams if you let it.
And when this happens, the doubt is more powerful than you realize. When you are making the tough decisions, like whether to apply for college or to go off to Hong Kong and pursue your dreams, your dreams will lose out, because of that doubt in the back of your head. When you think about yourself, your self-image will not be of that person you want to be, but the person that others want you to be.
Doubts will keep you in a job you hate, just because you’re afraid to go do what you really want to do. Doubts will keep you with a person who abuses you, because you don’t think you deserve better.
How to Banish Doubts in Three Steps
As doubts are so insidious, how do you beat them? It’s three simple steps, but each one is a bit more difficult than they sound:
- Become aware. Doubt gets its power mostly because it is in our subconscious, and we’re not aware of the effects it has on us. Instead, we have to bring it to the forefront of our minds. And that means concentrating on our thoughts, and trying to search out those doubts and negative thoughts as they come up. The ones that say, “Maybe I can’t do this. Maybe it’s not realistic.” If you make a conscious effort to be aware of these doubts, you can catch them and beat them.
- Squash the doubt. Once you’ve become aware of the doubt, imagine that the doubt is an ugly little bug. Now step on it, and squash it with the bottom of your shoe. Not literally, of course, but in your mind. Exterminate it. Do not let it live and spread!
- Replace it with something positive. Now that you’ve squashed the doubt, replace it with positive thoughts. It sounds corny, but trust me, this works: think to yourself, “I can do this! Others have done it, and so can I! Nothing will stop me.” Or something along those lines, appropriate to whatever it is you’re doing.
You have to continue to be vigilant, and be aware of your doubts before they stop you cold in your tracks. This is a constant process as you pursue your dreams, not a one-time thing. Doubts, like insects, will continue to come back, even after you’ve killed the first wave or two. You can’t let them thrive and overcome you.
What to Do About Naysayers
So what about those external negative factors — the naysayers? Those friends and family and people in authority who tell you to stop dreaming, to be realistic, to take a more traditional path? Those who tell you that you can’t do something?
You have to learn to block them out. Or, if you have a contrarian streak in you, learn to let those naysayers fuel your determination — make it your desire to prove the naysayers wrong!
How do you block out naysayers? The same way you block out doubts and negative thoughts in your own head: you squash them. OK, don’t literally squash another person. But when they say something negative, or something that is likely to cause doubts in your head, take that thought (in your head) and squash it. Then replace it with something positive.
If someone is constantly bringing you down and constantly making you feel like you can’t do something, you might consider removing them from your life. This sounds drastic, and it can be, but the truth is that having a life full of negative people will drag you down to their level, and stop you from doing what you want to do. I’m not saying you should get a divorce or never see your mother again (if they’re the naysayers), but I am saying that you should pick your friends carefully.
Instead, surround yourself with positive, encouraging people. If you have friends like that, you can do anything.
How to Take the Plunge
So you’ve blocked out the naysayers, you’ve learned to become aware of your doubts and to squash them … and you’re ready to pursue your dreams.
But you’re afraid to take the plunge.
It can be very helpful to do a lot of research and to carefully plan your plunge. But once you’ve done that research and planning, you still have to take the plunge. How do you do that?
Imagine that you need to swim out to a boat on a lake, and you’re standing on the dock, looking down at the icy cold water. You are afraid to dive into that water, but you know you need to take that plunge to get to your boat. So how do you do it? Do you go in one toe at a time? Do you stand there for awhile, waiting for the right moment? Do you wait for someone to give you a push?
No. You have to just do it — just dive in! You’ve already done all the thinking you need to do. Just dive in.
Once you’re in, it’ll be freezing, but you’re in. You now have no choice but to swim to the boat. And once you’ve gotten to the boat, you’ll be glad you took that plunge.
That’s how it is with your dreams. You can’t wait for the right moment to come along, or for someone to give you a push, or for the lake to heat up. Just dive right in!
Once you’re in, you’re committed, and you have to go for it. You don’t want to turn back once you’ve taken the plunge. Now you’re more likely to achieve your dreams.
So plan it out, do your research … but when you’re ready, just dive right in. And don’t look back.
How to Stay Motivated
How do you keep your motivation levels high in the face of adversity and obstacles that are sure to come up? Motivation goes up and down, and comes in waves. It’s impossible to keep it high all the time.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Keep the end in mind. Have a clear picture in your head of exactly how you want your dream to turn out in the end. Know where you’ll be, what it’ll look like, how it will feel. Know exactly what needs to happen for your dream to be a success — how will you know you’ve arrived? Keep this clear picture in your head as much as possible.
- Stay focused. Don’t get distracted by other goals or pursuits. If you are tempted to pursue other dreams, do so only with the awareness that you are abandoning your current dream, at least for now. If you don’t want to do that, then fight off the temptation of those other pursuits. For now, just stick with this one goal.
- Get inspired. Who else is achieving this dream, or other dreams? Read about them, talk to them, email them. Go to websites that inspire you. Read books that inspire you. Inspiration is one of the keys to achieving any dream.
- Celebrate any success. Anything, however small, that you achieve is a cause for joyous celebration. Really. If you’re writing a novel, and you’ve created a great character sketch, celebrate! If you’ve written your first few paragraphs, celebrate! Your dream will be achieved in baby steps, not in leaps and bounds. Every step is a cause for celebration … with enough steps, you’ll get there.
If you’re looking for a great book about pursuing your dreams in the face of obstacles, I recommend The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s a parable that’s very well told and very inspiring.
Reader Carolyn recently asked, “How can an achievement-motivated workaholic learn to back off, relax, de-stress, and feel good about doing it? I am too driven!”
This is a common problem, and one that has several parts we should look at separately:
1. Being achievement-motivated.
2. Being a workaholic.
3. Learning to relax and de-stress.
4. Learning to feel good about it.
Let’s start by saying that there’s nothing inherently wrong with work — it can be fun, exciting, fulfilling, rewarding. I love my work in a way I never did for most of my life, until a few years ago, and work is one thing I live for, that I jump out of bed each morning to do.
However, the reader recognizes that there’s more to life than work, and that relaxing is important, and that stress is a major problem. When work takes over your life and causes problems — with your relationships, health, happiness — then it’s time to step back and figure out a better way.
Each person needs to figure out what that better way is, and I can’t offer one solution to fit all, but here are some thoughts on the four parts of the problem outlined above.
1. Stop being achievement-motivated.
There’s nothing wrong with achievements or being proud of them — it’s a natural thing to feel good about what you’ve accomplished. But it shouldn’t be the only thing that motivates you.
What’s a better motivation? Doing things you love, creating something great, being with people you love, doing things that are exciting.
If your work is something you love, something that excites you, that’s great. You’re better off than most, actually. But there’s gotta be more — what else gives you joy? Do you have hobbies you love? Do you like doing anything outdoors? Do you have family members or friends you love?
Figure out 4-5 things that truly make you happy and excite you — at least one of them should be a person or persons, and one of the others must be non-work-related. You need some balance in your life.
Get excited about these things, and be motivated by your love for them. If you have a spouse and kids, for example, let your life be motivated with the thought of spending time with them.
2. Stop being a workaholic.
What’s a workaholic? Someone who overdoes work — long hours, can’t stop working even at night, obsessed with work, to the detriment of other parts of his life.
If this is you, you might need help — beyond the help I can give you in an article. You might need to reach out to family members, to a therapist, to a group (online or off). There’s no shame in this — sometimes this is what’s needed to conquer an addiction.
But if you aren’t so far gone, you might be able to implement a few steps to stop from working so much.
First, stop working after a certain time — say 5 or 6 p.m. Make this a hard line: tell your office not to call you after this time, and don’t take your work home. Once the clock hits this time, you’re done for the day. The rest can wait until tomorrow.
Second, don’t check email or do other work-related communication after this point. Turn off the Blackberry or iPhone, even turn off the computer at home, and do something else. Also don’t take your mobile devices to non-work events such as vacations, your kids’ activities, family parties and so forth.
Third, schedule other things into your life. Exercise with a friend after work. Make dates with your partner. Take your kid to soccer practice. Set aside time for a beloved hobby. These things will stop you from working.
This should be good to start you out. The other steps are below, but for now, focus on these three things and be firm about them with yourself. No exceptions!
3. Learn to relax and de-stress.
This should be the easiest step (it’s fun, after all) but for many people it isn’t. There are many ways to relax and de-stress, but we’ll just touch on a couple of points.
First, take it in small steps. If you have a hard time relaxing, you don’t need to take a whole week or a month to do it at first (later, you might want to try this). For now, just try it in 10- or 15-minute increments. You’ll get used to it, and be able to do it for much longer.
Second, schedule a physical activity just about every day. This could be walking or running or cycling or swimming or playing basketball or soccer or whatever. As long as you’re doing something, preferably outdoors if weather permits. Again, just start out with 10 or 15 minutes a day. It might take some experimenting to find an activity you enjoy, so feel free to try out different things.
Third, schedule some solitude. This could be 10 minutes of reading alone, or walking quietly, or relaxing with a hot bath, or meditating. You should do it in silence, alone, with no distractions. A peaceful setting is best, without clutter or people knocking on your door. Ask your co-workers (if it’s at work) or family members (if at home) to please help you out and respect this time of solitude. Slowly stretch it from 10 minutes to 15, 20, 30 and so on until you have 45-60 minutes a day.
4. Learn to feel good about it.
This step is hard to comprehend for those who love relaxing, but for those who have a workaholic mindset, feeling good about relaxing can be tough. This takes a change in mindset.
We have to stop thinking that hard work is the only virtuous way. Sure, hard work is good, but so is being lazy, so is relaxing. We need to give ourselves permission to do this, and to feel good about it.
Relaxing and being lazy are necessary to good health and happiness. Our bodies and minds need to recuperate each day and week, and if we don’t have this downtime eventually something will go wrong: we’ll burn out, ruin our relationships, have deteriorating health. So think of it as a necessity, and a good thing.
Do things that are pleasurable. Forget about all the things you have to do and really be in the moment as you do them. Focus on how enjoyable the activity is, and how great you feel. Breathe deeply and feel the tension leaving you.
Give yourself time. It takes time to learn to enjoy relaxing. You’ll adjust, slowly, gradually. But you need to do it, in small steps, and block out negative thoughts and thoughts of work. Let those thoughts go, and focus on what you’re doing now.
This transformation won’t happen overnight, but it can happen. And it’ll be great.
you might cry laughing first, cause I was rolling, but its kind of a sad story this lady tells…
True imagination is not fanciful daydreaming; it is fire from heaven.— Ernest Holmes
One of the huge imbalances in life is the disparity between your daily existence, with its routines and habits, and the dream you have within yourself of some extraordinarily satisfying way of living. Buried within you is an unlimited capacity for creation that’s anxious to plant seedlings to fulfill your dreams and your destiny. The absence of balance between dreams and daily routine can reveal itself in symptoms of depression, illness, or anxiety—but it’s more often something that feels like an unwelcome companion by your side, which continually whispers to you that you’re ignoring something. You sense that there’s a higher agenda; your way of life and your reason for life are out of balance. Until you pay attention, this subtle visitor will continue to prod you to regain your equilibrium.
When you live your life going through the motions, it may seem to be convenient, but the weight of your dissatisfaction creates a huge imbalance in the only life you have now. It shows up when you’re sound asleep and your dreams are filled with reminders of what you’d love to be, but you wake and return to pursuing your safe routine. Allow yourself to think about this “fire from heaven.” What are your dreams and how can you shift your thinking habits to match your dreams? Commit to thinking about what you want, rather than how impossible or difficult that dream may seem. Give your personal dreams a place to hang out so that you can see them in your imagination and they can soak up the energy they deserve. Thoughts are mental energy; they’re the currency that you have to attract what you desire. Learn to stop spending that currency on thoughts you don’t want. Your body might continue, for a while, to stay where it’s been trained to be, but meanwhile, your thoughts are being aligned with your dreams. Align your inner creative energy—your thoughts—so that they match up perfectly with your desires. Dream and you shall become.