As little girls - and boys - we are taught to dream and to dream big. Whether that's fairy castles or great sporting victories, dreams are something that is ingrained in our upbringing.
Sometimes in life the hardest thing is letting go of the fantasy and letting go of the dream, but there are times when this is essential. Maybe they are the dreams for a future that's no longer going to happen or a past that wasn't quite as perfect as we recall, but until we do this we can't really embrace reality - and without reality where are we? Dedication to reality and mindfulness of the present are essential for our well-being and success.
Society and media constantly promote the idea of dreams. "You gotta have dreams!" But do we really need them? Are they real? Do they really serve the purpose of taking us to where we want to go or who we want to be? Or do they keep us rooted firmly where we are?
Well, if you think about it the clue is in the word dreams - something we do when we are asleep; incoherent random fancies from the unconscious. How often do we actually dream about those things we call our 'dreams'? Career ambitions? Luxury purchases? Exotic vacations? Does your sub-conscious provide uplifting motivations that serve to get you where you want to go? How often does it provide nightmares that highlight our fears via terrifying visions of an unrealistically scary future? Why are we even talking about sleep, anyway? Isn't there a danger that the very word we use keeps what we want in the realms of unreality, that soft-focus fairyland that is, and always will be, out of reach?
What's better than dreams? Visualisation!
Visualisation enables you to focus on what you want, seeing yourself in that setting, encompassing all of who you will need to be to get there and to stay there. Dreams on the other hand always encompass an element of unreality as well as the bitter sting of our fears. Dreams are really only useful in telling us the kind of places that we might like to go or the sort of things that we might like to do.
In terms of actually getting there, we have useful and much more practical tools at our disposal for getting us to where we want to go than our dreams:
- By visualising, you focus on what you want instead of what you don't want. If you think about driving your car you need to look at where you're going. All too often, in driving as well as in life, people will focus on the obstacle they are skidding towards. Exactly what they don't want! So aim for your destination.
- Get your sub-conscious to help out by asking great questions! How often do you ask yourself questions like 'why do I always fail?' and your brain responds with 'Because you're an idiot'? Your brain will do more to avoid pain that it will do to seek pleasure. One of the most important steps you can take to get what you want is by asking great questions. These are typically questions like 'how can I do get this?', 'what are some solutions to my problem?', 'who do I know that can help me?' - questions that will set your sub-conscious working and doing what it does best. Asking yourself these type of questions before you sleep or as you do repetitive physical activities like doing the dishes, digging the garden or waxing your car, will let your intuitive brain get to work.
- Goal setting allows us, not only to focus on what we want, but gives us a roadmap to get there. By setting small achievable, realistic and measurable goals we can chunk down big, seeming impossible changes into small tasks that we can tick off along the way.
- Stretch goals are massive changes - the things that are closest to what could be called 'dreams', and these can be seemingly impossible which is why they are most easily and quickly given up as something that is truly beyond us. But stretch goals can be approached just as easily as any other by visualising who we need to be to achieve that 'dream'. What sort of person would we need to be? What qualities, disciplines and habits would we need? Are you that person yet? If not, then you know what you need to do! Break it down into smaller goals, then tasks. Keep them small. For stretch goals there will be more of them, that's all. Extra honesty about where you are starting from may be required (more on this below) and you will constantly need to reassess. All progress is good!
- Modelling enables us to look at successful people (those who are perhaps already 'living the dream') to study their habits, qualities, attitudes and behaviours in order to copy them. If those qualities got them to where they are, would those same qualities help you to get there? You betcha!
Dedication to Reality
Of course the key to all this is admitting where we are to begin with. There is no point starting out on a plan if you're not being honest with yourself about where you are starting from. There is great power in starting from where you are, rather than where you think you ought to be.
So start with the truth. What are your strengths? Weaknesses? Be honest. But don't beat yourself up at this point.
Let go of the 'if only'
This is another of the pitfalls of dreams. So often they end with a sigh. That sigh represents the brain coming back to 'reality' and chastising you for wanting more than you've got, getting ahead of yourself and promptly reminding you of all your past failures and weaknesses. They're not real though. This is just the 'if only' and it's really your fear talking - not your wise mind.
Let go of the Fear
Tell the fear to hush up for a while so you can think about what it's saying. Is there any reality to what your fear is saying? Do you always fail? Is there some universal law that says this will always be the case? No, of course there isn't! So come back to reality. Let your wise mind guide you to a clearer truth about where you are and what you are capable of. If you honestly feel you lack a certain quality, then that's a great starting place to begin work! Think about how you can go about building that particular moral muscle - and get to work!
Letting go of the 'false past'
In letting go of the past we accept how things were. Sometimes this means letting go of the image of how we thought things were, as well as releasing our grip on memories that may be holding us back. I am lucky in a way, I very much live in the present. The past is mostly a warm, fuzzy feeling for me and little else.
As a sufferer of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) I find it really hard to hold on to traumatic memories. I have practically been programmed to forget and discard them. Our minds work hard at stopping us going there. We build blocks to bad memories. Trouble is we can't actually do this. Those memories will come out in other ways: in our dreams and nightmares, in panic attacks, affecting our health, relationships etc. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) have both been really helpful in addressing these issues for me. It's been important to address the past. And essential in properly letting it go.
I've also found out from a lot of women, wives and mothers that it's something that we do quite naturally - we forget for the good of all. Women who are victims of abuse also tend to have a glorified fantasy version that protects them from the reality of their lives - and their memories. This is something I have come to accept applies to me. I had a fantasy version of my life that hid the reality and protected the unreal version of 'the truth' as was required of me. The commonness of this experience has surprised me and I've met and talked to so many women whose experience could almost word-for-word have been my own.
History is herstory too!
I believe this 'forgetting' is one of the reasons so many women struggle to have healthy self-esteem and self-confidence. If we are constantly told other's versions of the truth are more correct than our own, how are we to have a healthy sense of who we are? Another aspect that affects us is the sheer cognitive load involved in keeping track of these versions of the 'truth'? It's like juggling! And heaven forbid you drop the ball and get your versions wrong!
So, does the past serve any real purpose?
The memory serves to protect us from getting into situations that could recur. But how often do those situations really happen? If they do, are they similar enough that consciously pondering - worrying! - would help us anyway? It's fear talking mostly, and is that really useful?
If our memories serve us, very often they will do it on a sub-conscious level. And that quiet, wise voice is crowded out by our fears and by worrying.
The power of now
Living in the present - being mindful - enables us to focus on the now. If there is an important message from your past memories, then a quieter mind is more able to hear that small, but very wise voice.
By living in the now, neither locked up in the past nor eternally seduced by impossible 'dreams' of the future, we are dedicated to when and where we are in the present moment. This enables us to focus on the tasks at hand that will take us to where we want to go - and really can make our 'dreams' come true.
Now enjoy the journey!
What are your dreams? Do they really help you? Are different 'versions' of the past holding you back? How could you make it happen? Let me know!