Most of us dream about doing something and it stays right there: just a dream. We have plenty of reasons for not pursuing it. No time. No money. No energy. Those are the more frequent responses I hear from participants at the Dream Intensive workshops. Those “reasons” (you might call them excuses) are the by-product of a fast-paced, instant answer and instant action culture; one that places a premium on fast decisions. And they are supported by the modern tools of our culture: email, instant messaging, social media. We’ve been conditioned to believe that speediness is next to godliness. That action trumps inaction. “Just do it” is not only Nike’s iconic tagline. It’s our culture’s motto.
For many of us, that very mindset is killing our dream. Or, at least, putting it to sleep (pardon the pun). We can’t imagine how we can get to the final outcome, and so we set it aside until we have more time, more money, or more energy.
But what if we could go counterculture and think differently about our dreams? How might resisting an instant answer change the way we think about what’s possible for our lives? As I’ve explored that question for myself and with others, I’ve found four mental disciplines that can help in resisting the instant “can’t do” for your dream.
- Stay with the question. Albert Einstein famously wrote, “It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” We’ve largely forgotten how to stay with the question. We quickly dismiss our dream at the first sign of resistance to it. And, so, quick answers like “I don’t have the time,” become our rationalization for ignoring our dream.
- Reframe the question. Suppose your dream is to start a photography business and you’ve not yet done so because you “don’t have enough time.” Is the lack of time really the question? Or, is the question deeper? What would I have to give up to accommodate my dream? That’s a reframe. Staying at the reframing process might yield some additional areas of resistance: I don’t have the equipment. I don’t have the training I need. I don’t know how to market and sell my services. Write down as many of these obstacles as possible. You’ll want to ignore that last sentence, but don’t. It’s one of the reason we give up on our dreams. We subconsciously decide the obstacles are too many and hit the eject button. Writing them down breaks our natural inclination to be instantly dismissive.
- Create many possible solutions. For each of the obstacles, write down as many possible solutions as possible. After you’ve exhausted the ideas, get more from a friend. Ask them, “If you wanted to [describe your dream], but [your obstacle] is keeping you from it, what would you do?” For instance, you could curtail television, get up earlier, stay up later, or skip a lunch to gain more time. Be as creative as possible for each of your obstacles.
- Incubate and act. The noted intelligence theorist, Robert J. Sternberg wrote, “The essence of intelligence is knowing when to think and act quickly, and when to think and act slowly.” Decide from among your possible solutions list the things you will incubate and those that you will act upon. You might forego starting a photography business, for example, until you discover how your product is received in the market. Elsewhere on your list, though, you might decide to take part in an upcoming photography camp so that you can meet like-minded people. Not every idea needs to be acted upon. I maintain a list of “great ideas that can wait.” It’s my incubation list and I review it regularly to discern if now is the time to act.
I’m convinced that one of the biggest barriers to our dreams is the dismissiveness that comes from a culture that demands immediate decisions. When we resist the urge to be dismissive of our dreams, we open up a world of opportunity to do what we love.
What do you think? Are there other habits you’ve found helpful to keep your dream alive?