If you want to change some aspect of your life, do you rely upon the development of goals to make those improvements? Or do you allow yourself to dream and wish for a better future?
When you establish a goal, you understand the purpose is to create an outline for something specific, often with a targeted date determined as part of the plan. In contrast, dreams can be more elusive and unclear, as the details may be vague and the timeframe for development of the ideas is most likely unknown. While goals are based in reality, or the here and now, a dream is thought of being out "there" somewhere, in a undefined place in time.
Since goals are based in reality, it's possible to feel limited in scope, as to how far you'll stretch your ideas when thinking about the long-term. This is especially true for SMART goals, which are supposed to be specific, realistic, and measurable. If you know you must establish a timeline for completion of a new result, outcome, or change in any part of your life, are you likely to imagine something too big, risky, unspecified, and/or undefined? For most people, the answer is no, and this is where the idea of dreaming is needed.
With a dream you can set yourself free of restrictions, and the bonds of time restraints, as a starting point. If there is something that is very important for you to change, and you cannot clearly define what it is, perhaps you should start by dreaming. Imagine there's no limits, with unrestricted access to anything you'd like to accomplish, and nothing is standing in the way of you making changes in your life. What would that look like? How would that feel? That's how you can use dreams as fuel, and create a plan to make it happen. What follows will help you create your own dreams.
The Reality of Here versus Looking Out "There"
Any time you think about where you'd like to be, what you'd like to have, or changes you'd like to make, you are thinking of a new reality that is somewhere out "there" in an unknown time period. If you are not establishing goals and just dreaming about this new possibility or future, it may feel like quite a gap between where you are now, as this is reality and in the here and now, you may have no idea how you can create or develop what you've envisioned. While establishing goals seem like the quickest method of bridging the gap, the real issue is the separation between reality and the desired future, no matter how far into the future it may be. It's that divide which may cause unhappiness.
The Here and Now: In your current reality you are usually told to "face facts". This often translates into something related to, this is who you are or will be or will ever be or become. Perhaps you have tried to get ahead in life or your career and failed. It is possible time has passed and now you feel too old to make changes. Or your life may feel stagnant, and stuck in a rut. You could also feel this is all you've known in life and likely where you'll always be, whether it applies to a situation, relationship, or something similar.
Looking Out There Somewhere: A new future, with an improved life, may seem far away, out of reach, and/or not possible to attain. You may believe, based upon what others have told you, that making necessary changes, or becoming the person you know you should be; will require more talent, knowledge, skills, looks, or just good luck than you have or ever will acquire. Somewhere out "there" represents the idea of a normal life you've never felt or experienced. It seems like hope, promise, and the future where dreams come true.
Why Life in the Here and Now Creates Unhappiness
If you feel a sense of contentment about your life now, and have no further ambition or desire to change any aspect of your life, then looking ahead will not be of interest. But like most people, there is something in the future that's desired. It's the divide between the here and now, and the future desired state, which can create a growing sense of unhappiness, especially if a significant amount of time passes and the future still seems to be further away.
The easiest answer may be the establishment of goals, which are supposed to be specific in nature. But how can you state with certainty what the future should or could be, if you haven't yet dreamed or allowed yourself to explore possibilities? As long as you feel a divide, a separation within yourself between "here" and "there", you will always have the possibility of feeling unrest. What you must first do is to determine the source of this divide, and ask yourself why the here and now is so unfulfilling. Is it a matter of escape or running away from a problematic situation?
As you begin to explore how you are feeling now, also ask yourself about the future and why it feels so appealing that the here and now begins to feel mundane. Is your life now so bad you can find no reason to be happy? Looking ahead into the future, as you are dreaming, should be a matter of wanting to create something new, do something more with your life, work towards an accomplishment, establish a new path, develop new outcomes, and so on. If dreaming is only used as an attempt to fix unhappiness, this is not going to be a recipe for success. You won't know what happiness feels like if you begin from a place of unhappiness.
How to Design the Life You Want, One Dream at a Time
One of the most effective methods of crossing the divide between where you are now, and where you want to be, is to begin from a mindset of acceptance. You accept this moment in time, and everything leading up to it, as something which taught you important lessons. What this also means is you understand the person you are now, and the situation you find your life to be in now, does not have to remain as it is. The future is yours to create, and it will be what you hope for, wish for, aspire to be, or seek as an ideal.
A Dream Cycle
To design the life you want, something different than you have ever thought possible before, you can take your dream and use the following cycle to nurture it, and then bring it to life.
Imagine: Imagination is the fuel for your dreams. Use the images to collectively visualize a future without limits, as to anything you want to create or accomplish. You can have one dream or one vision of something you want to change, or you can visualize numerous changes occurring throughout your life.
Write: Once you have the images in mind, take time then to put words to what you are visualizing. It can begin simply by freewriting ideas and describing the details, using a process similar to brainstorming. What this does is to help you begin to clarify what you want to focus upon first as a priority.
Feel: Once you've put your ideas in writing, you can then begin to experience what it would be like to accomplish or achieve completion of those dreams by attaching feelings to the images and words. When you become emotionally attached to the images, and you feel the dreams in a manner that makes you happy, it will cause you to want to do something to make it a reality.
Action: By the time you've worked through your dream, to the point you feel it could happen for you, and you've experienced the feeling of it occurring for you through the power of your mind, taking action will feel like the next logical step. Since your dream may be complex, and you may have more than one dream, the best method of developing an action plan is finding one starting point. This means looking through what you've written and determining what can be done to get started, or what will allow you to create an action plan, and then develop the first steps.
Believe: The last and most important step in the dream cycle is the stage in which you believe the new future can and will be yours, regardless of the size of the change or changes you want to make in your life. Believe this new future can be yours, and through this sustained belief you will hold steady to your action plan, despite any doubts or challenges which may arise.
Your Life, Your Plan, Your Outcome
What I want you to always remember is this: When you think of where you are now, as compared to where you want to be or who you want to become, it is your life to create. There is one simple mantra you can state: I am in Control of My Future. How do you exercise this control? It's done with one dream at a time.
Take a dream, give it words and feelings, then take some form of action. But always believe in possibilities. Will every outcome you wish for occur exactly as you want it to? That's to be determined with time. You can always adjust and refine your plan of action as needed; however, you can always keep your dreams alive.
To dream sounds like something you can do if you don't face reality. But your mind is a powerful source of inspiration and an endless resource of ideas for you to draw upon. If you can learn to harness this power, do you know how you can change your life?
What it means to dream is to engage your imagination, to use the power of your mind and visualize a future in which you've accomplished something you want for your life. This can be anything beyond what you've envisioned before, even if you are afraid to imagine such possibilities. If you allow yourself to visualize, express, and feel what you dream, you'll reach a point where taking action is the next logical step.
The life you want is dependent upon no one but you. When you have your mind clearly focused upon a dream, and you have determined the design for your life, nothing can stand in your way, except for disbelief, doubt, or fear. Can you imagine how your life could change though, when you decide to embrace belief, determination, and nothing but possibilities? It all begins within your mind; an endless landscape where dreams are created and your life is transformed.
About Dr. Johnson
Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has been working in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005, with roles which included Chief Academic Officer, Faculty Development Manager, Core Faculty, Doctoral Mentor and Committee Member, and Faculty Development Specialist. Dr. J's background also includes work as a Human Performance Improvement Consultant, and prior to 2005, he was a Manager of Training and Development.
Dr. Bruce A. Johnson is an inspirational author, writer, and educator. Dr. J's life's mission to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master's in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).
As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching. Dr. J has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development.
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