I am a 49 year old daydreamer, and I have perfected the art of excellent dreams that are just big enough to sound appealing but not so specific that you actually need to work at it. I admit it, I am a recovering daydreamer.
Dreams give you direction and make life more fulfilling. A healthy life is one where we have forward movement toward a better self, a better family and a better life. But dreams can also have a dark side.
Each year, we spend billions on lottery tickets and dream homes. We lose hundreds of hours surfing the internet for better vacations, new jobs and the latest technology. Sometimes we need this stuff, but more often it is a distraction from really living the lives that are in front of us.
Dreams can be a mask, covering parts of ourselves that we would otherwise prefer to ignore or avoid. People accept when you and I talk about our dreams, but it is less acceptable to talk about a tendency to escape difficult relationship pressures, avoid hard work, live with crushing anxiety or fear, and envy other people.
When used this way, dreams can become a coping tool with a dark side, used to avoid rather than accept or engage. The way to improve our lives is to accept where we are at, be at peace with hard work and consistency and develop a long term view of ourselves.
Five ways that our dreams can have a dark side:
1.When we use our dreams to escape. Dreams keep us moving forward but sometimes that is a bad thing. Avoidance is a root of addiction, lack of personal progress, procrastination, and emotional immaturity. Occasional escaping can be fun and even healthy, but when we use our dreams to escape all of our reality, it becomes an unhealthy form of avoidance.
I used to be a hard core goal setter until I realized that my dreams were my way of avoiding the hard work of parenting and other family responsibilities. I use the term ‘Rescue Fantasies’ to describe how I was using my dreams to escape the pressures that I felt. I still daydream, but I am more aware of my tendency to use my dreams to avoid.
2. When we use our dreams to avoid hard work. We all know that when you reach your dream, that will be the day when the hard work stops. Right?? The reality is that reaching our dreams means that we accept another level of responsibility (AKA, Hard Work). Living our dreams means accepting the hard work that goes along with reaching and maintaining the dreams.
3. When we use our dreams to hide a sense of never being enough, or never having enough. Everyone feels insecure and inadequate about something. This is a normal trait and when it is healthy, it will keep us humble. Unacknowledged insecurities, masked by big dreams are really just a form of envy. For an honest take on envy, read my article in The Good Men Project.
It is healthy to aspire to have a different job, a bigger home, a different car or a better body. If what other people have is our benchmark, we will always be unsatisfied because you only have to look next door to find someone with a newer car, wife, body or television. Dreaming needs to be based on acceptance and reality rather than on the shaky foundation of insecurity.
4. When we use our dreams to long for TNBT – The Next Better Thing.
The next better thing is a longing to stay at the crest of the wave. I love having the latest phone, television or cool gadgets in my car. As soon as I bought my iPhone there was already a newer one on the market. When we pursue the next better thing we find ourselves led by trends and the allure of big product launches. These things become expensive and contribute to personal debt and a sense of dissatisfaction that can undermine everything we do.
5. When we use our dreams to mask our fear of living the life that we have.
This is the heart of it for many of us: fear and anxiety. I admit that I fear failure or being unable to live up to my dreams. It is tempting to always have the next bigger dream rather than own up to your fear that you may not be the best at what you are doing.
Newsflash, you aren’t the best and neither am I. But you don’t have to be.
Great companies, great families, great marriages are not made of the best people. Hard work, the courage to be vulnerable and small, continuous improvement is what it takes to be successful in relationships and business life.
“Making a living” is a term that comes with unhealthy baggage. It can trigger images of “The American Dream” or ideas and expectations of the kind of belongings that we have and our income level. You can’t really make a living because living is more about being than having.
Making a life may be a more healthy ambition. If we strip it all down, living simply means being alive. Living also means that we live in a certain manner. If dreaming pulls you and I away from living, from making a life, here is how we can get back to living the life we want.
The ABCD’s of better dreams
Acceptance. Dreaming needs to be based in acceptance and reality otherwise it is another way of avoiding. Before you set your goals, decide on your New Year’s Resolutions, or choose the next dream just sit. Sit and reflect on what you actually have. Make a list of the benefits of your current home, job, car, lifestyle or relationship.
Acceptance does not mean passivity. It means that we can begin with a sense of peace rather than attempting to change out of a longing or lust for something new. Trust me, I’ve been there. Peace will set you up for more satisfaction in the long run.
Acceptance also means that we are are not solely using emotion to fuel our motivation for change. Our desire for change also depends on taking enough time to think and appreciate.
Be at peace with hard work. Attaining a dream or a goal is hard work. Keeping it going is harder work.
Losing weight begins with a goal and requires calorie counting and exercise (I know there is more to it, I am keeping it simple to make a point). Keeping the weight off requires the same calorie awareness, exercise but it also requires a commitment to a new lifestyle. Another word for new lifestyle is hard work until it becomes a habit. Sorry to say, but hard work means daily effort and it can take a lot longer than we are told (or sold).
Consistency. Change is okay when we see results each week on the scale, but when the results are status quo or maintenance, motivation becomes difficult. Another word for maintenance is consistency. I could write a thousand words about consistency, but it is better to say nothing and then get up early to go and exercise.
I suspect that consistency is one reason why lottery winners tend to spend all of their winnings and end up as broke, or more broke than before. Someone who earns a lot of money will build consistent habits of hard work, planning, and keeping their spending under control.
Develop a long arc view. A long arc view connects acceptance, hard work, consistency with the “Why?” The why brings it back to the burning reason that you and I have to start making a dream into a reality, deal with the hard work and problems and maintain when we reach it.
When we accept, we can find peace that will drive our change in a healthy way. We are not trying to keep up, compare, avoid or escape. We have grounded reasons to change. Our why is based on our valuing of ourselves and our values.
I am a recovering daydreamer. Maybe you are one too? I hope so, because it’s lonely over here. Join the conversation. This is a place to receive fresh content and a fresh perspective on mental health, leadership and relationships.
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