Why Having a Dream is Killing Your Progress
We often speak about the importance of having a dream.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
A dream is by its very nature not something you have now, nor is it something you've experienced before. That's usually why you're moving towards it — to make sure you experience something that you think you'd like to within your lifetime. Something that will speak to your value as an individual and offer you a sense of pride and accomplishment.
The reason why this can so often create anxiety, overwhelm and the subsequent stagnation of our progress is because it represents too much change. The most frustrating part of this for so many is that we're not even aware of why this is or where it's coming from.
We might start moving towards a new goal with enthusiasm and full of ideas, but in relatively short order find ourselves grinding to a halt. There may be circumstances that seem to crop up out of nowhere and ambush us, but do they really?
I've known so many people for whom this is true and more often than not, completely unbeknownst to themselves. They'll publicly decry their work or procrastinate, knowing all the while that if they really wanted to make something happen — they could!
So what's going on?
It's your subconscious fighting to keep you safe (as it sees it). Like some kind of stowaway in your mind, it pulls leavers behind the scenes — steering you away from what it perceives to be threats to the status quo.
Why does it do this?
All your subconscious needs to know is that, to date, the status quo has resulted in your continued survival. It doesn't matter what that happens to be, which is why you often see repeated destructive behavior in those who know what it is doing to them (like drugs, drinking, and abusive relationships.)
Your subconscious is part of your ancient brain. Before we developed anything that we could call a conscious or calculating mind, we had to rely on instinct. Your conscious mind is a wonderful thing, but if you had to wake up and consider the options for everything in your life, you'd likely not survive your first winter.
What enables your subconscious to function so quickly is emotional energy. Both in terms of input and output. The emotional payoff of an experience, good or bad, is logged by the subconscious as something to move towards or away from. This is how we have to approach it when seeking to reprogram new behaviors and remove barriers to our progress.
The emotional language of the subconscious is why psychologists often look to discover childhood trauma in their patients. It's because a lot of behavior, including destructive behavior, is born out of a deeply embedded aversion to something that happened to us in our infancy. These behaviors aren't something we can intellectualize and tie to our trauma because:
- We may well not remember the event, and even if we do we have not dealt with it emotionally.
- We are still acting as an infant emotionally, while trying to contextualize everything using an adult consciousness. In other words: The trauma that is trapped in there belonged to our infant self. We moved on, but it didn't.
What does this mean for our dreams and aspirations for the future? The subconscious doesn't like change because it represents the unknown and the unknown brings risk. Whatever you've been doing up until now has worked. You're still alive, so don't change anything!
Unless we are aware of this and learn how to deal with it, we will likely never achieve our dreams. In fact their mere presence in our minds will ensure that we don't.
In many ways our dreams represent the battle ground between our conscious and subconscious minds.
What can we do then, to reprogram our subconscious to stop working against us and actually start working for us?
You need to drip feed your subconscious with positive emotional responses, akin to the ones you would feel in the event of your dream becoming a reality for you.
Here's a checklist that you can follow, as a guide:
- Identify your dream. Get really specific about it and understand exactly what it will mean to you, when you attain it.
- Set a deliberate intention in the direction of your dream, but one that falls into the category of "minimum deliverable". For example: You might want to buy your own house, so put $10 (or whatever sum you deem to be small enough that you won't miss it) into a savings account.
- Once you complete you minimum deliverable, celebrate it emotionally as if you had just achieved your dream goal! This might involve closing your eyes and picturing yourself in your dream house (as per the example above). However you evoke the emotional state within you, really sit with it and feel it.
- Pay close attention to those feelings. Lock them in. Notice what happens to you physically, whether it's butterflies in your stomach or a rise in your heart rate. Focus on that and just sit with the sensation.Once you have this down, you should be able to recall it at will. It may take time, but stick with it. Then, when you make steps towards your goal or just think about your new life; these emotions and physical reactions should occur naturally.
Once you have this down, you should be able to recall it at will. It may take time, but stick with it. Then, when you make steps towards your goal or just think about your new life, these emotions and physical reactions should occur naturally.
What we're doing here is essentially telling your subconscious that everything is okay in your new life. We're presenting it with evidence in the form of incremental change and reinforcing it's safety with emotional gratification.
I call this process "micro-shifting" but you can call it what you want. Do this and not only will your subconscious stop getting in your way with sabotaging behaviors, but it will also create the compound effect of starting to actively help you. You'll start to notice opportunities and connections that will create real progress.
Related: The 5 Golden Rules of Goal-Setting