Inside each of us is our ideal life: our true north.
But what happens as we get further along on our journey? We lose sight of where we’re going and how we want to get there. We get distracted—by a crazy job, or a health crisis, or a new kid, or a divorce, or a Netflix series, or one of countless other bumps in the road. And slowly, bit by bit, we find ourselves veering off course and never even calling our course.
The first assignment I give each and every client is to dream.
Write Your Dream
The reason we don’t know how to even write a dream is because, up until now, we’ve been living our life not inside of any dreams.
I know. Look, if you decided that, let’s say, your dream in the area of your body was to run (and finish) the New York City Marathon next year, there would be immediate and obvious actions you’d need to start taking right now.
They would include researching training steps, buying the right shoes, eating well, hitting the gym and, uh, running. From here on out, any morning that you’d push the snooze button and make excuses as to why not to run, you couldn’t help but feel the breach.
You’d be either living inside of your dream and true to it (with the right actions, e.g., running) or not. And because none of us want to acknowledge the gap between our desires and our actions, we wisely and cowardly avoid admitting our dreams altogether.
The following tips are to help you write all of your dreams. Don’t worry. I will give you an example of a well-written dream and not-so-well-written dream so you’ll be able to do this yourself.
Be specific. Make sure to be specific and thorough when you paint the picture of your dream. Capture what your dream looks and feels like so that, once you’ve written it, you can fully visualize it. Your dream should inspire you, give you goosebumps, and even scare you a little. It should be a stretch for you, but not a pipe dream.
Write your dream in the present tense. By writing, I am now doing this, e.g., “I run three miles a day,” you are making yourself accountable for it right now, locking yourself in, instead of saying, “I’m going to start running” or “I will run,” meaning: I’ll get around to it sometime in the future, so I don’t have to do anything about it right now. Writing your dream as if it’s already happening gives you no choice but to accept your dream as a reality and act accordingly.
Be kind. This is easier said than done. Focus on what you want and not what you don’t want. Be positive, but not Glinda-the-Good-Witch goofy. Be sure to keep all negative digs out of your dream. What negative digs? Saying things like, oh, I don’t know, “my spouse is no longer an asshole” in your love dream, might just qualify as a dig. As opposed to the kinder, gentler (and less asshole-like of you to write), "my spouse is loving, compassionate, and generous."
Be honest. Though this might feel obvious to you already, be completely honest here. I mean, your very own dreams are at stake. If you can’t admit every last thing you want, how can you get it? If you can’t admit what isn’t really working, how can you fix it?
Breathe. Note to your snooze-button-pushing, morning-muffin-eating self: Writing down your dreams is not meant to depress you. Truly. It is, however, a reality check, an honest measurement of where you are now in comparison to where you want to be. It also reveals what areas in your life are actually working and what areas are not. No matter where you are at this moment, even if it’s a hot mess, I swear, this is the beginning of change and discovering your own favorite flavor of bullshit.
Here's How Not to Dream
Ever notice how much easier, enlightening, and way more fun it is to decipher other people’s issues rather than your own? Well then, here’s an example from a woman we’ll call Donna. She’s a loving mother of three and a disgruntled wife of one. Here’s her first attempt in writing her love dream:
My dream marriage would be one in which we are growing together by being more intimate with each other. I like that we are transparent and I am not hiding or being dishonest. It is so freeing to be honest about who I am. I love learning together and having good conversations. I would love to have a partner who gave me the kind of attention I deserve. Flowers, chocolates, random hugs and kisses. I love surprises—not big ones like parties or expensive gifts, but little things like flowers. I would love a partner who really makes love. I love passion and caressing. I do not like the simple “just have sex and be done with it” stuff. I love all the romance and lingerie, music, oils that go along with a fun sexual experience. I am highly aesthetic and it helps me. I also like it slow and long with lots of kissing and caressing. Loving!
Not so bad, right? Though, let me ask you a couple of questions. Did Donna follow the tips on how to dream? Is this dream ready to be shared with her husband, her friends, and (if it were rated G) hung on her fridge?
Let’s dissect Donna’s dream a bit. Use the work Donna did here, and the mistakes she made, to help you see your own issues lurking within your dream.
The first problem in Donna’s love dream is that her dream is written in the conditional tense and not the present, as instructed.
My dream marriage would be . . .
It’s hard for us newbies at dreaming to write our dream as if we already have it. No? It’s much easier to write it as a someday, one-day wishlist of a dream. But, remember, you are charged with starting to make it real.
Now let’s dig a little deeper or, at the very least, to the end of Donna’s first sentence!
My dream marriage would be one in which we are growing together by being more intimate with each other.
Can you see that both the “together” and “more,” though honest, are pointing to some of the issues at hand, versus inspiring Donna?
I am not hiding or being dishonest.
When Donna says she is “not hiding” or “being dishonest,” isn’t she sort of (cough, cough) confessing that she’s lying to him now?
I would love to have a partner who gave me the kind of attention I deserve. Flowers, chocolates, random hugs and kisses.
The “deserve” in that sentence is pretty poignant, no? Can you see how the “deserve” more than likely points to the lens through which Donna is seeing and measuring everything in her life?
Donna clearly knows what she deserves and wants, and every day that she’s not getting it, she’s measuring how she’s being failed. She’s neither creating nor designing nor being responsible for her own happiness. She is, in a sense, a lady-in-waiting. And even though she, no doubt, keeps doing “all of the right things” and hoping that one day her husband will get it, do you think Donna asks him directly for what she needs? And even if she did ask him, and he did what she wanted, would it count?
I would love a partner who really makes love . . . I do not like the simple “ just have sex and be done with it” stuff.
Now, it’s sort of hard to inspire yourself about your love dream with your man when, at the very same time, you’re kicking him in the groin. And, anyway, isn’t sex, um, a team sport? The poor guy, right? Even if he is as self-centered as Donna dreams he wasn’t, Donna is sneakily placing her happiness in his hands, and he’s failing her over and over again, without even knowing that he’s being tested.
I mean, if we don’t ask for what we want in bed, how would our partner know?
I promise you, most first drafts of all of our dreams sound exactly like Donna’s. We have no idea how pervasive our current lens and paradigms are and how invested we are in them.
We let our upsets, hurts, disappointments, and judgments trickle into our dreams, so much so that we barely can get ourselves to even write the dream. But, sneaky us, if we don’t write our dream, we can’t be responsible for the change we actually deeply desire.
Shifting to an Inspired Dream
After some coaching, here’s Donna’s rewritten dream:
John and I are so in love. We are like newlyweds. People are in awe of us and find us inspirational as a couple. We are close and intimate. We are transparent and honest. I love that I can be who I am freely. I love that we learn together and have deep, honest conversations about life and philosophy. John and I are so romantic and create magic in the bedroom by lighting candles, massaging each other, giving each other lovely compliments. We show each other how much we love and appreciate each other with little tokens of love like chocolates or small gifts. I get flowers randomly, which I love. We date every weekend and enjoy our sex time together as we slowly caress each other. We grow sexually as we learn more and more about what we enjoy as lovers. We love lingering kisses and connecting through our senses. We are affectionate every chance we get. We are a loving couple who can’t get enough of each other.
Now that’s something to put on your fridge, be proud of, go to work on, and shave for, right? Sure, Donna’s rewritten dream might feel like a stretch to you. But let me ask you something.
Isn’t going for this new dream a much better sport than the one Donna was engaged with before?
And now that Donna is inspired by her dream and has shared it with her husband (yep), the promises that she needs to put in place to realize it are pretty apparent, right? From date nights to deep conversations to hot sex to chocolate kisses, etc.
Excerpted from Maybe It’s You by Lauren Zander, cofounder and chairwoman of Handel Group, an executive life coaching company. © Hachette Books, 2017.