Our dreams often suffer from poor messaging. A ho-hum dream description, or a description that’s steeped in limitations, is difficult to get excited about. Listen to this episode to find out how to write a vivid, compelling dream for yourself, so your brain gets excited about your future and helps you make it happen.
Welcome to Rich & Thin™ Radio, the only podcast that helps you get more bank with less bulk. Today’s episode is the second episode in our series on living your dream in 2019. I’m Kelly Hollingsworth, and I’m glad you’re here this week. Last week we talked about why so many of us no longer have dreams, and the magical feeling you get once you allow yourself to begin dreaming again, and this week we’re going to discuss defining your dream. This is a process of writing a compelling picture of your future, so your brain gets on board with the idea.
A vision board probably isn’t enough
Now, here some listeners may ask, can’t I just use a vision board instead? Do I actually have to go through a writing exercise? And to this, I have to say, “I think so.” I started a vision board on Pinterest recently. This is nothing I would have considered but some other coaches suggested it to me. And it was pretty fun, and I also experienced the crazy cool thing about social media, where people you don’t even know suddenly start following you. I think I have all of seven followers. Anyway, it’s called the R&T Vision Board if you’re a Pinterest person and you know how to search on things and find that and you want to connect. I would love to see you if I can ever figure out Pinterest enough to know who my followers are… I’ll do that at some point soon.
But in any case, as fun as I found this vision board exercise to be, it didn’t really strike a chord in my soul. It felt like an interesting sideline, but I didn’t find it nearly as compelling as writing out my dream. Why not? I think there are three reasons for this. Maybe more but the three I’ll discuss today are:
- The first is that the photos that go into a vision board are typically of other people, and this doesn’t matter if your dream is to own a certain house or drive a certain kind of car, but if it’s to have a certain kind of body, I think this does matter. Rene Russo and Audrey Hepburn feature prominently in my vision board. I don’t know who’d be included in yours, but the point is that it’s not you, and I think it’s critical for your brain to see yourself in the dream. Not someone else.
- The other thing is that what you can see in a photo on a vision board doesn’t address or describe how you feel inside or how you’re going to go about achieving your dream. For example, my vision board could include a picture of thigh gap, that’s part of my dream for 2019, but a vision board wouldn’t elaborate beyond the visual of that. It wouldn’t say how I achieved thigh gap, and I think that’s an important thing for your brain to know. When most of us consider a physical dream such as this, our brains typically want to go to, Ugh, no way, lady. That’s going to be way too difficult. So the way I define my dream must also include, beyond the visual, that it’s not going to be through some crazy diet. It’s going to be awesome, how I achieve this body I’m dreaming of. That’s the message I must send to my brain, and I don’t know how I’d put that into a vision board.
- The third thing, the third reason I think Vision boards aren’t as effective as writing out your dream is that they’re sort of passive. I don’t think selecting and pinning photos engages your brain in the same way as writing your dream, because writing is thinking. If you can write out your dream in a vivid, compelling way, that means you have your brain engaged in achieving it.
This is not to say that you can’t start with photos. If it helps you to find a photo that depicts exactly what you want, and then you use that photo to write a description of what your new outcome is going to look like, by all means, start that way. There’s no wrong way to begin. But I do think that committing your dream to writing is critical because the process of writing takes it deeper and engages your brain in more compelling ways.
Rate Your Life
So how do you get started on this? The first thing I suggest is that you start out by rating your life. There’s a great book on this, written by Lauren Zander. It’s called Maybe it’s You. I love this book. The subtitle is “Cut the Crap. Face Your Fears. Love Your Life.” I don’t agree with everything in this book, more on this in a minute, but it’s a book I suggest for all of my clients, for three reasons. First of all, it is hilarious. At one point she’s talking about the difference between being an author of your own life, where you determine your future, vs. being a forecaster in your own life, where you predict what’s going to happen in your future as if you’re forecasting the weather and it’s wholly outside your control. She writes that a weatherman might say, “a snowstorm is hitting the East coast tomorrow, better bundle up” and she goes on to say that we do the same thing with our own futures. We report on our future as if we’re forecasting the weather, as if nothing can be done about the oncoming natural disaster that is your future except, I love this part, she says, “brace for a 70 percent chance of procrastination with a 30 percent chance of Cheetos.” I laugh out loud every time I picture this image. I think she’s so funny.
The second reason I love this book is because she takes you through a series of exercises where you rate your life in twelve different areas, and then you write up your reasons for why your life isn’t where it should be in each of these areas (and by reasons, of course, she actually means your excuses), and then she shows you how to write a vivid description of your dreams for each area of your life.
The way she does this is top-notch. There’s no reason for anyone ever to write another book about this because I think she just kills it in this area. The twelve life areas she lists cover everything—your body/health, your business, the way you use your time, your community involvement, your relationship, your spirituality, even your education and professional development. When I went through the exercises I did a few minor tweaks to customize her list to my own life, but for the most part the list is plug-and-play.
And her rating system for each of the twelve areas is clear and easy to use. It’s a scale of one to ten, where ten is “moments of sheer bliss, happiness, and pride,” five is “Lame: becoming intolerable and a source of resignation.” And I loved four: “Disappointing: a sad state with moments of indifference and potential hostility.” And here again I laughed out loud, because I’m currently at a state of four in my own body. After five surgeries, three years in recovery from injuries, and a bad bout of Ben & Jerry’s this year, “moments of potential hostility” is where I currently am with my body. It’s definitely at a four in my mind right now.
Drafting your Dream in a Compelling Way
So I suggest that you get the book and go through these exercises. There is nothing as motivating in my mind as seeing how your life rates in twelve different areas on a scale of 1 to 10. It definitely motivated me to see that on paper.
The other thing I love about these exercises is how she shows you examples of an effectively-crafted dream description vs. a non-dream. The dream is the aspirational goal, if you draft it properly, when you read it, it really lights you up. It gets you excited about your future.
The non-dream is what we tend to write if we don’t have some tips and assistance in drafting it. When we write a non-dream what happens is that all of our mental and emotional weight, the weight of an identity that doesn’t serve us, starts pulling us down and the dream doesn’t feel lofty and aspirational. It just feels kind of sad and depressing. I’ll read you an example in a minute.
And of course she doesn’t use these terms in the book, mental and emotional weight, weight of an identity that doesn’t serve you, those terms are mine, they’re what we use in this show, but she does write about how clients who are limiting themselves, and setting goals that are way too small, or clients who have simply have forgotten how to dream, describe their dreams in terms of, “Well, I can tell you what I don’t want it to look like.” And I definitely see this in practice, and in her book she shows examples of so-called “dreams” that are written in this limited way, and then she shows you how to identify the problems in your thought process that are causing those problems, such as you’re blaming others and not taking responsibility, and then she shows you examples of dream descriptions that have been re-written, and man, the difference is night and day.
I want to read you just one example of an ineffective dream vs. the edit where it is effectively written so you can see the difference. The first attempt is by a “nice (to everyone but himself) guy who is unhappily stuck with a family of origin that has all the makings of a late-night reality show, a hellish boss, and a nitpicky wife.” His initial stab at writing a dream for himself reads as follows:
I am kind and fair to myself. I am able to motivate myself and let myself off the hook when I fail. I’m in control of my feelings. Even when things go bad, I take them in stride and stay positive. My inner voice is my friend and not a hypercritical ass. I’m proud of myself and my accomplishments. I do not feel guilty about my estrangement from my family. I feel satisfied that I’m a good husband and father. I have self-confidence and I see myself as a strong and positive person. Failure or success, action or inaction does not determine my sense of worth. I feel confident in my abilities at work and seek advancement and promotion without guilt or self-doubt. I have learned to use my ambition as a resource, rather than stuff it as an excuse to procrastinate. I feel that I’m worthy of success. I don’t live my life thinking that I’m living below my potential, but instead living up to exceeding my potential. And I am confident about what I do, what I contribute, and do not doubt myself. I treat myself at least as kindly as I treat others. I work as hard on making my life better as I do to make others’ lives better.
What do you think of that? It’s long, it’s not that inspiring, is it? There’s a lot of limitation embedded in this dream description, or rather, a non-dream.
So what happens in the book? Our friend Lauren Zander goes on to have a field day with what is wrong with this dream description. She writes, “can you tell from Ethan’s first draft of his SELF dream how unimpressed he is with himself?” She notes that he uses words like “guilty, failure, estrangement, self-doubt, and procrastinate,” it’s evident that he’s doubting himself as he’s written this dream. He’s completely unconfident and basically writing himself an “indefinite ‘get out of doing anything we might possibly fail at or be uncomfortable doing’ doctor’s note.”
So Ethan follows her advice for taking a second stab at writing an effective dream description, and here’s what he comes up with:
When I walk into a room, people want to know me. I’m that guy. Bold, happy, and unstoppable. I am always looking for the next adventure. I am proud of the contribution I’m making to the world. I am decisive, transparent and, did I mention, confident. I’m exceeding my every dream and then some. I am a leader everywhere in my life: professionally, socially, and with my family. Yes, even mine! I am a masterful ringmaster, proud of the difference I’ve made and how open, honest, forthright, and fun I am with everyone. I’m deeply happy.
Do you see the difference? It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? The first description is steeped in excuses and self-doubt and limitations, and the other was written by a man who cleared his mind of all his nonsense. In the vernacular of this show, he’s gotten out from under all the weight that was clouding his future and holding him down in a life he didn’t want to live in, and the difference is striking.
This is important, because the message matters. Draft a good dream, because your brain will listen to what you draft and make it happen, and it’s your future we’re talking about.
If you take nothing else from this listening to podcast, please let it be this: The message matters, whether you’re talking to a prospective customer, or yourself. Everything is copy. It’s all marketing. If you write an effective message to your own brain about what your future is going to look like, your brain will respond to that and act on it. If you write a namby-pamby message about “Well, I guess whatever happens, I’ll make the best of it,” as Ethan basically did in his first description that I read to you, that is exactly what your brain is going to create for you. A namby-pamby future with you making the best of things. To use the language of the book Maybe It’s You, you are the author of your own life, and what your life looks like in the future will be exactly what you have written in your message to yourself about your future.
So that’s why I love this book and why I recommend that every listener have a look at it and do these exercises in it. Rate your life, write your excuses, and then write your dream.
But, as I said earlier, I do have a couple of quibbles with this book. On balance I think it’s fantastic, but one quibble I have is the idea that you tell yourself what you’re going to do, and if you don’t do it, then you punish yourself in some way, such as by withholding a treat. An example Lauren Zander gives, I think in her Ted Talk, is, have sex with husband, or no TV this week. I don’t disagree with this idea about no TV on principle. If this is the kind of thing that works for someone and they enjoy it, then it works for them. The issue I have is in the application, meaning, I could see this not working for a lot of people. If you can’t follow through on one commitment, such as having sex with your husband, I don’t think we can assume that you could follow through on the second commitment of not watching TV that week. It’s all voluntary, both of these commitments, so I could see this not working for a lot of people. What’s better in my mind is to manage your mind so that you want to do both. I know if I were married to someone who had sex with me only so they could watch TV, I’m sure I’d have some thoughts about that.
The other quibble I have with the book is the stern advice that once you have written your compelling dream descriptions, you then must take the descriptions and read them to three people who are close to you. The book argues that this is the only way to assure that you’ll move forward on your dreams. And here, I’m not in agreement, at least not for everyone. If the way you really get things done is via a public announcement, or at least a semi-private announcement to your near-and-dear, and the idea of making that announcement really lights you up, then by all means take this advice and run with it. But if this idea doesn’t appeal to you, if it makes you feel that maybe you’re turning your mother and your spouse into the food police or some other kind of accountability task force, and you don’t want to live with those kinds of folks, allow me to suggest that there are reasons that keeping a dream private, just to yourself, might be a better approach. We’ll discuss the reasons for that next week, in our third installment of living your dream in 2019.
I hope to see you for that next week, and thanks so much for joining me today. It’s my pleasure having you as a listener, and I look forward to connecting with you next time.