Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.
~ Harriet Tubman
So, what have you been dreaming about lately? Maybe you’ve been living vicariously through a novel that showcases a young woman who shirks off her dependence on family and familiarity and strikes out on her own in a foreign land. Or maybe you’re spending the summer sorting through college applications with your teenager, hoping that he’ll choose the right school. I’m willing to bet that there aren’t many readers out there whose biggest wish this summer is to simply muddle through it without experiencing a painful sunburn or an air conditioner on the fritz.
However your typical daydreams pan out, if you’re like most people, your daily life probably looks much different. For me personally, there’s always that moment, just before dusk when I look back and know I’ve made the most of my waking hours... or (more often) I realize that I could have accomplished so much more. Don’t let another season pass you by without feeling fulfilled and excited about what your future holds. Now’s the time to take stock of your dreams and figure out where you’re really going and how best to get there. Below are some tips from behavior science that can help you create fresh dreams and move you toward making them into reality...
Tip #1: Stop Focusing on What You Want to Be
When I was little, I spent lots of time thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. And, because I was so enamored with 80’s cartoon characters and Barbie dolls, I was certain that I’d be a blonde, stiletto-wearing veterinarian by day and a busty, sword-wielding super hero by night. With transportation options like a pink corvette and a trusty unicorn, I fully assumed that I’d be able to conquer the world and be home before dinner. But, although I was fully committed to my lofty childhood goals, that brazen self-confidence had somehow all but fizzled out before I even made it to middle school.
Knowing what I do now about the science of behavior, I believe that part of the reason we sometimes lose the motivation to become what we want to BE is that we fail to focus on what we need to DO to get there. As important as it is to ‘dream big’ or ‘reach for the stars’ you also need to be able to break those dreams down into measurable units so that you can monitor your own progress over time. If I really wanted to be a veterinarian, I could have spent more time pouring over animal literature at the library. Likewise, if you really want to land a great new job, you’ll need to spend more time searching online and updating your resume. Or, if your goal is to lose 15 pounds, you’ll be more likely to succeed if you focus more on daily habits like eating and exercise than on the goal itself.
Tip #2: Get Your Goals Off of Auto-Pilot
When you’re working toward a fresh dream, keeping track of your progress can help you notice and change more obvious patterns of behavior. But, it’s also important to note that there are other activities going on below the surface that can sabotage your plans for success. When you consider how the brain and body work together, you’ll realize that a large majority of your daily functions take place on the subconscious level. Take a mundane activity like making dinner. At first glance, it seems like chopping veggies and stirring the pot are the activities taking up most of your brain power. But let’s look a little more closely... While your hands are working away with the knife, you may also be listening to music, chatting with your kids about homework, nibbling on ingredients, pouring on oil and salt, wiping the counter, etc.
Luckily, you don’t have to put your full concentration into each of these individual actions. If that were so, you’d have a hard time even getting a meal on the table! These minuscule behaviors are all happening below the surface as your subconscious mind works hard to coordinate your muscles and neurons to create relatively stress-free daily activity. Some experts believe that subconscious activity makes up as much as 95% of the brain’s functions. And, if you consider how much multi-tasking we do throughout every day, this number seems pretty reasonable!
With subconscious activities making up the bulk of our actions, it makes sense to simply tune out, take it easy, and set your big new goals on auto-pilot, right?
Wrong! Unfortunately, most of our subconscious behaviors are NOT very healthy habits, so they won’t get us closer to reaching our goals. Humans were built to take the path of least resistance: a body at rest stays at rest; the closest, most convenient path is the one we’re likely to take. If you consider all the times you’ve engaged in mindless munching in front of the TV or followed a crowd onto an elevator instead of taking the stairs, you’ll see that your daily subconscious actions are NOT the ones that are going to help you accomplish more in your everyday life. You’ve got to work hard against these pre-programmed subconscious habits if you want to reach your dreams!
Tip #3: Enlist Your Subconscious Actions
And that brings us to another lesson from behavior science... Because your subconscious actions are constantly in motion, they’re very powerful. If left unattended, these underground habits are likely to sabotage the healthy motivation you’re trying to develop. That’s why the first step in achieving your goals has to start with a close look below the surface! You can increase your chances of dream-building success by simply starting to recognize and confront your everyday unhealthy subconscious actions.
Count how often you click over to Facebook and scan the daily feed. Note how long you sit trapped behind your desk at work before engaging in some social interaction. Make a mental tick mark whenever you pass up an opportunity to volunteer in your community, practice your Spanish language skills or strum a few chords on your old guitar. Once you start counting the unintentional habits that are holding you back from your dreams, you can then make a move to replace them with more ambitious, goal-oriented actions!