The cost of not dreaming

chill-out-407605_1280“Without a vision people perish.” Someone said that to me recently. They went on to say they don’t mean you literally die, just slip into a kind of walking dead where life becomes ordinary and without boundaries or purpose. And as I listened, it struck me that the cost of not dreaming is actually very high. I don’t think I’d thought of that before.

Vision is a subset of dreaming, born out of hope for something better. Vision, as I was taught it, is ‘a clear mental picture of a preferable future.’ It becomes motivation for trying to improve things, and often draws people together. It’s out of your vision that you set goals – those specific steps which will move you in a good direction.

When you’re lacking a vision, you tend to wander a bit. Your attitude can slip too, so that things you might otherwise resist take too much effort. “Whatever!” is a classic sign of nothing inspiring you forwards, and certainly one cost of not dreaming.

There are at least three reasons you may not have any dreams right now:

Reason one: you don’t have time. Life has become so busy that just surviving feels like a worthy goal some days. By the time you get up early, deal with the kids, drop them at school or care and slide into work with barely a minute to go you’re already tired. Put in a day at the office then race home to do the kids, partner, dinner and the clean up and it’s time to fall into bed hoping that somehow as you sleep your energy levels will improve. Drag yourself out of bed the next day, rinse and repeat.

Reason two: you’ve been too hurt. Once (long ago) you had half an idea you wanted to chase after something good. You made a small start, then somebody or something cut you off at the knees. You were so disappointed it took ages to recover from. You’ve decided it’s simply easier to not risk the pain than to allow yourself to dream again.

Finally, fantasies are easier. Whilst a dream or a vision is forward looking, it does require you to do something other than just daydream. It’s going to take thought and effort to achieve it. On the other hand, a day dream (although clearly in the realm of fantasy) asks nothing of you. Mr Darcy, can you please bring me my lotto ticket?

Unfortunately, there does seem to be a feedback loop in this area of life. If you don’t dream, the chances are you’ll get stuck in everyday routine. Even if life’s not awful, it won’t be interesting or inspiring. And then, once you’re stuck in everyday boringness, you don’t seem to ever dream…which takes you back to the beginning of this unwelcome situation.

So is there hope for change? If you think the cost of not dreaming is too high to pay, what can you do? Well, it’s not always easy to pull off, but there are at least three counterbalancing actions you can take:

Action one: Make some time to rest. Yes, try stopping for a while. Not so you can tick something else off your list, or squeeze anything thoughtless in. So you can have time to think. Giving yourself mental space to first catch up and then wander a little is a prerequisite of dreaming. 

Action two: Deal with any prior disappointments. Take a friend or some old fashioned pen and paper, sit outside and remember what happened. But not so you can re-indulge in negativity! Talk about what you’ve learnt and how you’re not that person any more. Dump any baggage the memories bring up. Choose to leave disappointments behind. If you were writing them down, screw up the paper and throw it in a bin as an act of symbolism!

Action three: Commit to looking up. Hurts make us look backwards and busyness makes us look straight in front. Lifting your head to notice the sun, the sky, the trees or even your roof can remind you that there’s a bigger picture and more options to life. It can literally lift your optimism levels. I’m not joking! 

Once you’ve done these things, you’ll have created a space inside yourself where dreams can be re-born. I hope you have them; the world needs more dreamers. We pay a high enough price without them as it is.