In 2014 I was hiking with my husband in Northern Thailand. He was trailing behind attempting to take in the moment in many ways: through a go pro, a point-and-shoot camera, and of course his own two eyes. I cautioned him to focus on where we was walking and be careful. My words fell on deaf ears.
Suddenly, I heard him scream and turned to witness him rolling down the side of the mountain. I began to panic and screamed myself until I heard a thud. Fortunately, he only fell about 15 ft. When he got up he seemed okay to walk but was covered in fire ants. Fortunately, we weren’t too far from a waterfall where he was able to wash them off.
When you juggle too many things at one time you will eventually crash or, in this case, fall off of a mountain. Focus on one thing at a time. This way you won’t overburden your body or mind. A good way to do this is to make a list each morning. You can write down the order of priority and start working on each task one by one. A strategy for setting priorities is something I will go into detail about in a future article. Making lists helps you keep track of things without fearing you will forget something. Otherwise you will be engaged in one activity but your mind will be elsewhere worrying about all the other things you need to do. Relieve your mind of that burden and allow yourself to focus on one task. If that task is hiking a mountain you will thank yourself for it!
Master Your Craft
Another risk of doing too many things is that you may not do them all well. When you don’t do them well you might think that you lack ability when what you truly lack is focus. If you want to learn to play the guitar, become fluent in French, and learn to sail, I say do them all! But do them in sequence. Master one, then move on to the other. By dedicating yourself fully to something you are giving it, and yourself, a fair chance. Building upon your mastered skills is encouraged, but trying to master them all simultaneously can prove counter-productive. Ultimately, it could adversely affect your confidence.
I have seen this myself in life as I was a habitual multi-tasker. At any given time I would be bartending, producing a TV show, working a 40 hour/week job, and planning a vacation. My entire 20’s were spent in the pursuit of many things at once. In my thirties I was given sage advice to focus on one thing at a time. By following it I have achieved success in many areas and cultivated greater confidence in my abilities. Self-confidence is the golden key to expanding the landscape of your hopes and dreams.
If you are reading this article then you have a thriving curiosity that will take you far in your pursuits. I encourage the desire to learn to continue burning, but suggest honing in one one feat a time. Focus, focus, focus! It could mean the difference between being a ‘jack’ of all trades or a ‘master’ of all trades. Be the master!
There is a species of turtle in South Africa that is born with immense pressure. Specifically, as soon as the turtles are born they must dash to the ocean before predators get to them. There is very little time to do this and, even if they make it to the ocean, they are still at risk. The turtles are born with instincts which guide them in the right direction yet many do not make it. The need for survival overshadows all other needs, including the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams. Humans, on the other hand, have a much better survival rate upon starting life. We have plenty of time for hopes and dreams. Why, then, do we appear so lost when it comes to determining what they are and how to fulfill them?
I was a bad student in High School. I skipped class any chance I could and dreaded bringing my report card home to my parents. My grades, especially stacked against my A average siblings, were pathetic. It’s not that I had a learning disability or that I was lazy, I just wanted freedom to learn about things that interested me. Instead, I would sit in Algebra but dream about Archeology. Keep in mind that this was the 1990’s. There was no internet available to satiate my thirst for knowledge about fossils and ancient artifacts. My friends were the reason I enjoyed high school at all. We would exchange notes between classes, save each other’s seats in the cafeteria, and clean gym mats together during detention. Good times!
Now that you have a picture of the kind of student I was try to imagine me choosing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life as a career during that time. I was too busy trying to learn how to forge grades on my report card to think about what to do for a living!
Despite my unscholarly habits during high school I managed to graduate at the young age of 16. This was my first taste of succeeding at a big dream. My grades were okay, and my SAT score something my siblings would torture me with for years, but I would dream about going to college and found a way to graduate High School in the eleventh grade.
I selected a major, started a career, and on the side continuously searched for something I was passionate about to replace my career. I started a speed dating business, produced short films, recorded a cd, and performed in TV shows. Every step of the way I heard this little voice in my head question ‘isn’t it too late to do this? Don’t you think you are over your head?’. Unfortunately, another little voice would reply ‘probably’. Just like that, I killed my own little dreams, my South African turtles, before they had a chance to thrive.
From Detention to Dreams
In recent years I have learned to modify the dialog that goes on in my head. I made tangible changes in my daily life which helped me understand myself better and take charge of my actions. Since then I have learned to live more authentically and dared to dream. I also learned the grand secret that for anything to come to fruition one must sincerely want it with all of their heart. This in no way undermines the value of hard work, as that goes hand in hand with desire.
The following are 10 practical changes to help you get started on your path to manifesting your dreams.
1. Turn Off The TV
I read somewhere that ordinary people seek entertainment, while extraordinary people seek education. I was not a good student when I was younger because I resisted being standardized. My mind was curious and I was full of energy. School was limiting for me as I wanted to be free to experience life and learn on my terms. Now I can, and the more I learn the more empowered I become. Timing is everything, and time is precious.
Seize The Day
Around 2008 I moved into a new place and decided to forego cable. Frustrated, I didn’t quite know what to do during the late evenings. It was during this time that I started to understand how big a role television played in my life. I would eagerly anticipate episodes of shows and allow ideas of characters and Hollywood gossip to linger in my mind. I was spending countless hours watching celebrities who were living out their dreams instead of investing in mine! After a few weeks of no television I began to read books. Then I started to meditate. From then on I refused to give in to television as a means to help me pass my days. I no longer wanted to pass my days. I was ready to seize them! Letting go of TV was the beginning of my transformation.
Television consumes valuable time, and the things you watch play a bigger role in your life than you realize. As humans we tend to emulate behaviors we witness. Television has set such a low standard for humanity, not to mention it is overwhelmed with advertisements telling you to buy things that you probably don’t need. Picture 10,000 people in one hall all watching the same programs for 5 straight hours. Imagine their eyes fixated on a screen and their mind quickly absorbing everything they are being fed. Now imagine those same 10,000 people outdoors in Central Park on a sunny day enjoying one another’s company and sharing ideas. Big difference, right? We place so much trust in television networks that we allow ourselves to sit and become brainwashed. It is called programming for a reason!
Protect your precious mind and let it be inspired by real life. Pick up a book which is focused on a particular subject, or take a walk in the park. Observe the brilliance of nature and watch how quickly incredible ideas awaken in your mind. You will start to understand your purpose and uncover your dreams.
I know many people cringe at this suggestion so let me make this easier for you. Pay attention to the thoughts going on in your head. When you stub your toe, listen to what you tell yourself. You probably think something along the lines of ‘Oh, I’m such an idiot!’ That’s it. Just observe what you are thinking, because you ARE thinking. In fact, the average person has 60,000 thoughts per day. With that many thoughts it is difficult to control the quality of them.
Find A Meditation Class
If you are anything like me then you could be thinking one thing one moment, then see a squirrel, and be completely onto another train of thought the next moment. I sometimes joke around that I have ADHD when really I just have too much going on in my noggin. I used to have difficulty falling asleep at night because all of the world’s problems would make a grand appearance in my mind the moment my head hit the pillow. There had to be a way to eradicate the number of thoughts and cultivate productive, positive ones. I found a meditation center in my city and began taking their free classes. Once I learned the principles I began practicing them in my daily life. Not only am I able to fall asleep within a few minutes now but I have become a more calm, patient, and conscious person.
Like the darkness in a room that is chased away with light, becoming a witness of your thoughts will decrease their quantity. You will find peace and wisdom in the spaces between them. You will also be able to transform negative thoughts into fierce, powerful, positive ones! This will alter the course of your entire life and breathe energy into your dreams. The next time you stub your toe you might be gentle with yourself and laugh it off. It is possible!
Another way to become meditative is to be present. Focus one by one on each of your senses and take in the moment. Too often we find ourselves consumed with the past or worrying about the future that the present moment evades us. Be still and acknowledge the beauty in the now. A great online resource for practicing being present is Find Mindfulness.
3. Think About What You Would Do If You Knew You Could Not Fail
I wish I made this saying up but it is actually from a magnet. The magnet is on my fridge as a reminder that the fear of failure is no reason to not start something. Failing is a part of learning. Failure teaches humility and enables us to identify what we need to do better in order to succeed. Personally, this saying makes me feel invincible! Keep it as your mantra and read it every morning. Let this be the tone that guides you through your day.
4. Picture It
Visualization is gaining popularity, and for good reason! Every action is rooted in a thought. Visualization is like the prototype you are working towards. Think of something amazing that you want for your life and hold onto that picture in your mind. From there, begin taking action. Visualization and meditation go hand in hand. First you observe your thoughts (meditation), then you replace the ones you don’t like with positive ones (visualization). Just like all matter in the universe, dreams are derived from energy. Channel your energy into the direction of your desired outcome. You lose nothing in attempting this!
5. Believe That You Are Worthy
This idea became clear to me a few years ago when I was sitting in a raw vegan cafe with a friend listening to her complain about her sad love life. She could not seem to hold on to a relationship, even though she was the ideal ‘catch’. She was beautiful, intelligent, accomplished, adventurous, and very grounded. After listening to her I realized the problem. She wanted something (a good relationship), but deep down did not believe that she deserved one.
It was an acute awareness for me as I realized I tend to be the same way. I my professional career as Project Manager I was being paid around 20% less than my counterparts. I was happy with my salary and didn’t feel as though I deserved more. My managers and the consulting firm I was working for at the time had awarded me several honors and emails recognizing my work, yet I never got a raise. There is a thin line between being humble and just plain hopeless. I was hopeless. After that contract ended I changed the rhetoric in my mind. I began to believe that I was worth at least 25 thousand dollars more than what I was getting paid at my previous job. Within 5 months I found a job paying me exactly 25 thousand more. That is the power of self-worth.
You Can Walk The Moon
Have you ever met someone who constantly complains and plays victim in their own life? Have you noticed that things continuously go wrong for them? Now try to think of someone that has everything going for them. Imagine their attitude. Is it positive? Do they exhibit an unusually high level of confidence? If you want something, I mean really really want it, you have to remind yourself that you are worthy of it. You are just as worthy as anyone. Do you think Neil Armstrong thought he was not good enough to go to the moon? Of course not. His subconscious and conscious mind, as well as internal dialog, all aligned to convince him that there was nobody more worthy of walking on the moon that he.
Neil Armstrong was just a man. He was not born extraordinary. Just as he was able to manifest his dreams through a strong sense of self worth, plus hard work, so can you. Again, you lose nothing in attempting this. If you find this one difficult then I suggest you write down affirmations each day stating what you want and that you are worthy and deserve it. It is a life-altering exercise! My next suggestion can also help.
6. Surprise Yourself
Pushing your own boundaries is one of the most transformational things you can do. It is scary, but not impossible. When you were younger you probably learned to ride a bike. The first few times it seemed like an impossible feat, but eventually you were riding into the sunset! After learning to ride the bike maybe you attempted to learn how to ride with one hand, and then no hands. With each obstacle you gained confidence. It is not about what others think of you, but about what you discover about yourself. This is another reason I let go of television and other forms of mass media. Much of the programming depicts success as being rich and beautiful, when truly it is about becoming the best version of you.
In the eighth grade my parents moved us to a new city. Being the new kid in school I slowly made a few friends during the first month. Elections were underway for student government and back then it was all a big popularity contest. Out of nowhere I grew some cojones and ran for Treasurer. I don’t think more than 5 people even know my name but I wanted to break into the new school as a member of student government and leave a legacy.
Big Bangs and a Long Shot
My opponent was a beautiful, popular girl named Biljana. She wore trendy clothes and used a lot of hairspray to get her bangs to make a sort of rainbow over her head. I, on the other hand, wasn’t allowed to use hairspray and my clothes were from K Mart. Election Day arrived and I walked onto that stage and delivered the best speech I had ever written in my 13 years of life. I walked off with a few light applauses and a pretty good idea that I wasn’t going to win. I lost by a landslide. Biljana and her bangs just had to walk on stage to get an auditorium full of applause. I wasn’t mad though. It was a long shot and I felt proud of myself for just going through with it. To this day I push myself and try my best, leaving the results in the hand of fate. I focused on the courage I had in eighth grade rather the results. Six years later I would run for Secretary of a student organization at University and win.
Commit to Something
If you want to start a business but you are afraid to meet new people then you need to sign up for a networking event. Commit to what you are afraid of. You have from now until the event to figure out how to muster up the courage. If you want to be a motivational speaker but are afraid of public speaking then you need to sign up for Toastmasters. Whatever it is that you know is good for you but you are afraid of, do that. When you succeed at transcending your own boundaries you realize untapped potential. This potential is limitless! It is exactly what you need to gain confidence and know that you are worthy.
7. Be Unique
In life we are surrounded by influences. Whether it is the lyrics in a popular song or our best friend trying to get us out of our apartment and to a party. We tend to go along with whatever is suggested because its just easier to be ‘normal’. Here is a newsflash: There is no such thing as normal. If you take a look around you you will notice that most people dress pretty much the same, use the same slang words, and behave in similar patterns. This is called conditioning. It feels easier to fit in and sail through life unnoticed. And yet depression and anxiety are amongst the most prevalent illnesses in our society. Something does not measure up.
Most people are so entrenched in the fabric of what is considered ‘normal’ that they overlook extraordinary and unique qualities inherent in them. Don’t be those people. Follow your instincts and live life authentically. As a vegan I can attest to being off the grid when it comes to my diet. I have faced opposition in various forms but I know that I am living my truth. Slowly, I am witnessing others begin to change direction and join me in the vegan lifestyle. When you march to the beat of your own drum you will inspire others to do the same.
If you can acknowledge the influences around you then you will begin to overcome them. At that point, try to be cognizant of your own behaviors and understand if they are truly a result of your desires, or the conditioning of your environment. This can sometimes be a painful awareness, but once you transform into the most authentic you, you will feel liberated. You will be ready to move steadfast towards your life’s goals.
8. Invest in Yourself
I have heard this advice many times growing up but I never quite understood what it meant. Does investing in oneself mean spending time on your goals or does it mean spending money? I have come to the conclusion that it could mean both. Do not be frugal when it comes to fulfilling your dreams.
I consider myself responsible with money. At 22 I had a house mortgage and managed to pay it off in 7 years. I would spend on things that I needed but tried to save as much as I could. When it came to pursuing my dreams I would cut corners and hope that my hard work alone would do the trick. It is no surprise that almost everything I wanted to do back then was short-lived. I did not financially invest in the tools I needed to take my dreams to the next level.
Depending on what you are trying to do hard work might be enough but, if it isn’t, don’t be afraid to invest in yourself. When I moved to New York I wanted to make films. I was in a new city and didn’t know anybody who owned a camera, so I went out and bought one. Within one week of purchasing my camera I made 2 short films. I finally had the tool that I needed to reach my goal.
If you want something bad enough, but are struggling financially, then I suggest you try to save up for whatever it is you need. Look at where you are spending frivolously and cut back. In circumstances where this is not possible then try to work with others doing whatever it is you want to do. For example, if you want to make films but cannot afford a camera, then offer to help other filmmakers with their shoots. This way you will earn the money you need and gain experience as well.
Another option is to start an online funding campaign. Companies like Kickstarter and GoFundMe have revolutionized the fundraising process by enabling anyone to solicit funds for their projects. If you can put together a slick fundraising campaign and/or target your community of friends and family, you may just get the financial help you need to get moving towards your dreams.
9. Don’t Measure Your Purpose Against Anyone Else’s
I refer to dreams in a general sense because they come in all forms. The common denominator is that they bring you a sense of purpose and make you feel complete. Dreams can also change. For example, you might want to be lawyer, but halfway through law school you take a class that inspires you to become a police officer. That is ok! As long as you are working towards something you have the opportunity to discover what you truly want, or don’t want.
I know a woman who feeds the squirrels in the local park every day. I met her a few months ago and we have since become friends. The other day she admitted to spending upwards of $300 per month on nuts for the squirrels. She was an actress and had some success in her career, but at this stage of her life she gets satisfaction and a sense of purpose out of caring for the squirrels. The furry rodents drew her in and she is now considering getting her Wildlife Rehabilitator License. She moved to Manhattan with a dream of becoming an actress but found her purpose in caring for squirrels. It really is a beautiful thing.
Whether your dream is to be the next President of the United States or to get your license to care for wildlife, own it. No dream is too big or too small. It need only give you the sense of purpose you yearn for.
10. Make A Plan
Every dream needs a plan. Without a plan we risk getting lost in the minutia and making a lot of headway but no results. You need results. In my professional capacity I am a Project Manager so I get paid to make plans and ensure that a project is completed on time and within budget. Corporations large and small pay top dollar for people to manage their projects. Why? Because without someone to oversee the schedule and bring a project to life they risk losing their investment. In the same way you also need to treat your time, and anything else you put into your goals, as an investment.
If your dreams are long-term then break them out into short-term milestones. This way you are accountable to making at least some progress. If you are a procrastinator then it is especially important to put several milestones into your plan. An example of this is someone writing a feature film script. They may have a 6 month goal to finish the script but they can break that time into shorter segments. The first step in writing a film script is developing a treatment. A treatment is an outline of the story. Completing the treatment could be the first milestone and they could schedule one week for this task. The second milestone could be to have 10 pages completed within five days. When work is segmented you increase your chances of staying on target and not getting overwhelmed.
In a practical sense you need to open up Excel, or some other type of spreadsheet software, and create a chart. The chart should include all of the tasks you need to complete in order to reach your goal. It could also include a list of resources that you could reach out to for help. It’s okay to ask for help! Next to each task you can make a column for your Start Date and a column for your End Date. You need only estimate these dates, but I suggest you review your plan weekly to make sure you are on track. You could also add another column to track what percentage complete you are with a task. The possibilities are endless, but the idea is to make a plan and review it regularly. A great resource for managing tasks and staying efficient can be found here.
When you master any or all of these techniques you will see an improvement in your life. Whether you are working on discovering what you dreams are, or you have several little ones, I urge you to keep moving ahead with the knowledge that anything is possible. The only thing left to do is figure out what you will do once you achieve them!