One of the most important things we can do for others is to keep dreaming big ourselves. This may sound odd or somewhat contradictory but let me explain.
An extraordinary human strength that we have all observed directly in our own lives is the capacity to endure. On a more remarkable scale and stage as we may remember books like Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and the Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken and the movie of the same name. In them is chronicled in detail the human capacity to endure suffering, to create an internal narrative that supports the mind and the body’s ability to push through unbearable psychological, emotional and spiritual suffering. To imagine a hopeful future, one that is projected into the unseen. Beyond the horizon.
These are helpful touchstones for us when we feel downtrodden, discouraged, hopeless. But here’s the twist. Our capacity to endure can often turn in on itself and undermine our growth. We might begin to accommodate beliefs that are self-limiting, invite friends in who support our “truth” at that level, and grow weary of striving. Our “adapting and overcoming” can shift into us becoming “realistic”, stagnate and complacent. At this point we are at risk of forgetting what our dreams were and shift our attention to decorating the prison cell of our own making. If we are not careful, we may forget that we still need to dream big to escape the shrinking of our psychology and of what is possible.
Any opportunity we can take to hit pause on our daily schedules, to step back and review what it is we are doing and why, what our days look like and what our dreams are or were can be helpful for us. We can look at our daily schedule and start to play around with the question of what would we be doing with our days and our lives if anything were possible.
We do this sometimes with clients when we do a “Dream Day Exercise”. There’s an acceptance and commitment therapy book called Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong: A Guide to Life Liberated from Anxiety. In it they map out what a perfect day would look like. So we do this with our clients. Mapping out in detail what a perfect day would look like if money were no object. Meaning, they could do whatever it is they wanted to do. If you want to know the quickest way to shut someone up, ask them just this question and you can see how much of our lives are focused on survival, on conditioning, on habits (good or bad), and how much we (most of us) have lost sight of our dreams and are at risk of losing the capacity to dream.
In the “Dream Day Exercise”, which becomes a guided visualization, taking them from their waking hours, what would your bed look like? What would your room be like? Would there be a dog on your bed or on the floor in a dog bed? Is there a fireplace in your bedroom? What’s the thread count on your sheets? Where is the restroom? Who lives with you? Do wake up to a partner? If so, what is he or she like? What city do you live in? What do you do when you step out of bed? What do you do with your day and who populates it? Etc.
In the book they have you map out your goals and your dreams. And then… they have you delete that. And, to do this with a client can be gut wrenching. They have you return to what your current situation is, the one clients are wanting to change or even to the darker past. Through acceptance and commitment therapy we know that there is and will be anxiety and tension in all of our lives, it is unavoidable. The question is will we continue to struggle in the same way OR will we struggle in a different way? That is, will we remember our goals, our dreams and move toward those or will we be lost at sea.
To me, there’s only one direction that makes sense and that is to reaffirm our values-based goals and dreams, and to move whole-heartedly in that direction.
Because if we can, I argue, that not only are we and our families better for it but our clients might be able to wake back up to their own dreams (see what I did there? 😉 Until we have believed enthusiastically in ourselves, it can be tough for others to believe in us. And if we don’t believe in our ability to grow beyond externally or internally imposed constraints it will be tough for us to help others out of their own cages of limiting beliefs.
And as we are strengthened by moving toward what is possible for ourselves, our clients may be able to gain some relief from the headwinds, capitalize on our momentum and tuck into our slipstream in pursuit of their own truths and dreams.