Attack of the Dream Killers
We’ve all had them. Their aim is true, and their timing is perfect. To say you haven’t had one is to say you haven’t dreamed.
They can go by many names…
Husbands or wives,
Sisters or brothers,
Moms or dads…
… but what they really are is much more ominous. They are dream killers.
The “Dis” of Discouragement
Discourage: To deprive of courage, hope, or confidence – Dictionary.com
“Dis-“ is a Latin prefix meaning “apart” or having a negative, reversing, or depriving force. Therefore, discourage means to separate you from or reverse your courage. This definition implies that the target of the discouragement initially has courage, because they can’t be separated from something they don’t have. It is no coincidence, then, that dream killers typically strike at the very moment we are feeling the most bold, optimistic or inspired to pursue our dreams.
Dream killers take our hopes, visions, and aspirations of what we want to become and crush them all with an anvil. Sometimes their destruction is abrupt, and other times they gradually suck all the oxygen out of our plans until our dreams turn purple and pale. Either way, they can leave us feeling lifeless, hopeless, unconfident, and even totally ridiculous. Dream killers live in a place of fear and, whether intentionally or unintentionally, attempt to transfer that fear over to us and impact our decision making. Some of them have good intentions and are trying to “protect” us, while others simply want to hold us back to keep our light from outshining theirs. Common phrases from dream killers are:
“You need to get a real job.”
“You need something more stable.”
“I just don’t want you to get your hopes up.”
“What if it doesn’t work out?”
“Be sure you have something to fall back on.”
“You don’t know the slightest thing about _________ .”
“Someone is already doing that.”
“My friend ________ tried that and it totally flopped.”
“That’s never been done before.”
“You’re just a [INSERT CURRENT LABEL, ROLE OR PROFESSION]. What makes you think you can _________ ?”
Someone might ask, “Why would you even spend time with someone like that?” That is a very valid question, and staying away from people who trample on our hopes and dreams could definitely help the situation (though not always that simple, such as with family members). However, rather than focusing on avoiding negative company, a more effective approach is to find our tribe and surround ourselves with people who are also pushing toward greatness. This tribe should include mentors who have already encountered many of the challenges we face, as well as passionate peers with skill sets we need but don’t have. Such a group will infuse us with the energy, ideas, and help required to keep our morale strong and our minds focused. Also, it is important not to take the words of dream killers personally. We must remember that the dream killers’ words and actions are indications of their own philosophies, experiences, and fears in life and usually have nothing to do with us.
Having minimal interaction with dream killers and surrounding ourselves with the right people are critical to achieving our objectives. However, contrary to what many may think, dream killers are not always people, and they’re not always external.
The “Dis” of Distraction
Distraction: An interruption; obstacle to concentration – Dictionary.com
A more silent and often overlooked dream killer is distraction. A distraction is anything that interrupts your focus or keeps you from concentrating. I look at distractions as things that reverse or break up your “traction”, the grip or focus that enables you to make progress. When you don’t have traction you run in place or tread water rather than moving forward toward your goal.
Interestingly enough, distraction is also defined as “mental turmoil or madness” with synonyms such as “madness”, “lunacy”, “insanity”, and “craziness”. Isn’t this exactly how we feel when we just can’t seem to focus, with the mind jumping around between unrelated thoughts?
Distraction kills as many, if not more, dreams than people do. Anyone who wants to reach goals and succeed must be able to focus on the task at hand until it is complete. Concentrating requires being completely present in the moment and not letting the mind wander to other tasks or other points in time, which I refer to as time traveling. However, if that focus is not directed toward the most significant task, we can still find ourselves treading water. Therefore, both time travel and lack of prioritization are parts of our next dream killer, poor time management.
Herding the Time Cats
I am sure you have heard the phrase “like herding cats”, which is typically used when one feels they have little control over something they are trying desperately to manage or organize. This is how many of us often feel about trying to manage our time. The “cats” can represent minutes, hours, days, months, or even years that “get away from” us without us consciously spending them on the things that matter most. This feeling of time rapidly slipping through our hands is often caused by two things: “time traveling” and lack of prioritization.
Time traveling is when our minds wander into the past or future rather than remaining focused on our current task. We are supposed to be working on our dream, but instead we are thinking about our day jobs, social media alerts, or household chores. We are more concerned with what we “should” be doing or could be doing than what we are doing. This distraction of thought causes us to lose our awareness of time to the point where hours can go by without us making much progress on our task. Essentially, we feel like we have jumped forward in time because a long period of time has passed by without us proactively using it or doing anything productive. We were not mentally present enough in the moment to make progress on our current task, nor were we physically present to do whatever other things we were thinking about. The time that elapsed is gone forever, and we are suddenly present in a later moment as if transported in some advanced machine. Really, it was an advanced machine that took us there… our minds.
The same way the mind can cause us to “lose” time, it can also help us make the most of it. We can condition our minds to remain present and focus on what we are doing at the moment so we can make maximum progress. Since a common reason for a lack of focus is worrying about other things that need our time and attention, a key strategy for enhancing our ability to concentrate is prioritization and scheduling.
First Things First
Prioritization is the process of proactively deciding in advance what needs to be done and ranking the tasks in order of significance. Scheduling is when we take it a step further and designate specific days and times to perform those tasks based on their priority levels. So how does this help our concentration? Once we determine what is significant and when those things will be done, our mind can relax because it knows that the tasks important to us will be addressed. That frees our brains to focus on the present moment and give maximum attention to the task at hand.
Effective prioritization also ensures that the things that will have the most impact on our dreams and goals get done first, increasing our odds of success. This means ranking tasks based on the return they will give us on our investment of time, NOT how much of an “emergency” they are. Ordering tasks based on urgency can result in us spending our time “putting out fires” and focusing on things that have little impact on the big picture. Instead, we should prioritize based on impact. We ask ourselves: Which action will give us the largest amount of progress toward our overall objective? Which action will have the second biggest impact? We proceed until our “to do” list is complete, and then schedule the tasks in order by assigning specific dates and times to complete each one.
This process of prioritizing and scheduling significantly increases the likelihood that we will achieve our dreams. However, even with this approach there are no guarantees. Those of us who chase our dreams will likely experience failure at some point in time. Failure often leads us to question whether or not we are on the right path or if we are capable of reaching our goals.
Failure: Dream Taker or Dream Maker
It is virtually impossible to succeed at anything in life without experiencing failure. Talk to anyone successful about their journey, and their story will always include at least one chapter on failure. However, it is not failure itself, but our response to it that determines whether or not we ultimately succeed. When failure knocks us down we can either stay on the ground and settle for something less than our dreams, or get back up, dust ourselves off, and keep moving toward our destination. You have the power to choose whether failure is your dream taker or your dream maker.
Those of us who allow failure to be our dream taker usually internalize our failure. Rather than thinking our actions or approach failed, we identify ourselves as failures and think it happened because we are inadequate. We think to ourselves, “See, I’m not good enough.” I’m not smart enough. I’m not attractive enough. I’m not strong enough. I’m not talented enough. I’m not rich enough. I’m simply… not enough. We think the failure is about who we are rather than the actions we took.
However, there are others of us who choose to identify failure as our dream maker. We fail and think to ourselves, “I need a new approach… how can I do it better?” We see failure as an opportunity rather than an ostracizer. It’s an opportunity to learn from our mistakes, eliminate what does not work, and figure out what’s effective. It’s a chance to identify areas for improvement and achieve personal growth. Most of all, it’s an opportunity to see what we’re made of.
The ability to recover from setbacks and use failure as a teacher is what separates those who achieve ultimate success from the rest of the pack. Achieving one’s dreams requires the mental toughness and resilience to keep trying even when you make mistakes. Remember, failure is not a reflection of your individual ability or worth. Those who you admire because of their success have failed time and time again, so you are in good company. The key is to use it to your advantage and keep pressing toward your destination. You can get there as long as you don’t throw in the towel.
Not So Scary After All
Once dream killers are unmasked, we realize there is nothing to fear. Each one can be faced head on and managed in ways that actually help us achieve our dreams. Discouraging friends, family, or acquaintances are not to be taken personally and can be left to their own negative philosophies and fears. Instead, we can choose to engage with those who share our passions and progressiveness and have skills that will benefit our objectives. Next, distractions can be minimized or eliminated by prioritizing and scheduling critical tasks in advance. Such planning determines when important tasks will be done, which enables us to remain present with the task at hand rather than worrying about other things. Finally, failure can be embraced and used to improve rather than internalized, feared and avoided. All successful people fail along the way. It’s what we do with the failure that will determine our fate.
Don’t let dream killers steal your future. Use the tools we discussed to battle them face to face and your dreams will not only stay alive, they will flourish!