When it’s time to stop doing and start dreaming

So, you’ve been trying to reach your goals.  Perhaps it’s your goal to find a new job. Or to attract new clients, new sales. It might be something personal, like finding a partner or conceiving a child.

But somehow, it isn’t quite happening.

If only you could push a little harder.

You think about what action you need to take next.  You identify and plan your next steps.  It all seems perfectly logical.  Easy even – just a half an hour here, a quick phone-call there.

Easy, yes, but somehow it isn’t quite happening.

You’re not taking the actions.  Or you’re taking action but not seeing the results.

The truth is, at the same time, you know you’re exhausted.  Your head is full of “shoulds” and some part of you is resisting the sense of obligation that comes with “should”.  The very thing you’re doing (or planning to do) precisely to make life easier, more comfortable, more joyful, more tailored to you is leaving you feeling exhausted, unable to rest, more joyless.

You feel the weight on your shoulders and you want to put it down.

Are you listening?

Recently, this was the experience of a client of mine.

Some part of her was pushing, assiduously, forward.  Some part of her was yearning for rest.  She wanted to make progress towards her goals but somehow she wasn’t taking action.  She was yearning for rest but never felt relaxed.  “On the one hand…” she was saying, “but on the other hand…”

Is this you, too?

We took time in our coaching to listen.  We wanted to connect with the needs she was trying to meet and to explore possibilities for meeting her needs.  The more we listened, the more we found that it is possible both to take steps to move forward and to take time to rest.

Actually, we found it was not only possible but also essential.

And there’s more.

As we found a way forward that she could sign up to – that all of her could sign up to – something else popped up.

“Maybe,” she told me, “I need to look at a larger question… not just my next career steps but also the whole of my life.”

In her struggle to carve out her next career move, a more fundamental need was not being heard.  It was time to step back from taking steps to make things happen and to ask “What is it that I really want in my life as a whole?”  This was a question about every aspect of her life – career, yes, but also leisure, family, location and more – as well as a question about the the weeks, months and years to come.

It was, in short, a time to stop doing and a time to start dreaming.

But how do you dream?

It may seem strange to some, but if you’re used to planning and taking action, it can be hard to know how to dream or even to know how to connect with the dreams you already have.  I’m writing this post today because I’d like to offer some simple ways to get started:

  • Learn from your past (or someone else’s):  Has there ever been a time in your past when you had a dream that came true?  If you have past experience of conceiving, pursuing and fulfilling your dreams, you already know what happened and can look for moments in the present that are similar to your experience in the past.  Did you see it in your mind’s eye?  Or have a feeling that something was coming your way?  Different people dream in different ways, so tapping into your own experience or getting curious about other people’s can be a valuable source of information about how you dream.  The suggestions below are a reflection of the ways in which different people envisage a new and different future;
  • Taking stock:  As a coach, I often begin a coaching assignment by helping clients to take stock using two “coaching-wheels“.  The coaching wheel supports self reflection and can help people get started who find dreaming difficult.  How content are you, for example, with your professional life?  Or your personal relationships?  A mark out of ten can be easy to assign and further reflection can help you to explore what’s working in your life and what more you want;
  • Tracking your emotions:  How are you responding to the events of your day, week, month?  When do you feel most joyful and alive?  When do your energies feel drained.  What possibilities excite you?  What ideas are joyless and laden with “shoulds” and “oughts”?  When you track your emotions in the here and now – when you really pay attention – you begin the process of understanding what you really want in your life;
  • Listening to the small voice within:  Often, when I talk with clients they already know something is off track but are pushing this message away.  They may even know what they really want but, because they don’t know how to make it happen, they carry on with life as it is.  Sometimes, listening to this inner voice is as simple as saying “yes, I’m ready to listen”.  Sometimes, it’s about carving out the kind of unscheduled downtime that allows these messages to come through.  A day with no agenda.  A walk in the countryside.  Time curled up in your arm chair with a notepad and pen;
  • Cultivating gratitude:  To cultivate gratitude is to notice those moments in your life when something meets your needs.  It might be something you do, or something someone else does or, simply, something that happens.  At first, you may want to dedicate a time to do this, keeping a gratitude diary, for example, which you write in at the end of the day.  In my experience, over time, this has morphed into a constant alertness to those things in my life which are most precious to me.  I say thank you to myself.  I say thank you to others.  My personal Facebook Page is now littered with status updates which reflect my gratitude.  (These are the ones my youngest nephew thinks are terribly long.)  To cultivate gratitude is to become more aware of those things that meet our needs and this, in turn, increases awareness of what we might want more of in future;
  • Visualise your dreams:  A notice board, a notebook or an online application can be a great place to build up a visual image of the things you dream of.  What do you see that catches your eye? It may be the different aspects of your life that you are starting to represent or more detail about a particular aspect of your life, from decorating the lounge all the way through to where you want to live or work.  It may be photos that catch your attention, or phrases… find a place to bring them together so you can build up a picture of the life you dream of;
  • Drawing inspiration from others:  Who do you most admire or envy?  Who – or what – inspires you?  Noticing your response to others can also help you to connect with everything that is important, inspiring, joyful or simply yes, that’s it! right for you.  This can be about the content of the dream (the thing they dreamt of and made happen) or about their capacity to dream (how they did the dreaming and how they realised their dream).

Why dream?  Conceiving the impossible

Right now, my client may not know what she really wants, or how to make it happen.  Nonetheless, realities start with a dream.  So, as I close, I think of those who have dreamt and whose dreams have come true.

Some of them are clients of mine, men and women who have made radical career changes, who have found the sweet spot where work and family can coexist, who have realised the life they were leading was not for them and moved towards something that was more congruent or fitting.

Some of them have held dreams for society at large – dreams of inclusion and social cohesion, dreams of justice or peace, dreams for the environment we live in, dreams for our health, wealth or well-being.

All of them made something happen because, first, they imagined its existence.

If, like my client, your struggling to make something happen, could it be your time, also, to stop doing and start dreaming?

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