As published in Forbes.
If I could impart one idea that would have the greatest potential to advance you and your future success, it would be this: Master the ability to dream. Now, I know this sounds light and fun. Perhaps even easy. It isn’t. The ability to dream is a discipline, and it is one that few of us are actually good at doing well or consistently.
First, let me define what I mean by dreaming: the ability to focus your thoughts on ideas that give you energy. It is the skill of keeping your attention for an extended period of time on an outcome you want to create, often in the absence of any evidence that its realization is even possible. Dreaming is the ability to see in your mind’s eye a positive future and glimpse the realization of that future, and to experience the feeling of the dream’s realization along the way, such that the accomplishment of the dream is merely another rewarding moment in a long series of rewarding moments.
Unfortunately, many of us have a hard time focusing our thoughts. Sure, we can think about an outcome that we want to occur — a successful board presentation, starting a side business or achieving a bucket-list experience — but too often, as soon as the dream enters our mind, other thoughts rush in that drain or deplete our energy. How will I ever do that? Or worse, we might focus enough to achieve a goal, but once that goal is realized, our minds merely race to the next thing we believe we need because the last achievement failed to sustain the feeling we were truly seeking. Is this all there is?
Regardless of whether we achieve a specific goal or not, many of us feel beaten up and worn out from all our striving, work and efforts. We wake up to the same reality: slightly unfulfilled with our lives as they are. Almost all us think about being somewhere other than where we are — ever more successful, powerful, admired, financially abundant, or on a private beach — when what we really want is to feel better than we do right now. In fact, every single thing you and I do today will be in an effort to make ourselves feel better.
Do you ever wonder what it is inside of ourselves that so often makes us feel bad?
Inside each of us is a negative internal voice that narrates, judges and critiques what we do. Listening to and following this voice is not dreaming, and it will never enable to you “live the dream.” In fact, the more you listen to it, the stronger it becomes, and you can easily get lost in following its demands. Doing so is to live a nightmare. I hope you find this a relief.
Let’s explore the idea of dreaming further because in order to live the dream — your dream of how you want to feel once you “get there” — you must be able to feel that way now.
Start with something small, like a desire to drink one glass of water when you first wake up tomorrow morning. Think about this one glass and how good it will feel to start the day with pure, fresh water. Think about how lucky you are to have clean drinking water readily available to you. Notice now that you feel grateful for your life, as you know so many in the world today would give everything to have clean water available to them and their loved ones.
Now, imagine this simple act becoming a habit every morning, like brushing your teeth or checking your phone, a gratitude habit. Consider how this one habit could improve how you feel emotionally and physically, as well as the quality of your skin and appearance. See yourself now, in your home, taking this one small action tomorrow and then daily. Get excited at how easy it is for you to visualize the glass of water and this one action. Realize how much control you have over your own mental focus and actions when you direct them.
This is dreaming. You have just focused your mind on a collection of thoughts that made you feel good, hopeful and excited. You ignited your imagination as you brought to mind a room, a tap, a glass. You also felt gratitude for the life you have and the potential of a positive future, one that has already delivered what you really care about: how you feel right now.
Because this action is simple, your mind probably did not rush in with a host of contradictory thoughts like how hard it would be to find a glass or to drink the water. Having focused on this one small dream, visualized it and felt positive about it, you have already achieved what you believe the dream will bring you in the future: a fulfilling experience. Given this good-right-now feeling, the probability is also significantly greater that you will actually drink that glass of water tomorrow.
We are each seeking a rewarding internal world that feels good now. After all, who wants to wait to feel alive, inspired, successful, grateful, content and at peace? Feeling alive, inspired, successful, grateful, content and at peace right now is the answer; experiencing and rehearsing these feelings is the way. If you want to live your dreams, discipline yourself to feel these feelings.
Mastering the ability to dream is the essence of truly great leadership. If you study any leader you have ever admired, you will find that they had the ability to focus themselves on ideas that gave them energy. Their energy and excitement then ignited the excitement and energy of others to follow.
Leaders, dreaming matters. It is a discipline that starts with you feeling, rehearsing and embodying how you dream of feeling today.