Personal leadership

Why is it so hard to follow our dreams?

If we are to reach our true goals we need to be able to clearly identify what are mere fantasies and shallow desires

Ruben Montenegro

We all have dreams, but we don’t always reach them. This is certainly the case with New Year’s resolutions – of which only 12% are met, according to Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom. There are many reasons why this happens: we get caught up in our day-to-day routine, we don’t have the resources, or whatever other excuse. But there is another, more insidious reason: we confuse our dreams with fantasies and shallow desires.

We confuse our dreams with our fantasies and desires

We might fantasize about traveling around the world, losing weight or going to med school – without having any intention to do so. Thinking about things like this is a form of escapism. A fantasy can also revive us. When we are tired, the simple thought of being on an idyllic beach can help us get through the tough days. The real dream is not to get on a plane and disappear, but to simply let our mind wander to palm trees of a remote fantasy.

These fantasies are directly linked to our motivation. A study from Carnegie Mellon University found that the best day of the week is Friday (a conclusion many people had already arrived at without needing research). However, this particular study makes an interesting argument. It claims we prefer Fridays to Sundays because we enjoy anticipation more than completion. Even though we have to go to work on Fridays, we get to look forward to the weekend, which is the opposite of what happens on a Sunday. We don’t have to work, but we have to get our mind ready for work on Monday. Fantasies come from the anticipation of doing something you will never bother to do – no matter how much you tell yourself and other people you will. A dream however, is a completely different story.

The dreams that truly matter and can change our lives are the ones that inspire us and give us drive. When we dream of changing our job or going on a safari in Africa for example, we read every job ad in the newspaper or every travel magazine we can get our hands on. These dreams can even be a nuisance, because we can’t stop thinking or talking about them. They push us, force us to give our all, and unlike fantasies, are not just passing whims.

Real dreams make us work to reach them

All this said, if we had to make a list of our dreams, how many of them would actually push us to take action and how many of them are just wishes? We need to differentiate between the two so we don’t get frustrated. If we could spot what the real dreams are and be honest with ourselves, we could accomplish much more than 12% of them. If we are not actually interested exercising or dieting, what is the point in considering them as goals?

Ultimately, dreams help us move forward and grow as people. They don't have to be big. A good dream could be to smile through the rough days. Or they could be more ambitious, like getting a promotion at work or a finding a healthier relationship. Whatever it is, if it doesn't drive us to take action, put us to work or inspire us, it is likely to be just a fantasy. There is nothing wrong with this but we should recognize it from the start to avoid getting frustrated when we think about the dreams we haven’t fulfilled.

English version by Laura Rodríguez.

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