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How to be One of the Rare Few Who Follows Their Dreams

Photo by Alex Nemo Hanse on Unsplash

I know what is in your head whenever you think about seriously following that dream that’s been sitting in the back of your mind for a long time.

You tell yourself, “Who am I to follow through?”

Let’s just be honest. The vast majority of people never follow through with their deep-seated dreams.

I remember listening to this talk by Les Brown when I first started learning about self-improvement. Here’s what he said:

“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream.”

Think about that. Imagine just how many innovative ideas, inventions, works of art, and un-manifested dreams that could’ve helped the world never happened because people were just too afraid or not disciplined enough to pull them off. Think of yourself. What will you go to the grave having not done?

Is life all about accomplishment? No. Many of the joys in life are simple — family, fun, the present moment, love, showing compassion for others, etc. But following through with your dreams is an act of love, fun, compassion, and honour of the present moment, too.

When I gave a TEDx talk a few years ago, I said that your failure to follow your dreams doesn’t just rob you, it robs the rest of the world because we’ll never get to experience what you could’ve made or done. Your life isn’t just about you. You’re here to honour something bigger than yourself through your accomplishments.

Why is it so damn hard to follow your dreams?

I think about this a lot. If you take the true anomalies away, like pro athletes or famous entertainers, pretty much anything is possible. You just have to follow a series of logical steps.

Yes, you’ll fail along the way. You can have complete and total failures. But, if you follow the basic methods of self-improvement and apply them to enough projects, businesses, long-term goals, etc, you’ll have some level of success given a long-enough time frame.

If you want to start a business, you have to figure out what people want or need and give it to them. If you want to build a tribe or an audience, you need to find the intersection between what you want to say and what people want to hear or learn about. To reach any major goal, you mostly need to delay your gratification.

All this seems simple on the surface, but then everything else gets in your way.

First, you have your day to day life. It’s not that your life is crazy difficult but you just have this ‘death by a thousand cuts’ mechanism working in it– job, commute, errands, chores, keeping up with family/friends, health/exercise, news and media consumption.

Then, even if you do manage to find extra time to work on something meaningful to you, you have this voice of self-doubt in your head trying to ruin your life, the resistance.

Last, it’s not so much that you have this big arduous task to complete every single day on the way to achieving your goal. Instead, you have to deal with minutiae — teeny tiny little steps involved, day in and day out, for weeks, months, and years, to get the job done. The two aforementioned obstacles keep you from building the discipline to get this part right, which makes you want to quit very early on.

What’s the solution?

Let’s tackle each piece of this step by step.

The process you can use to re-wire your mind, build discipline, and follow through with your goals

I built my writing career slowly, spending about an hour or so a day working on my writing in the morning before I went to my full-time job. That hour was when I had the most energy and the least interruptions.

To make progress on a project you want to work on, you must find the best time to achieve the combination of the most energy and the least interruptions. For most people that means waking up in the morning. Some are night owls. You know yourself. Think in terms of energy management, not time management.

You must learn to monitor yourself and structure your life in a way that gives you enough energy to complete the things that matter most to you. Look at how you structure your life.

Do you spend time on petty errands daily? Batch them all into one day instead. Does exercise in the morning or evening give you the best energy balance? How long can you work without breaking concentration? 30 minutes? An hour? Two? Does your job totally drain you? Do you need to find a different job that consumes less energy? When I first started writing, I was working as a manager at a video store, not too cognitively demanding, and I worked mostly second shift, which gave me time to write in the morning and early afternoon.

As far as dealing with self-doubt goes, the answer itself is simple but the process is difficult. You have to be slightly insane. You have to learn how to delude yourself into thinking things will work out. Most people do go to the grave with their dreams. Just decide you’re not going to be one of those people.

There are many naysayers and people who will try to pull you back into the barrel. Don’t share your dreams with them out loud and find ways to counteract the negativity in the world. I can’t tell you how many talks, books, audios, etc, I’ve played on a loop over and over and over again. There was a point in my life where I had headphones in my ear the vast majority of the day. I was always listening to something positive.

You brainwash yourself, have these conversations in your head trying to convince yourself that you’re somehow different, and then you do the work. You do the work because the work is the only antidote to fear. Thinking about doing the thing never removes the fear of doing the thing, only doing the thing does. The more you intellectualize, the more you hesitate, the harder it is to do it. I hate that ‘just do it’ is the answer, but it’s the truth.

You have to create a loose enough plan that you know which general direction you need to go in, then you start going. Reverse engineer the steps you need to take to reach whatever end goal you want to have.

If you want to write, that means writing. If you want to start a business but don’t know which business, this means researching, but only to a point, and actually trying to start a company. Any other long-term goal, e.g., getting in shape, learning a language, whatever, requires you to start day one of practice.

To deal with the little minutiae, the tiny steps, you lock into the present moment for a length of time you can handle, no matter how small. Then, you do it the next day. Get a streak going — a week, two weeks, a month, 90 days. Next thing you know, a year has passed and you’re well on your way.

Then, one day you look up to see how much you’ve accomplished and you won’t even understand how you did it. But, you know you did it so you know you can do it again. Once you crack one wall, you can crack them all. You’ll have a level of confidence you can use to tackle pretty much anything.

And that’s what you’ll do for the rest of your life. You’ll just conquer stuff. It’s pretty damn fun.

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