“All men dream, but not all equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind wake to find it was all vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous, for they may act their dreams with open eyes and make things happen.”
-T.E. Lawrence, aka “Lawrence of Arabia”
I was teaching a seminar a number of years ago when a woman stood up, dripping with disgust, and pointed an accusatory finger at me. “The problem with you,” she said, “is that you give people hope.”
She had a point, although in my defense it had never occurred to me that this might be perceived as a bad thing. But she was also inaccurate in her description. I can’t “give” anyone hope any more than I can give them anger or fear. What I can do, and do whenever I can, is point to a deeper understanding of where hope comes from and why it’s such a wonderful thing when it comes.
I’ve actually often wondered when hope got such a bad name. Criticism of both classical religion and New Age thinking is filled with accusations of giving people “false hope”. But what makes hope false?
The Oxford American Dictionary defines hope as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen” and as “grounds for believing that something good may happen”. False hope, then, doesn’t have to do with my feeling of expectation and desire for my relationships to be successful, my business to make money, and my body to recover from an illness, but with my grounds for believing that these things are possible.
If I ask you to double down on your dreams because I have “secret” knowledge of the future that reveals that as long as you do X, Y, and Z, you’ll ultimately succeed, that is unfortunately false grounds for hope – I have no such knowledge. However, if I ask you to move forward on your dreams because there are hundreds if not thousands of stories of people who have succeeded in spite of the odds, no matter how heavily those odds seem stacked against them, that is indeed legitimate grounds for hope, regardless of how things ultimately turn out.
(A quick aside about “evidence”: in days gone by, the evidence has clearly “proven” that the sun revolves around the earth, which is in fact flat; that bumblebees can’t fly; and that humankind will not only never reach the moon, but can’t run a mile in less than four minutes or find true and lasting happiness in a world filled with suffering – oh, wait, is that one still a fact? :-)
Here’s my definition of hope:
Hope is the magic elixir that energizes dreams, fuels possibilities, and lets you live beyond the limits of your habitual thinking. It’s not a promise that something you want will happen – it’s an invitation to enjoy the possibility of what you want while you and life negotiate the eventual outcome.
There is never a good reason not to hope.
In my work with clients, there are three kinds of dreams that inevitably come up while we’re together:
a) Those they’ve outgrown
b) Those they’ve fulfilled
c) Those they’ve given up on
Here’s a “dream inventory” you can take to reflect on the many dreams you’ve had for yourself and your life over the years…
- Make three columns on a piece of paper.
- Column A is for those dreams for your life you’re outgrown – for example:
- To be a firefighter, ballerina, or astronaut
- To be in a bizarre industrial accident that turns me into a real-life superhero
- To take over the Playboy empire from Hugh Hefner
- Column B is for those dreams you’ve lived or are living now – for example:
- I always wanted to live abroad, and I did
- I used to dream of having a big soppy dog, and now I’ve had three of them
- I thought it would be cool to work alongside the masters in my field, and for many years now I’ve done just that
- Column C is for those dreams you’ve given up on, either because they seem impossible, you’ve tried and failed up until now, and/or they just seem like too much work – for example:
- Winning the Nobel peace prize
- Recovering from a chronic illness
- Becoming a millionaire
- Marrying the man or woman of my dreams
Now, take a fresh look at what you’ve written in column C. Is there anything there you’d still love to have happen if it could?
If so, “wake up the dream” by allowing yourself to dream it hopefully. Here are a few “tricks” that you might find helpful:
a) Stop arguing for why you can’t have what you want
For a number of years, I worked alongside the co-creator of NLP, Dr. Richard Bandler. He had a simple dictum he brought out whenever someone started making the case for their own limitations:
“If you can’t, you won’t.”
As someone who loves to use three words when one would probably do, my preferred version is this:
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you don’t actually know, so why limit yourself by guessing?”
If instead of arguing for your limitations you argue for your possibilities, you will find much more capacity and creativity inside you than you ever dreamed possible.
What if your dream could happen? Yes, I know, but what if it could? What then?
b) Check in to see if you actually want it
A friend told me that before she died, Syd Banks wife Barbara said “You can have anything you want – you just have to actually want it.” This is, in fact, the point at the heart of my first book. Chances are that you can have what you want – but no matter how hard you try, it’s really difficult to keep moving forward long enough to create what you don’t actually want in the first place.
While it’s something that you’ll get a feel for over time, a simple way to check in is to ask yourself “If this fell into my lap out of a clear blue sky, would I take it?”
If your answer is anything other than an emphatic and obvious “yes”, move on.
c) Take the first step
This month’s book for the Transformative Book Club is Ken Roberts A Rich Man’s Secret. On a mysterious tombstone, the young seeker at the heart of the story sees the following phrase engraved in marble:
Take the first step, no more, no less, and the next will be revealed.
In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien equates “good magic” with awakening hope and “dark magic” with covering it over. In over twenty five years of working with clients on living the life of their dreams, the biggest “dream killer” I come across is reasonableness.
People have so many good reasons not to move forward on their dreams that their creativity shuts down and they literally can’t see what’s possible. They make up the future and then decide what to do or not do based on what they’ve made up.
Here’s a simple truth I’ve seen play itself out again and again in my life and the lives of my clients:
You can’t think your way out of a problem you made up with your thinking.
If you know you want to head in a direction, take the first step. In my experience, you’ll not only be pleasantly surprised by where you end up, you’ll be even more pleasantly surprised by how quickly you get there…
Have fun, learn heaps, and may all your success be fun!
With all my love,
Today’s blog is excerpted from my book Creating the Impossible: A 90 day program to get your dreams out of your head and into the world…The week I began working on this book, I read a distressing (to me) article about how Mahatma Gandhi was estranged from his eldest son, Harilal, throughout his adult life. I immediately called my own first born, Oliver…read more
Today, I want to share a third thing that I have come to see over a nearly 30 year career as a teacher and coach. It impacts how I do everything I do with students and clients, and is perhaps best summed up in this story I first heard in a dialogue between Anthony de Mello, an enlightened Jesuit priest, and one of his students….read more
In part one, I shared a simple truth about human beings that flies in the face of a lot of self-help ideologies and neo-cognitive therapies:
We aren’t in control of our thoughts and feelings. Today, I want to point to what may seem an even odder piece of good news…