Think of all the great things you’re going to do with your life. All the wonderful, fun, enjoyable and rewarding things you’re going to dive into that leave you breathless and exhausted at the end of the day, ready to get up the next morning (when your body’s ready, not to a pesky alarm) and do all over again.
Instead of just letting those images go by, let’s grab them and start to wonder, When am I going to do them? This year, at all? Next year? Am I ever going to do these great things I keep thinking of?
Now the natural inclination is to wonder, “Wait a minute, why aren’t I doing these things now? What’s stopping me, why don’t I go after what I want?”
Instantly you’ve been pulled off track. Now you’re into the realm of thinking about “why” instead of taking action.
Let’s face it, daydreaming about how wonderful life could be is often a lot more enjoyable than working towards a version of that life that we suspect isn’t going to be as great as our daydreams. We don’t have to be Einstein to see that for the average person, dreaming about owning a mansion straight out of Downton Abbey is a heck of a lot cheaper than actually trying to buy one, and a lot less hassle than moving into one and ensuring that there is enough staff to keep it clean and keep all the occupants fed. Naturally, you’d have all your family and best friends living there, or at least dropping in a lot; never mind the fact that hardly any of them have the same interest you do in even visiting old mansions let alone packing up and moving into one.
When it comes to the dreams you have for your own life, what about those? What about your current house? For many, it’s more fun to think about what it would look like once you’ve renovated it than it is to actually get out your tools and start work.
“Why don’t I start work on that cabinet refinishing? Why aren’t I writing that book? What’s stopping me from buying an old car and entering the weekend races?” All these questions are, in my view, diversions from actually doing those things.
In The Right Question, I spend a bit of time discussing the Instinctive You. I think that anytime you’re avoiding doing something that will potentially reward you in some way, it’s the Instinctive You at work somewhere. If you really want to know why you’re avoiding these things, all you have to do is ask the Right Question. Asking “Why is it that I spend my spare time in front of the TV instead of designing that app, researching that book, or designing that site?” isn’t really the best question you could be asking, simply because knowing the reason why isn’t necessarily going to get you off the couch any faster than not knowing.
It’s been said that knowledge is power but that’s not the whole story. Knowledge isn’t power. A hammer flying through the air doesn’t know anything at all, but it sure has power. Ask anyone who’s been hit by one. The power of a tool rests only in its use, and the same is true of knowledge. Knowing why you’re wasting your life isn’t necessarily going to get you any closer to doing anything about it. In fact, more often than not, all it’s going to do is give you an excuse to continue *not* doing anything about it!
I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen this in action, especially when it comes to medical diagnoses. Think about how many times you might have seen someone behave a certain way and reject any offers of help. Then when a diagnosis comes in from a doctor, it serves as an excuse to them that they were right all along to refuse help, and it’s the reason why they can’t do this or that or the other thing. They’re going to live unfulfilled lives but they’ll gladly take your sympathy, because ultimately in their mind it’s easier to dream about having a great life than actually working towards one.
However, as far as I’m concerned, they couldn’t be more wrong. I disagree that it’s easier to dream than to actualize. I’ve been all the way from poor to rich and made a stop everywhere in between, and I can tell you, living a wealthy life is every bit as great as you imagine. Not having to set an alarm ever again – unless you’re getting up to catch a plane, of course – is a rare and wonderful privilege, and the reason why not many enjoy it is because not enough people apply the Right Question.
Allow me to suggest that you try the following experiment: Imagine your life without television, without checking your phone for messages every two minutes, without distracting yourself by eating or whatever else you’re doing that’s dragging you under. Imagine how long you could survive without these things while you do something you really want to do instead. Imagine sitting at your computer to design your site or app or write something, instead of pointlessly surfing and wasting time. Imagine being outside and tending the garden instead of just wishing beautiful things would grow.
Mark some time on your calendar to actually live like that. Even if it’s only one day. For some people, that’s a lot. Make it three, four days, a week if you like, but be careful not to set a goal that sounds great but which you secretly know you’ll not be able to achieve. Setting yourself up to fail is what the Instinctive You is good at, for reasons explained in the book, so don’t let that happen.
If you work a regular work week, I’d suggest you design your weekend around this concept. Leave the television off, and set your phone to airplane mode while you do something you’ve been meaning to do, or something you secretly enjoy. Get out your guitar, your app builder, your painting, whatever, and actually do it. Not just for an hour, either. Live like that for the whole weekend. When you’ve done some work on your project, relax for a while. Stay away from the tv. Then imagine what else you’re doing in your ideal life, and do that. Then imagine something else, and do that.
Believe me, at first this will drive you batty. You’ll be so far out of your comfort zone it’ll make your head spin. I know it sounds weird, but living the life of your dreams *for real* will make you feel like Alice in Wonderland. Even in your own living room, things will seem different. This is because in order to live the life of your dreams, you must become the person who could have that life, and you’re spending the weekend learning just what that person is like.
Additionally, you need to get a feel for what it’s like to work towards a goal instead of just dream about it. They’re two totally different things. When we daydream about how great life will be once we’re rich, our imagination completely, totally, unreservedly skips over the actions we’ll be taking to both get there and stay there. There are a number of reasons for this, but if you’ve read The Right Question you’ll realize they don’t matter. We can speculate all day long about those reasons, and at the end of the day, it’ll be bedtime and we’ll have wasted another twenty-four hours.
At the end of the time period, check in with how you feel. Don’t do it before then! During this time, the Instinctive You will try and convince you that you’re wasting your time or will in some way try and drag you off track. Don’t let it happen. Remember, the life of your dreams is going to happen to you if it happens at all, so make sure you take control of your thoughts and feelings.
When it’s over, you can go back to your routine of watching television and surfing and playing video games. But I guarantee you that in the back of your mind you’ll be thinking about what you’ve learned about yourself – what kinds of actions you’ll need to take in order to break out of your life into the one you want, and you’ll never be the same again.
If that’s what you’re afraid of, ask the Right Question and relax. You’ll be fine.
Pretty soon we’ll discuss how wise it is to love the life you already have, but that, as they say, is another story.