What would it mean to you to have the life of your dreams? Would you even know if you were living it right now, or would you have missed the signs and kept your gaze fixed on the horizon?
In today’s super-fast digital world, it is easy to have dreams sold to us by media and marketing businesses that tell us what to want. Big brands manipulate us into thinking about how we’ll never really be content until, or unless, we have their latest, biggest product in our hands, and the lifestyles of the rich and famous (as shown to us by carefully curated TV shows) expand and distort our sense of what the good life means.
But have you ever really sat down and tried to articulate your own dream life, without letting the preoccupations and marketing slogans of others get in the way? Have you actually been taking steps towards the life you want to live, rather than just the one you’ve been told you should want?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting a bit of material comfort in your life, but will that new phone or car fulfill you, personally, in the same way, that doing a first aid certification online might?
Without further ado, here are some tips for identifying and achieving the life of your dreams.
First, articulate what the life of your dreams actually looks like
As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there.
To progress meaningfully and consistently towards anything positive and self-affirming in life, we need to put in consistent work, but more than this we need to have articulated a clear vision of what it is that we want and how we are going to begin setting towards achieving it.
And the tricky thing about identifying what the life of your dreams would look like, is that you’ve got to be specific, consistent, and cover as many of the bases as possible.
To begin with, though sit down for a few minutes, maybe put on some relaxing music, close your eyes and visualise your ideal day. The best day you could imagine for yourself. Where would you wake up, and who, if anyone would be next to you? What would you do for fun? Where would you go? Who would you meet along the way? What would you do for work, if you were doing any work at all? How would you look if you caught sight of yourself in the mirror?
This kind of mental exercise can create a pretty striking view of the different components of your perfect life. Perhaps, for example, the visualisation would have you wake up in a beach-facing manor-house, next to your current partner, then going next door to have breakfast with your parents, before doing yoga on the sand and going into town to meet your friends. Maybe you’d have a job as a marine biologist nearby.
Once you have identified this “perfect day” scenario, write it out and keep it somewhere accessible. You should read and reflect on this vision at least once a day, to keep it fresh in your mind, and to keep you oriented towards your vision.
You should also dissect this grand vision into its component parts and write those down. “My ideal job would be…”, “My ideal home would be…”, and so on.
You can then chunk these goals down into the first micro-steps that you’ll take on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. In the above example, the first “micro step” towards the dream career in question could be “research qualifications for becoming a marine biologist”.
Focus on experiences, skills and qualities before and above “stuff”
It may be that your vision of a perfect life involves you inhabiting an enormous manor house somewhere, and that’s all very well. If you’re setting that manor house up as your fundamental and primary goal, however, you are likely setting yourself up for frustration and failure, and putting the cart before the horse.
Skills, qualities, and to a lesser extent, experiences, are things that you all have a great degree of control over. You can always sit down and study, even if you don’t feel like it, and you can always behave in the best and most responsible manner possible, for achieving your goals.
You can’t, however, always guarantee the material results of your labours, and you certainly can’t guarantee that they will enrich and uplift your life in exactly the way you’d like to think, even if you do achieve them.
So, work towards your material goals, by all means, but try and keep yourself focused on developing your skills, qualities, and experiences, day-to-day. If all goes well, the material benefits of these skills and qualities will manifest themselves abundantly. But that shouldn’t be your key area of focus.
Write out a “bucket list”, fill it with things you really want to do, and tick something off whenever possible
Great life visions are all very well — essential, even — but no life is comprised entirely of the pursuit of a particular, grand goal. Even the most driven and single-minded of people will fill the remaining space left in calendars with various experiences and pursuits, ideally aimed to improve the quality of their lives as a whole, and enhance their happiness significantly.
To keep life interesting — to maintain a bit of the “spice of life”, in other words, it’s a great idea to keep a list of all the random, fun, interesting little experiences you’d like to have in your life, and then to systematically work on checking these items off the list one at a time.
You might have heard of this kind of system before; it’s typically referred to as a bucket list, and the idea is that you want to achieve everything on the list before you, well, “kick the bucket”.
You can and should let your imagination run wild when constructing such a list. Include everything that you’d like to do, even if you think it’s unlikely, or even impossible, to accomplish.
Paragliding, winning a chess contest, singing karaoke, publishing a book, and walking from one side of a country to another, are all possible candidates for a bucket list.
Once you have created your bucket list, you should review it regularly, and constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to tick off the various items found on the list.
Become organised and master your habit
You can have the best intentions and most clearly articulated vision in the world, but you will simply never achieve your goals and live your perfect life if you are unable to get a handle on your habits, become their master, and become organised in a very serious way.
Habits are the unspoken patterns of behaviour which end up forming our destinies. As an ancient proverb, allegedly Chinese, has it:
“Be careful of your thoughts for they become your words, be careful of your words for they become your actions, be careful of your actions for they become your habits, be careful of your habits for they become your character, be careful of your character for it becomes your destiny.”
Or, as the philosopher Aristotle put it, “we are what we repeatedly do, excellence therefore not an action but a habit.”
These bits of ancient wisdom underline a fundamental truth of the human experience; namely that our habits are at the core of what defines us, and the difference between positive and negative habits is nothing less than a positive or negative destiny.
The issue is, of course, that bad habits are not so easy to break, and good habits are often not so easy to form. Once we have repeated a series of actions to the extent that they become habits, we have actually altered the neuronal connections in our brains, in such a way that those actions become easier to perform and harder to ignore.
To break bad habits, we must first understand the habit loop. This comprises of the stages; trigger, habit, reward.
The “trigger” is whatever reminds us to perform the habit, often automatically and without thinking. Smokers, for example, may feel compelled to light up when they smell the first cup of coffee of the day.
The habit in this instance would be the smoking itself, and the reward would be the calming endorphin rush that comes from smoking.
To properly re-program this habit, the trigger must remain the same (smelling the coffee), and the reward must stay approximately the same, but the habit must change. Perhaps chewing a piece of nicotine gum, or vaping, for example, would be enough initially.
Forming good habits is mostly a matter of reinforcement and repetition. Say you need to study for an hour each day to achieve your goals, but you’re perpetually too tired and bored when you get home from work, so you just end up surfing the web all night instead.
Begin small by forcing yourself to study for just 10 minutes a day. Then reward yourself for that studying with something small that you enjoy. Every couple of days, increase the time, while keeping the reward constant. In a relatively short period of time, you should be up to working for that hour a day without much trouble.