We naturally think about the future and what can be. There are lots of benefits to imagining the future, including relief from current stress and motivating us to work hard today for what we want tomorrow. There is the right way and the wrong way to project forward.
Dream Big! Don’t Fantasize
What’s the difference between a dream and a fantasy? There are three significant differences that will change your life when understood and practiced.
#1. Dreams are rooted in reality. Fantasies deny reality.
In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins shares the “Stockade Paradox” that came from an interview with Admiral John Stockdale. Admiral Stockdale was the highest ranking military officer captured in the Vietnam War. He was imprisoned and tortured for 20 years. When asked how he survived Admiral Stockdale replied that he never lost sight that he would survive and the experience would be a defining life in his moment. The ones who didn’t survive were the ones who believed they would be rescued by the holidays and then lost heart when no help came. Those that survived embraced the paradoxical reality: the discipline to embrace brutal facts of current reality yet never lost sight that in the end they would win.
You might be suffering in a terrible job, family life full of conflict or disappointment, a scary medical diagnosis was just delivered. Whatever your current reality it is important to embrace the brutal facts. Dreaming happens from being honest about what is real about your situation today, not pretending that everything is amazing. Being as honest as possible about your present situation is a strong foundation for moving toward a better tomorrow. My friend Dave Rhodes would say, “We need “brutiful” honesty AND a deep belief that in the end we will win.“
#2. Dreams Move Through Reality. Fantasies Escape Reality.
New car fever hits us all. Who hasn’t imagined driving a fancy, convertible sports car with the top down on a beautiful day? When you move toward making that a reality how will you get there?
If you fantasize then you escape the reality you cannot afford that luxury car. But you go get a loan and bring it home anyway. Your hair is blowing in the wind as you cruise around. And you have no way to pay for that car. Not too far in the distance those loan payments are going to crush your cash flow and you will be forced to choose between paying rent, buying groceries, and making the car payment.
When you dream, in contrast, you save your money. You keep the picture of that car above your desk and slowly, steadily put money into a savings account. There is a savings goal that will allow you to bring that car home with payments you can afford. True, dreaming includes delayed gratification. Dreaming includes waiting, moving through reality one savings deposit at a time.
#3. Dreams Become Reality. Fantasies Leave Your Stuck.
You will realize your dreams! Because you are taking the steps to move through reality you will move into a new reality. You will reach a destination, even if it isn’t exactly the one you started toward. Because dreams involve embracing reality and taking steps to make a better future possible, you will move forward.
Fantasizing, on the other hand, leaves you stuck in your present reality. Fantasies may be a great escape, but because they don’t involve action or investment you will go nowhere. You will still be right where you are, longing and disappointed. Think about a situation that you wish was different. How will that situation change if you don’t take action? Fantasizing it was different might be entertaining, but you are still be right in the same place.
Dream big! Dreams are an incredible part of being alive. We have the ability to imagine a better future. Move beyond fantasizing by embracing reality, keep moving, and stay the course until your dream is realized.