We talk a lot about how to nurture and grow your business, but there’s another gigantic aspect to success: growing you, and not just in the professional context. We have to be just as intentional in growing and fostering personal satisfaction as we are in growing our businesses, and that means we must dream.
With limited time every day to accomplish everything on your business and family to-do lists, you might feel as though dreaming is out of the question. Well, at Infusionsoft, we have a man whose entire job is dedicated to helping us employees identify, plan for, and accomplish our dreams. That man’s name is Dan Ralphs, and to your idea that there’s no time to dream, he is here to say:
Au contraire, mes amis.
Why dreaming matters
You need at least four extra hours every day to run your business and your life. So chances are that constructive dreaming time gets so lost in the shuffle of obligation that it doesn’t fall on your radar.
“It’s about creating a deliberate vision for the future,” Dan says. “Dreaming means that rather than being acted upon, we learn to be actors in our business and our lives. So often we get swallowed in our business rather than directing or leading it. To take time to dream about something personal or professional gives you space to take control of your life and be deliberate about moving forward.”
If we avoid even thinking about our dreams, it’s probably because dreams are usually outside our comfort zones. What keeps us in our comfort zone is fear, and we’re afraid to step into doing things that might scare us. As Dan says, “Not moving toward a dream is a way to hide out from bigger and more powerful possibilities.”
Dreaming can help you be more productive
This should really appeal to the time-crunched entrepreneur in you: Dan says dreaming can help you be more productive. Wait, what?
Think about it this way: When we dream, we grow, and growth happens when we leave what we know and move into what we don’t know. Would your 18-year-old self be able to do what you’re doing now? Probably not. That’s because in the intermittent years, you’ve had many new experiences and grown as a person.
When you continue to dream—and hence, grow—so does your capacity as a person, expanding your comfort zone and making it easier to do things you once found challenging.
And, as Dan says, “If I feel like I’m making progress in my life, I can work better and for more hours.” When you have a greater purpose in life, you’ll be more engaged, and engagement directly impacts businesses with greater profitability, customer satisfaction and productivity. And when you think about it, dreaming is just a higher form of engagement.
You have control
It’s easy to get into a space where we feel our dreams take a back seat to the needs or dreams of others in our life, or that our dreams are dictated by circumstances beyond our control.
“We need to remember that we’re still the ones choosing the life we live. No one is forcing life upon us and we always have the ability to choose the life we live,” states Dan. “That is the fundamental premise of dreaming. We are powerful creatures who have the power to choose our life and are currently choosing the life we want to live.”
“Sometimes,” he adds, “we get into the spectator role, where we borrow inspiration from everyone else. We love feel-good stories, we just never believe we’re going to be a feel-good story. Dreaming invites you to be a feel-good story.”
Dreaming isn’t about whether you can or can’t
“The No. 1 thing that prevents people from getting started, let alone moving forward, is their willingness to commit. Achieving a dream requires consistent and committed effort, and staying committed in the face of adversity is extremely difficult,” Dan says.
Part of the reason people are unwilling to commit is that they don’t know what achieving their dream really takes—and often, people overestimate the difficulty of their dream by a significant amount. “We feel it’s impossible,” explains Dan, “but we never do the detailed work to figure out what it really takes.”
So if a dream is actually easier to achieve than we think, what’s holding us back?
It’s what Dan calls the commitment muscle. “It’s not our capacity or our skill set; it’s the level of commitment that moves big dreams. If you look at people who have accomplished enormous dreams, like Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr., their level of commitment was their life. So when we talk about achieving dreams, we’re not asking whether or not we can; we’re asking ‘What level of commitment would this take from me?’”
It’s all a cost-benefit analysis—the dreams we choose to pursue are the dreams that, when we look at the level of commitment required and the payoff at the end, we think are a bargain.
Strengthen your commitment muscle
If we’re really out of practice at working toward a dream—which requires daily commitment—it can help to first strengthen our commitment muscle before we commit to a dream.
“One way to strengthen your commitment muscle is to practice living in daily integrity,” Dan explains. “That means I do what I say I’ll do. If I say I’ll be at a meeting at two, I’m there at two. In every detail of life and commitment I speak, I execute.”
Here’s an exercise: for one day, do everything you said you’d do. That means fulfilling every expectation, every assignment, every small task, including all the things you would expect from yourself.
Another way to frame it is to consider how much you’d wager on a commitment. If your dream is to get healthy and you say you’ll exercise every day, how much would you wager that you’ll get to the gym today? If you can’t wager very much, that’s an indicator of your commitment muscle.
“People who are successful in life learn to make commitments where a lot more is at stake,” says Dan. “They have the ability to say ‘I will do this and I bet you a million dollars I will do it.’ They see that there’s no risk it won’t get done unless they die.”
But before you go wagering a million dollars, practice being committed at a higher level to the small things. If you said you’d take out the trash, take it out. If you said you’d take a call you don’t really want to take, take it anyway because you’re committed.
How to get started and stay committed
When I first came on at Infusionsoft, one of our exercises in orientation was to write out our dreams. Dan gave us a blank book and told us to write out 100 dreams. I’ll confess, I stared at the blank page before writing down one, maybe two things.
“How can I possibly think of a hundred dreams?” I thought. “I don’t have a hundred dreams.”
At the time, I was on the cusp of an enormous life change and I couldn’t fathom ever committing to my dreams again. If you feel like you’re in a similar headspace, try thinking of and writing out your dreams as an experiment, just to see if you can. The more dreams you think of, the easier it is to think of more.
This is how Dan encourages people to get started, by dreaming broadly. Once you figure out what your dreams are, choose one or two to work toward and clearly identify what the dream is and what the minimum requirements are to consider that dream fulfilled. Let’s say your dream is to write a book. Will you consider that dream achieved when you finish your draft, when it gets published or when it hits the best-seller list?
Then figure out the level of commitment required for you to accomplish that dream. The bigger the dream, the bigger the level of commitment, but a lot of dreams can be achieved if you commit to working on them for just 15 minutes a day.
“It’s not the volume of time you spend, but the consistency with which you put time in,” Dan says.
If you’re still not convinced (and even if you are), I’ll leave you with this final thought from Dan:
“We have this opportunity, no matter where we are in our life, to figure out what gives us butterflies, what makes us nervous, what would take a little bit of a miracle to happen, and then decide to step in that direction with boldness and fearlessness.”