The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968). (Stephen F. Somerstein/Getty Images)

I have a dream… Now what?

Click here for the Portuguese version.

No matter what but we all have a dream. We dream of buying a new home, traveling around the world, finding true love or achieving enlightenment.

But when Martin Luther King Jr. said the famous phrase “I have a dream…”, he probably didn’t necessarily know how to make it come true. It took a lot of thought and observation to find the answers he was looking for.

But you don’t have to go very far when the real reflection begins at home: have you noticed that although we live with ourselves 24hrs a day, we don’t know each other properly?

Who am I? What do I like? What are my priorities?

To learn anything one has to study, but we rarely do this self-study.

It took me a long time to figure out what my dream was. Life has given me clues over the years until the day I concluded that I wanted to specialize in problem-solving. But as I still couldn’t see the whole picture, I wondered, “What profession could I go to in solving problems?”

That same day later, I happened to watch a news report where people were interviewing people on the street about what they would like to do if they didn’t need to make money. When asked an old man in the street, he replied: “I would like to solve problems”. Stupid as it may seem, this oldman’s answer showed me that I was not the only one, so there was probably an answer to that question that hung around my mind.

The idea of being a problem solver was just a fragment of what would become my dream. In 2014 I founded the Creativity Seriously, where I teach people to be more creative and where I discovered that my dream was to be a Creativity teacher.

Inspired by these experiences, I would like to share with you what were the 5 key points for me, hoping that they can also help you realize your dreams.

1 — What would you do if you didn’t need to make money?

Now I ask you the same question: what would you do if you didn’t have to make money?

Before answering, I want you to reflect on the types of dreams that exist. According to Michael Gerber, there are two types:

  • Personal Dream — Impacts Only Your Own Life
  • Impersonal Dream — Impacts the life of a group or society

Our dreams, when achieved, generate a momentary joy that soon ends. This is because usually our dreams are linked with achieving something physical, tangible. When you think about this dream you will notice that it most likely begins with the verb HAVE or WANT.

Our impersonal dreams, on the other hand, generate genuine joy because they are linked to our life purpose. It is the result of attitudes that positively impact people’s lives and makes you get out of bed in the morning.

2 — The two fundamental questions

Okay, you already know what your dream is, but one thing is obvious: It’s no use having a dream if you don’t know how to achieve it. You need to set your goals and especially know how to ask the right questions.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the right question to ask, and once I knew the question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.” — Albert Einstein

I have developed a decision-making method that works wonderfully and is relatively simple: Just ask yourself this two questions whenever you need to decide the opportunities that will come your way.

The first question is: what is the next step?

Life changes too fast to plan many steps. It makes no sense to want to define the tenth step when not even the first one took place. Asking this first question is interesting because you remain open to unforeseen circumstances and allow to adapt to changes in the path.

The second question is: does this push me away or bring me closer to my goals?

This question is extremely important, even more, followed by the previous one. With the next step set, now is the time to clarify if it is the best step at this time.

However, pay close attention to this decision. After taking it, there is always a dip before we achieve our goals. It’s as if life asks you: Is that really what you want?

This dip can be identified as the feeling that it is not for you, making you feel uncomfortable, out of place or afraid, and will try to pull you back into your comfort zone. Stand still and accept the challenge that over time this feeling will pass.

Life becomes more interesting when we don’t have all the answers and allow ourselves to change our mind or path. There are so many interesting things that we don’t know yet that we can fall in love with. This happened to me when I met Creativity; My life took another direction that I couldn’t foresee (and it was the best thing that ever happened to me).

Today there are infinite possibilities. Allow yourself to slow down and take one step at a time.

3 — What do you pay attention to?

Imagine you have some limited amount of gold. With each step you take, you are required to spend some of this gold to keep moving forward, and there is no way to get it back after you spend it.

Very well, in this metaphor gold is your time. Putting your attention on something is investing time, and your time is worth gold. Your attention is your most valuable asset, so everybody are constantly trying to steal it from you.

“My experience is what I agree to attend to.” — William James

According to Maura Thomas, founder of RegainYourTime, the equation is quite simple; your attention becomes your experiences that determine the life you live. That is, you become what you pay attention to.

Yes, there are too many emails to answer and fires to put out at work. Or worse, your social networks consume you to the point that your days are about seeing other people’s lives, kitten vídeos, and make quizzes to know what kind of sandwich you are. At the end of the day you have not accomplished anything, and your life has become all those “experiences” you never intended to have.

I know that feeling. There was a time when I wanted to keep track of everything that was going on, so I followed all the major news channels to keep me updated. There was nothing in the Actualities category that I didn’t know about, and so I became the newest victim of a phenomenon called F.O.M.O. (Fear Of Missing Out).

Everything was going well until I read Rolf Dobelli’s The Art of Thinking Clearly, which himself was also a victim of FOMO. His perspective of the news made me reflect on the information I was consuming daily. Dobelli comments that the news is disposable because the next day they have already become obsolete. Besides, not everything is news, but they have to hold our attention until something really important happens, after all, it’s their job.

“There is a more powerful feeling than getting attention: paying attention.” — Joseph Gordon-Levitt

That was my tipping point. I did virtual cleaning and filtered which subjects I would follow from then on (I talked about it here: http://bit.ly/CreativeFilter). I also stopped indiscriminately following who was on my network and turned off all kinds of possible and imaginable notifications (yes, that’s probably why I forgot about your birthday).

“If you don’t have time, it’s because it’s not a priority.” — Felipe Zamana

Setting goals will bring clarity to what your priorities are, that means, where you want to invest your time. Creativity is seeing what others don’t see, but to do that you have to truly see, and that is only possible if you invest your time on it. In the words of Jordan Peterson:

“You see the things that make it easy for you to move forward toward your desired goals. You detect obstacles when they come your way. You are blind to everything else (and everything else is a lot — so you are very blind). And it has to be that way because the world is so much bigger than you. You must carefully guide your limited resources. Seeing is very difficult, so you have to choose what to see and give up the rest. “

In short, learn to say NO. With your priorities very well defined you will not be swallowed by the anxiety of the world. Protect your space and time so you can focus on what matters.

4 — And now, what do I do?

That is a great question. After all, Creativity deals with the unknown.

There is no infallible recipe or magic formula for so many variables. Some several tools and methodologies can help you create an action strategy, but going forward is trial and error.

Creativity is not a straight line from point A to point B. I have study numerous creative methodologies, and so far I have not known any that were not organic when applied. All, while defining an order for the creative phenomenon, contained a p.s. saying “this order is not necessarily linear”.

So how do you know which is the best choice to make? Well, there’s not how to know for sure BEFORE doing it. Sometimes not even after. That’s what Barry Schwartz called the Paradox of Choice: with so many possibilities and options, we’re never sure if we made the best choice.

There will always be that feeling that if we had chosen another college we would be more accomplished and valued; if we had accepted that job offer in another company we would be better financially; if we had not ended that relationship we would feel more complete and loved; if this, if that…

A truth is that we do not feel the frustrations of the choices we didnt make. In one of the speeches of Professor Clóvis de Barros Filho, he mentions that we cannot feel the pain of the life we didn’t choose to live.

“The past is a lesson, not a life sentence.” — Author unknown

No matter how successful you become or how many achievements you will have on your resume. You will always ask: and now, what do I do?

The secret is to create a routine. A daily practice, something you can do regardless of what happened. Something that makes you feel safe about the chaotic world out there. When in doubt, your routine tells you exactly what to do.

I like to think that our daily lives are like the myth of Sisyphus, which rolls a giant boulder up the mountain, to start all over again the next day.

“The real creative journey is one in which you wake up every day with more work to do.” — Austin Kleon

Ok, keeping a routine is not always easy. You may at some point feel drowned in the mid of everyday demands. These tasks are not part of your routine, but they do need to be done, such as going to the bank, doing grocery shopping, buying a birthday present, or answering an important email.

In these situations, I usually make a list. Making a list prevents you from wasting time you could devote to your routine. Creating a list allows you to view and organize your tasks, what is important to do, and in what order to do it. A list also reduces the anxiety that we have a lot to do.

The truth is that not every day will go as you would like. But if you made it by the end of the day, it’s a jackpot.

5 — What are you grateful for?

Every time I had the pleasure of achieving great goals, there was always someone who asked me, “aren’t you happy to have achieved that?”, because I didn’t look so happy. Of course, I was happy, but maybe not as happy as they expected me to be. I felt guilty that I did not correspond to their expectation of my joy, and wondered if I did not value my achievements.

However, I understood that every small achievement counts. I have a habit of celebrating every little step I can make toward my dreams. I have already celebrated what I had to celebrate along the way that, in the end, that achievement was already expected, because I know the work and effort that I put into it.

It is the sum of these small achievements that make it truly great. We do not climb a ladder in a single leap, but step by step. Be humble with yourself and know how to recognize your victories, however small.

Besides, you will never get there. There will always be a new goal, a new challenge, a new dream. There is no final destination, there is only the question: what’s next?

But it is good that things are so that we can keep up with them. We want big changes so much, but we can’t handle them. Big changes are sudden and violent and we rarely go through them without any trauma. The subtle changes in our lives are the ones that last because they are at a speed that we can follow, that we can control, and especially that we can pay attention to.

(Austin Kleon/Keep Going Book)

To recap…

In short (and skipping all the interesting part), to achieve our dreams we need:

1 — Find out which DREAM you want to achieve;
2 — Define the GOALS (two questions method);
3 — Pay ATTENTION to what you let into your life;
4 — Stipulate a ROUTINE and stick to it;
5 — CELEBRATE each achievement, especially the small ones.

And now, what will you do to achieve your dreams?

References

Barros, C. & Meucci, A. (2012). A vida que vale a pena ser vivida. Petrópolis, Vozes.

Dobelli, R. (2014). The Art of Thinking Clearly. New York, HarperCollins.

Gerber, M. (2010). Desperte o empreendedor que há em você. São Paulo, M. Books.

Kleon, A. (2019). Keep going: 10 ways to stay creative in good times and bad. New York, Workman Publishing.

Levitt, J. (2019). How craving attention makes you less creative. [online]. Available at <https://www.ted.com/talks/joseph_gordon_levitt_how_craving_attention_makes_you_less_creative/>.

Lucas, B. and Nordgren, L. (2015). People Underestimate the Value of Persistence for Creative Performance. American Psychological Association, vol.109 (nº2), pp.232–243.

Peterson, J. (2018). 12 Regras para a Vida: um antídoto para o caos. Rio de Janeiro, Alta Books.

Schwartz, B. (2004). The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. New York, HarperCollins.

Thomas, M. (2019). To control your life, control what you pay attention to. [online]. Available at <https://hbr.org/2018/03/to-control-your-life-control-what-you-pay-attention-to/>.

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Felipe Zamana

Felipe Zamana

💡 Creative Connector | Speaker and Advisor on Creativity, Leadership, Future of Learning, and Future of Work | Professor and Researcher