In a 1961 episode of “The Twilight Zone,” called, “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” a man is given the gift of mind-reading after a penny lands on its side. He is astounded by what he can hear going on inside people’s minds, especially when he overhears his co-worker conjuring up nefarious plans of how to rob their employer and retire off of the riches. But as the episode progresses, he learns that these overheard thoughts are just innocent, indulgent daydreams and not actual plans for the future.
This story came to mind recently when I caught my mind wandering to a scenario that I felt was a waste to think about because it could never happen. But as I snapped back, I remembered that some of the most fantastical daydreams can become the inspiration for the daydream’s more mature and sophisticated older sister: vision.
When we are making plans and goals for improving or changing any area of our life, it’s important to know the difference between simply dreaming about change and actually planning for it. Those who create sustainable and satisfying change move beyond the daydream and create a vision that is supported by progressive goals and action steps. But that doesn't mean daydreaming is a waste of time. The truth is, both are important exercises for balanced health! Today, I want to challenge you to explore your daydreams and determine whether there is anything in them that is calling out to become part of your reality.
Fantastical daydreams are fun to indulge in. Spending time imagining an experience that you never intend to fulfill is a great opportunity for a brain break during the day. I like to think of these daydreams as the equivalent of splurging on a dessert after a long period of disciplined nutrition choices. They let our brains get their wiggles out, play a little, and recharge without disrupting our actual lives.
Sometimes, though, there are elements of these mind escapes that have a little more pull to them. Just as every joke has an element of truth, some daydreams have an element of yearning. If we pay attention to the underlying themes of daydreams, we can uncover opportunities to set goals in reality to bring desired elements into our day to day life. For example, the man who daydreamed of robbing his employer and retiring on a cash windfall may have no intention of actually breaking the law, but does yearn for a comfortable retirement from the grind of his job. It's easy to see how that daydream can turn into a life goal.
When you notice that your daydreams have elements of true desire, take those parts down from your mental cloud and put them on paper in a structured wellness vision. A vision is the big picture of what we want to achieve down the road. That may be a few months, a year, or longer; it should be a time frame that you can easily get to, but more challenging than something you can achieve in a few weeks. A wellness vision keeps us grounded and focused, and it serves as that happy place to go to in your daydreams when the work of achieving it becomes tiresome.
There are five elements of a vision that make it different from a simple goal or a daydream. Put your dreams to the test and see if they are ready to be part of your real life.
A Vision is Grounded. The first criteria for a vision is that it be able to actually happen! Stealing money and retiring cannot happen in real life, but planning for a comfortable retirement absolutely can. Your vision should be something that can happen independent of the choices or actions of anyone else. If you find yourself thinking, “if only so-and-so would…then I could…” that is a sign that your vision is not realistic. Enjoy the daydream of so-and-so doing what you wish they would, and move on.
A Vision is Bold. Even though your vision needs to be grounded in reality, challenge yourself and think big! Your vision should make you wonder a little bit about whether you can achieve it. It should give you goosebumps. Go ahead and admit what you want. It’s not selfish or wrong to want things. If you had no obstacles and were free from guilt, what would you do with your life?
A Vision is Desired. Once you have admitted what you really want and put it through the “could this happen” reality check, it’s time to decide what you’re willing to do to get it. It is completely okay to acknowledge that you value and appreciate something but have higher priorities to work for. Yes, you can want something, know that it is possible, feel that it is important and know that you will be glad that you achieved it, and still not take action on it. When you recognize this, it’s a sign that this rightfully belongs in the category of daydream for now. When you want it bad enough to take action, it belongs in your vision.
A Vision is Palpable. Have you ever planned a beach vacation in the middle of winter and feel like you can smell the sunscreen and hear the seagulls? That’s a palpable vision. Think about what would be an ideal day in your vision. When you close your eyes and imagine yourself living that way, you should be a little surprised when you open them to find that you are not there. You should feel even more excited to get to work on it, because it is so possible to you.
A Vision is Participatory. What makes a vision real is when we live in it. I encourage my clients to create a vision that you can begin to participate in immediately. If you have a vision of living an active life where you participate in community races and have eliminated the need for medication, start attending weekend events and participate at the level you are ready for. You can be in your vision now mini goals that get you to the vision you have created.
Pay attention to your daydreams. Some are whimsical flings of the mind that are little brain splurges throughout the day. But others are calling to you. Listen. Pull them down from your mind cloud and see if they are ready to be part of your real life.