I spend a lot of time on my blog talking about how important your dreams are. But it’s also important to realize that dreams are not enough. Yes, I talk a lot about optimism, positivity and focusing on what you want in life rather than fearing what you don’t want. But one of the criticisms that often gets levelled at the positive thinking movement is that it can lead to complacency and inaction, or getting stuck in the happy-thoughts mode, without ever actually doing anything with your life. Is it possible that optimism can doom us to never achieving our biggest goals?
Optimists know that dreams are not enough
Dr. Michael Scheier is currently the Head of the Psychology department at Carnegie Mellon and he’s considered a pioneer in what’s known as the field of “dispositional optimism”. He’s done a lot of research into how optimism affects motivation and behaviour. I recently read an interview he did in The Atlantic magazine in which he said that real optimists aren’t just Pollyannas who happily insist that everything is wonderful while blindly ignoring real dangers, but that they are problem solvers who actively try to improve the situation. Pessimists, he says, tend to deny, avoid, and distort their problems, and dwell on their negative feelings. To me, this says that positivity is in reality highly beneficial, but the key to success, in any field, lies in actually taking action to turn those positive thoughts into reality.
Reasons to start taking action
So with that in mind, I’d like to share three compelling, and optimism-inducing, reasons to start taking that all-important action towards your dreams and goals, and they are that: 1) action activates knowledge, 2) action overrides fear, and 3) action inspires confidence. Let’s take a closer look at these:
Action activates knowledge:
In his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People”, Stephen Covey said that “To learn and not to do is really not to learn.” Knowledge means nothing until you use it. You can read every book you want to that relates to your dream or goal but until you actually use that knowledge, you’re never going to create or build anything new. You can watch “The Secret” a hundred thousand times and, yeah, you’ll feel awesome about that dream. But it’s only ever going to be a fantasy unless you get out there and start building it. If that dream is ever going to go anywhere or mean anything, then you have to get that it out of your head and into the real world. And to do that, you must take action and start doing.
Action overrides fear:
Fear is a common thing when it comes to our biggest dreams and goals. Oftentimes we’re afraid because we can’t see the whole path before us, we don’t know exactly how we’re going to get from here to there, so we’re afraid to even get started, because we don’t want to find ourselves on the wrong path. But you know what? You don’t need to see the whole path just yet; as Martin Luther King Jr. said, you don’t need to see the whole staircase, just take the first step in faith.
You can’t anticipate every consequence or outcome that could arise through your actions, but even the smallest step forward could result in new information, could bring you important new contacts, could lead you in new directions, that you can’t possibly even imagine right now. But with each step forward, the next step is revealed to you incrementally. It’s just like driving through fog; just because you can’t see the more than ten feet in front of you doesn’t mean the road isn’t there. And one day you’re going to look behind you and realize just how far you’ve come – from where you were to where you wanted to be – all by taking those tiny little forward steps.
Action inspires confidence:
Dale Carnegie, that’s the man behind How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of the very first best-selling self-help books ever written, once said that “Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” And this is so important, because every time you take action towards your goal and as you start reaching your milestones, it makes you more comfortable and more confident in your ability to handle anything that gets thrown at you.
It’s so easy to just sit there and wish for something better to come along. And we all have days where we’re tired and we’re discouraged and all we want is for someone to take us by the hand and tell us where to go or what to do next; we just want someone to make it easy for us. But there’s no satisfaction in easy. And no one is coming to rescue you. You get what you put into life. And by making a choice to start taking action and doing something, you start to build up momentum, and inertia starts to work for you.
Newton’s First Law of Motion tells us that an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion. This principle is as applicable to your life as it is to physical objects. As you start doing, you start getting inspired to do even more, and then even more. Ideas will start flowing, energy is unleashed and all the power of the Universe itself seems to start working for you. But it all starts with taking action.
Where does positive thinking fit in?
Positive thinking is a wonderful tool for inspiring yourself to action, as long as you actually get to the action part of things. Spending your entire life daydreaming about what could be is a waste of your life, and if you want to see awesome things happen for yourself, you have to go out and make them happen.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the trap of telling ourselves that we’ll “do it tomorrow” or that we’ll “get to it later”. But there’s a saying out there about “how soon ‘not now’ becomes never”. Dreams are not enough to get you to where you want to be in life, so when you find yourself slipping into non-action mode remind yourself of these three things: action activates knowledge, action overrides fear, and action inspires courage and get yourself back on track to doing rather than just dreaming.
photo credit: (c) Can Stock Photo
Dream. Believe. Achieve.
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