We’re going to take a little more time today with this one as it is both big and important, while curiously at the same time being straightforward and practical to shift.
What is fascinating is, by nature, binding. What we are fascinated by binds our attention and energy.
With the bombardment of images and values that we experience, — and the impact of our family of origin, and the decisions we make as we make sail for the future, images of success and happiness that stand for what we think we want, can be become powerful sinks of energy and attention.
For those who are older than “callow youth”, this means yesterday’s dreams and hopes, and especially those thoughts and fantasies that return as ghosts to the banquet. I’ll give you some examples –
- a 48-year-old partner in a big accounting firm who would frequently drift into fantasies of being a rock star. He organized his iTunes and Spotify playlists by his carefully arranged fantasies, which he numbered 1-12.
- a stay at home mother of three who had previously had a high responsibility and high paying job in a telecommunications company. Her husband had previously stayed at home while she worked, but now she spent a lot of time imagining herself as a CEO, being “the decider”, a real mover and shaker, a master of the Universe… who spent her days vacuuming and cleaning a big house, preparing food for and acting as a taxi service for ungrateful children.
- a self-employed designer who seemed to “come to” – come back to conscious awareness – having wandered the web, “surfing” travel sites and blogs and gear shops for several hours, having sat down to work on marketing his business. Having worked for others for eight years, starting his own business was scary, and when faced with the responsibility of handling all the unknowns – a trip to zombie land seemed the right thing to do.
- [and one example of ‘callow youth’] – a young man who having finished school was drifting into bad company, no educational plans and had several drug related incidents bring him to the attention of the police. He dreamed of being what I would describe as a “bohemian millionaire” making millions effortlessly and wandering wherever he pleased.
The binding images produce a reaction in us – an emotional state reaction that fulfills a desire that is presently unresolved in outer life.
I’m not concerned here about the “fantasy” aspect (fantasy, directed, is called “creativity” when harnessed and put in the service of goals); nor am I concerned at this time with the “escaping reality” aspect (a heavily favored, trite, judgmental reflex of “spanking” psychologists who act as if ‘some explanation’ is better than not having any idea how to help) – everything in this prosperity system is based on the notion that we stay as close to the mechanics of how to “do the dance” of change and development, rather than opinions ABOUT what is happening – this applies both inside and outside.
What we are focusing on here is the binding quality of these fantasies and ideas – the sense of compulsion but also their repetitive “looping” quality.
We seek to release the huge amount of energy, focus and dedication bound within them, not by denying them, or taking them away or destroying them.
Remember that every human behavior is purposive or adaptive, and once “over-rehearsed” the search for fulfillment of those adaptions and purposes can go on automatic pilot. We are not seeking to resist previous patterns or try to create against them, but free them (and us in the process).
These dreams and wishes of the type we are talking about are like programs that have gone into a loop, on repeat, without the ability to exit because of a flaw in the original design, plus “over-run” leading to the autopilot set for fantasyland rather than an even more satisfying and exciting real life.
We will work with the “design” as it is given… but just stretch it in the right ways until it changes.
There are three relevant points for our purposes.
First is that these often binding thoughts and fantasies seek to fulfill a desire or value that has not been fulfilled through life activity.
Furthermore, they often seek to redress a self-perceived deficit in oneself – a “something” missing that cannot be found (or imagined) as being possible, by that person.
When this fantasy search for what is missing generalizes; it easily becomes a substitute activity for feeling satisfaction when unpleasantness, anxiety or pain seems to be arising in our immediate circumstance.
But third – there is a “programmatic” or fixed quality to the fantasies or dreams – they are usually quite specific in how things play out in fantasyland. The vagaries (and variety of outcomes) of life are usually missing from them.
As such, they are usually found to be “locked in time” – you can usually find a time and circumstance where they first started to be entertained and fixated upon.
Start with your fantasy/dream. Go on… indulge yourself, run it out, and…
The first step is finding out when you started thinking this way.
The specific date is not important but the circumstances as early back as you remember are good, as you are tracking down what functions the fantasy is fulfilling – what you were seeking through them, or what you were building these dreams up against (e.g. a boring job of self-judged “little significance” and low prospects might naturally draw out daydreams of being a film star – bored, unrecognized and unfulfilled into superstar! Yeah, baybee!!!).
You are searching for the feeling-fulfillment of what this dream provided. What is this feeling of…? What value does it fulfill? In other words, what makes THIS specific form the correct one to fill that empty hole?
Under what circumstances?
Once you have sense of how and under what circumstances you started, track it forward. When did you tend to use the dream or fantasy?
Under what conditions? When? Has your “usage” changed over the years? Have your feelings changed with regards to the dream over time?
And by the way, how do you feel about yourself when you use it now?
The big one.
Now consider where you got the specifics of the content – the who’s and what’s and what-it’s-likes – track it down to its source(s) – family (whom?); media (which one’s specifically); friends or peers (and what were you doing with the content? What function did it perform?); etc.
What you are looking for is – WHO SOLD YOU THE IMAGES YOU BOUGHT INTO? I have not heard a single, shameful confession, or “problem statement”, or “personal puzzling” over these old dreams and fantasies, that was not made up (in part or solely) of cultural images or values, pushed by someone else.
Sadly, many of the images sold are either incomplete (missing key bits of “the deal” one strikes to achieve them), or they are symbolic rather than literal images.
So – someone(s), at some point, sold you some images that you thought would make you feel better. If you pursued them, you took a journey which may or may not have led to fulfillment of the promises these fantasies or dreams seemed to be offering.
For many folks suffering because their “successes” did not produce the type of returns they were actually seeking; or for those who chose the way of imagination rather than the way of doing and finding out – you are unsatisfied and possibly using the fantasies as a distraction.
Not for much longer.
The key to shifting these dreams of something better (that don’t seem to pay out properly); you need to find ways to HONOR THEM in the outside world, by either enacting some part of the dream content, or doing it symbolically.
For the examples I gave earlier the interventions were (in reverse order):
For our ‘callow youth’ – he had been reading way too many puff pieces in magazines and on-line sites and cable TV “reality” programs about either rich kids living off of Daddy’s coin, or Silicon Valley start-ups that went supernova. He had no real data on how Silicon Valley or its constituent industries work, and no idea about the number of rich kids who end up in deep doo-doo due to having no real life skills or moral compass.
Homework, and arranged coffee hang-outs with a few wealthy people were the beginning. His eyes were opened to how things really work. His goal changed to “making money”, and an internship was found for him. He met people who had “made money”, and he learned some interviewing skills so he that he could find out what it means to have “a lot” and what it does and doesn’t provide. He’s now working for an advertising firm, and arranging his life so that he enjoys it as he lives it, within his budget, with an eye to future enjoyment.
Quantifying and qualifying his dream/fantasy was the key here. Going off “half-cocked” with dreams cut & pasted from the mass media, without the architecture and structure of the journey, and (most importantly) the tradeoffs and investments one has to make is a recipe for disaster for anyone of any age.
This kid needed education and to be pointed towards first getting what he needed (“money”) and then towards what money can and cannot do in terms of fulfillment.
The self-employed designer who would drift off into the virtual surf had not made the connection between his outputs and his dreams and had developed the nasty habit of going off into unconscious avoidance land when he felt uncertain (for example, “don’t know means find out”) we did a few things, as they dove-tailed into his spoken, “avowed” goals of building his business.
He sorted the business goals into processes for progressive action – turned the ‘don’t knows’ into specific tasks, and started outputting – in other words, taking focused action to bring reality into line with his desires.
Next he turned his fantasies of travel into prospective plans and itineraries – he had a half hour a day for turning the fantasies into a small range of potential, “prospective” goals.
In the discussions that followed, with the anticipated complaints of “not enough money; not enough time”; it came out that he had family (that he liked, and that liked him as well… always a bonus) all over the country and… OPEN INVITATIONS TO VISIT a number of cousins and aunts and uncles as well as grandparents. But more than that, he had several cousins who were also interested in travel.
Remember resources? Remember breaking down tasks and projects? The same things that work for making your projects happen, also work on realizing dreams. Break it down, use what you have, and get started NOW.
He did 2 things – first, he got in touch with some of his cousins and arrange to do some targeted travel or exploration in the U.S.
The second thing was to post his prospective itineraries with pictures taken from the web next to the “Kanban Board” he had put up in his work space but that he “hadn’t got working yet” – after two years, having putting up the big whiteboard (a Kanban Board is a way of tracking work in progress to completion).
I had him post the prospective travel itineraries to the right of the board, vertically, to make a right hand frame for the Kanban (so that they sat AFTER completion of tasks and projects – not on the left side of the board – where as yet unstructured “input” lives).
Several things happened almost immediately. Two of his cousins were particularly over-joyed to hear from him and were feeling that they too wanted some adventure but were in the same position of little money, little time and around the same age (late 20s).
As they started kicking ideas back and forth, a Thanksgiving holiday intervened, and one of the cousins started talking about the ideas at table as well as the issues. A childless wealthy-ish aunt and uncle were in attendance.
They offered a modest bankroll for their struggling nephews and niece for a road trip along coastal Highway 1 in California for the three of them.
This led to further extended family plans for vacations, and our designer flew or took a bus here and there – sometimes on his own dime, and sometimes with help.
Funny thing… he got really serious about his business in the midst of all of that traveling back and forth. He leaned on his Kanban Board as if it were a life preserver.
He started marketing properly, calling people, ‘mov’in and shak’in’ and thus… started making money. It took him a year and a half to save just enough for one of his smaller, more modest itineraries.
For him the keys were ASSESSING & USING RESOURCES, and BREAKING THE DREAMS DOWN INTO PROSPECTIVE PLANS, and STARTING NOW.
You see, if he had made the internet skiving-off into “the problem” and tried to fight against it with some mighty internal intervention; struggle is the usual result. He sneakily turned “the problem into the path” and got unstuck in his business and his dreams.
Our stay at home mom’s issue was a pure substitution fantasy (feeling poorly used, underappreciated, and longing for a previous dream to become reality) but the problem, as it were, was not the fantasy (that was the easy part) but that she was mis-managing her relationship with her husband and allowing completely unacceptable behavior to develop and fester in her kids.
She was becoming a Martyr Mom, and she needed to deal with the cause for feeling underappreciated, wasted, etc. – I suggested she put on her corporate manager’s hat on and I fed back her family issues in corporate-speak, and then asked what should be done.
She issued a torrent of ideas, and plans were hatched.
Fortunately, she was also a “fun Mom” and could… occasionally, when the wind was at her back, and the heavens were smiling… get her kids to listen properly. Although it’s off-topic, the event that turned her situation around is a hoot.
One evening, she called the kids to dinner and her husband happened to be home for dinner that night as well. She had everyone sit down, and then came to the table with a copy of a document for each one of them.
She said, “Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to attend this meeting. There are several things we need to speak about today before dinner is served” [“MOM!!!!”] “No dear, this for your benefit and will result in all kinds of lovely things for all of us. The first item on the agenda…” and she handed round her meeting note.
First item, “Changes in table etiquette”… she made them practice saying “thank you mother dearest for this exquisite meal.”
Her eldest got it first, “We don’t say thank you enough, do we?” Her husband then jumped in to support… that was the start of getting the family back on track and her feeling less used and more appreciated (and her husband being more “plugged-in” and active, I should add).
The fantasy, as I said, was easy. What was behind the fantasy? What was it in service of?
“Feeling like I’m doing something significant, and also feeling powerful?”
“And you think being a CEO would give you that?” Have you seen or worked for a CEO who is like that?”
“Oh my goodness, most of the CEOs I have worked under have been dicks…”
“Well, why would you want to be like that?”
“I DON’T! It’s just that they get… way too much attention, and a huge amount of money, and for a couple of them… they were bird-brains. The positions made them look powerful.”
“I see. And you want to appear to be powerful and have way too much attention…?”
“Ah, I get it. No I don’t want to appear powerful. I want to BE powerful… in myself…”
“Well why didn’t you say so? That’s a horse of different color!”
We then went on to her finding out where she had mislaid her sense of power – and it was in controlling her diary, making decisions and having them carried out and… she had stopped going to the gym when she became an “at home” mother.
All of these were simply brought back into her present life – it took work but it was real and it was hers. The fantasies just stopped – they left without even saying good-bye. How rude is that?
Our accountant was most interesting as he had been using the rock and roll fantasy as a form of self-comforting, because he chose a “boring but safe” career.
He had been building up the fantasies quite elaborately from the time he was at University, and he had used them as a kind of alternative reality – a place for him to go and visit, when he got too bored or depressed about himself.
He had already been through the doctor/pill scenarios, and a few years in therapy but his “dropping out” was getting worse.
This was largely because he had another 7 years to go in career, and he had the house, family and retirement issues all squared away, and he spent more and more time thinking that he had wasted his life. Not a recipe for happiness there.
For him, after we found out what the function of the fantasy was, and when he would use it (fortunately the therapy had made him articulate about his problem – lots of practice articulating…); he then went straight to the heart of it, which was that for him being a rock star playing rock and roll for huge audiences is thrilling – the energy is high, you’re always happy and everyone loves you.
Oh dear… I have worked with enough rock and pop stars to be able to state DEFINTIVELY that after the first three years – none of those things are even close to being true. Oh dear.
Instead, I asked him, “Have you ever played a guitar?” and he said, “I’ve thought about it periodically but I don’t think I have the talent.”
“The talent for what…?”
“For playing guitar…”
“You, my friend, are sadly mistaken. It takes only an iota of ability. Only the tiniest spark is needed to start. The rest is blood, sweat and tears for everyone… but… it is the best blood, sweat and tears on the planet. It would be a shame for you to pass over the joy of finding out for yourself.”
As he had more than enough means, I suggested a budget of no more than $500 for a guitar and amp – something within the price range that a middle class teenager would be able to pull together from a job, family contributions, etc.
I helped him find the guitar and amp, get it set up, and organized a few beginner’s resources. The deal was this: He would work through the materials we found for him, and then pay for 10 lessons with a professional teacher.
After that he could either keep playing, or sell the equipment for a minimal loss, which would work at about equal to renting. He agreed.
And then, the actual challenge… he worked out a list of the songs he wanted to learn once he got up and going. I asked him to include songs from his playlists and fantasies that he especially loved.
The second bit was that he was only allowed to practice AFTER he had indulged his fantasy for a short while, and listened to a few songs on one of his playlists. He had to do this every day for 8 weeks.
The results were that his wife thought he was having a mid-life crisis and made him promise not to buy a motorcycle (He said “it’s the guitar or a motorcycle”, she agreed to back off).
Second, he reported feeling weird for just over a week (this is from doing something different with the fantasy – stretching it beyond habitual limits). He didn’t enjoy the pain in fingers for the first two weeks, and his fantasies became more of a chore than something enjoyable.
By the fourth week he was into the routine of practice and the various rituals of effective practice (how practice periods are broken down) but he asked if he could stop running the fantasy and listening to his playlists before practicing – he just wanted to get to work as he found it “relaxing and soothing in a way I hadn’t anticipated.”
He continued taking lessons for about a year but then he attended a “rock and roll” summer camp for “old people” and played before an audience for the first time which nearly scared him to death.
What’s funny is that he would listen to part of his playlists from time to time but without any sense of compulsion, and the fantasy of being a rock star seemed to… go away.
This is the most important part – he started talking with his wife more openly about the concerns he had had about the “boring” work choice he’d made, and fears of having wasted opportunities.
Fortunately, she didn’t hit him. She just said that he was being silly because if making all the wonderful things of their life was “boring”; then it was a sacrifice rather than a failure.
These fantasies and dreams are only really a problem if you take them as an end or solution for some problem or issue, rather than a beginning for something that is yours.
I will be very happy if you honor some old dream, and then say “good night and thank you” to it.
Let your dreams and fantasies be of what you make and are making, rather than scraps from someone else’s old dream.