I've always been a big dreamer. When I was a kid, I dreamed of competing in the Olympics.
As I got older, I dreamed of going to a great college.
Then I dreamed of becoming a pilot, a writer, a world traveler, and harbored a handful of other rather rock-star-lifestyle fantasies.
Some of these dreams came true, and some didn't. The difference wasn't the scale of the dream, but whether or not I followed these five steps to turning my dreams into reality.
5 Simple Steps to Making Your Big Dreams Come True
Surprisingly, turning dreams into reality can be broken down into five simple steps.
1. Allow dreams to form
One of the things that can hold people back is that they don't give themselves permission to dream.
They think, Oh, I wish I could do [X], or, Wouldn't it be nice if I could be [Y]?
And before they allow themselves to flesh out the fantasy, a little voice says, You must be joking—you can't do [X] and Who do you think you are to be [Y]? Before the seedling can flourish, it dies due to lack of nourishment.
Dreams can't turn into reality if they're not allowed to take shape. Allowing them the freedom to form—without shutting them down—makes them more likely to turn into reality.
2. Define the parameters
A dream's reality can differ from person to person. What you consider success may vary wildly from what your parent, spouse, or child considers success.
For example, what is "a great college" to you? For me, it was a private university consistently in the top 20 in the United States with a high rate of graduation and employment after graduation.
For others, "a great college" exclusively means an Ivy League school or similar. Or it can mean the highest-ranked school in a region. Or one with a robust Greek system. Or even one with a killer party scene.
How you define the point at which your dream has turned into reality sets the stage for the rest of the process.
3. Commit to your dream
Once you have allowed your dream to take shape and defined when you believe you have reached your end point, it's time to commit.
By committing to your dream, you are declaring to yourself, to the people around you, and to whatever higher, universal powers in which you believe that you are going to be, do, or have this. As Jason Silva says in his mesmerizing discourse on FOMO,
The minute you commit to something, when you choose one thing, you collapse all other possibilities [...]
Decisions become easier. Options are refined. In a world with dizzying possibilities, your way forward becomes much clearer the moment you commit.
You've got the dream, the definition, and the commitment. Now how are you going to get to where you're going?
There are two schools of thought on this process: working backwards and working forwards.
In the Working Backwards Camp
Author and success coach Jack Canfield is squarely in the Working Backwards camp. In The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are From Where You Want to Be, Jack Canfield writes
Yet another way [to chunk down a major goal] is to start from the end and look backwards. You simply close your eyes and imagine that it is now the future and you have already achieved your goal. Then just look back and see what you had to do to get to where you now are. What was the last thing you did? And then the thing before that, and the thing before that, until you arrive at the first action you had to start with.
In the Working Forwards Camp
Master Coach Tonya Leigh, on the other hand, is more in the Working Forwards camp.
In "How I Wiggled My Way to Success," she writes about the concept of taking small steps away from the life that you do not want and towards the life that you do. You do not need to know or plan every single step; you do need to pay attention to the things that make you feel alive and consciously choose those.
I've found great success by using a combination of the Backwards and Forwards camps.
From the Backwards camp, we come up with a general plan of action based either on the experience of others or what we imagine the process to look like.
From the Forwards camp, we look at immediate action steps that we can take in the direction of our dreams.
The thing is, it's the middle that's hairy and unknown. We can often see a few steps ahead of us, and there are plenty of stories about what happens right before breakthrough success. Beyond what we can conceivably see, there's a world of unknown possibilities for which we can't really plan.
As long as you keep your commitment in mind and follow the clues, you'll get there.
Now it's time to take action. Actually do the things you've planned. When an opportunity to further your progress towards your dream comes up, jump on it.
It's not enough to put the dream out there. As Denise Duffield-Thomas writes on LuckyBitch.com: "[T]he more effort you put in, the more the Universe will meet you half way."
But What If ... ?
Throughout this entire process, there are some questions that inevitably come up. Some are born out of fear; others are born out of conditioning.
Q. What if my dreams are unrealistic?
A. That's perfect! The more unrealistic your dreams are, the more likely you are to achieve them.
No, really. In The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, Tim Ferriss writes
Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest at "realistic" goals, paradoxically making them the most time- and energy-consuming.
As long as you're willing to put in the work, then you're capable of achieving even the most unrealistic of dreams. Come on—someone has to make that sh*t happen!
Q. What if I've tried and tried and tried, and I still can't make my dream turn into reality?
A. Have you really tried? I mean, really, really tried? Have you thrown everything after this dream, set aside everything else, and 100% committed yourself to achieving this thing?
No? Then you you can still turn your dream into reality.
The caveat here is that you may have things in your life that you're not willing to give up. Perhaps that's family, children, a job, your ideals, your morals, your values, or any other number of things. And that's okay.
We all have limitations. Self-imposed limitations, and limitations nonetheless. If you have things in your life that you are absolutely unwilling to release, then you may not turn one specific dream into reality because you've embraced another one.
But if you are willing to let go of everything else in favor of this one thing? Success is inevitable.
Q. What if I can't pay for the things that my dream requires?
A. You will. Once you've made the commitment, you will find a way to pay for what you need to bring this dream to fruition, especially if you've already laid out some money in pursuit of this dream.
Psychologically speaking, we prefer to avoid losses over acquiring gains. The thought of losing $20 by backing out on a commitment has more impact than the prospect of gaining $40 by backing out on that same commitment.
Interestingly, the combination of commitment and hustle make it almost impossible for the money for your dream to not show up in some way, shape, or form.
Q. What if I'm not qualified?
A. Then get qualified. Put all of your time, energy, and resources into becoming qualified, and this ceases to be a "what if."
Or, look at others who are "not qualified." Author and Purveyor of Non-Conformity Chris Guillebeau wrote an amazing article on his lack of qualifications. In the aptly-named "Qualifications," he writes
Sometimes people ask about my qualifications. It’s a fair question with a simple answer: I have none. There’s absolutely no reason I should be doing pretty much anything I’m doing these days. I was a high school dropout and a juvenile delinquent [...] If I suddenly had to get a job for the first time as an adult, I have no idea what I’d do.
Yet, Guillebeau is a best-selling author, the organizer of the World Domination Summit, founder of TravelHacking.org, a publisher, and a bunch of other things that make him qualified.
There are millionaires out there with no qualifications, no education, no nothing. And the reality of it is that they are ultimately qualified by what they have done.
So go fulfill your dream, and you'll become qualified.
If your dreams are not coming true
You may have missed a step along the way.
Many people get caught up on Step 3, to commit to a dream. Because one commitment disqualifies 1,000 possibilities, many folks have trouble with this part of the process. Their fear of missing out takes over, they uncommit, and their dreams stay dreams.
This is one of the points Silva makes in "FOMO: The Fear of Missing Out":
[T]here is a gnawing anxiety in realizing that you can't possibly have it all. You can't possibly mainline space and time through the optic nerve and have and swallow it whole.
That's the decision you must make: Do you want the safety of abstaining from committing, or do you want to go all-in on your dreams?