3 Steps to Keep the Dream Alive

A strong flame doesn't always mean longevity

Very often we find ourselves inspired. We feel moved and enlivened due to the words, actions or events of someone else. We see what one person, or one group, did and we are moved to do the same. The problem with inspiration such as this is that it is fleeting. Who hasn’t walked away from a speech fired up and ready to change to world, only to wake up the next day, same as always? Sadly, this is human nature- as easy as it is to be brought to the light by someone else, it is just as easy to fall back into the shadows by ourselves.

So what can we do? Must we, if we want to make a difference and live our dreams, attach ourselves to our inspirer? Give up our life and plans to follow them around so that we are always within earshot of their powerful rhetoric and moving presence? Surely not. What we, as regular people can do, is follow a few easy steps to make sure that even if the passion fades, the lesson remains:

1. Compose a plan of action then and there.

Don’t wait to get home to figure out how you’re going to change your life, write it, type it, scrawl it on your arm as soon as you are inspired. Don’t let the energy fade, leaving you with vague plans or ideas.

2. Tell others and ask them to help.

It is much harder to turn your back on other people, so get your friends and family involved. Ask them to help you out on your project or to join you in your mission.

3. Join an existing group.

Many dreams and goals are the sort of thing that can be shared- even if it’s writing a novel, there are workshops you can join to get inspiration and advice. If it’s something as simple as helping the homeless, sign up at a shelter or a soup kitchen.

When it comes to our dreams, it is not true that the ones that shine the shortest shine the brightest, so rather than letting your enthusiasm flare up for a day or two, do what it takes to keep that flame alive, forever.

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What Does Procrastination Tell Us About Ourselves?

Imagine that you are Adam, a busy college senior assigned with the daunting task of completing a 30-page paper for your American history class. Although you saw the assignment on your syllabus when the class began in September, this paper was not even a blip on your radar until October. Then, as Halloween passed and November rolled around, it became a small, distant missile on the horizon, but you still dismissed the impending catastrophe in the same cavalier way a sailor looks at the sunny morning sky and scoffs at the forecast of an evening nor’easter. Now, only days remain before your Civil War paper is due, and as you scramble to perform in seven days a mission designed to take 90, you have no choice but to ask yourself why: why have you put off the inevitable and made writing this paper a thousand times more difficult? What does that tell you about yourself and, by extension, the entire procrastination-prone human race? And, more importantly, what can you do in the future to prevent this behavior from recurring?

One thing that these delay tactics tells us is that we’re not very logical. You dillydallied for three months, fully aware that doing so would increase your anxiety. And you’re not alone. Each year, millions of Americans pay penalties to the IRS because they didn’t file their tax returns on time. Similarly, 70 percent of glaucoma patients don’t use their eye drops as prescribed, risking permanent blindness. And how many people do you know who fail to take advantage of their companies’ 401(k) matching option? On an institutional level, the U.S. auto industry surely is the poster child for procrastination, failing to address employee pension issues for years and winding up bankrupt because of it.

All of this personal and corporate illogic begs the question: why does it keep happening? People don’t become happier when they procrastinate; in fact, 76 percent of a group of students surveyed in one study specifically indicated that putting off writing a term paper would only stress them out more. One theory being considered by researchers speculates that people delay completing tasks because they are led astray by the temptation of present rewards. You may recognize the importance of your history paper, but there may be more pressing wants and needs: a friend’s party, a trip to see your parents for the weekend, or even another dreaded assignment, but one which is due next Monday instead of weeks from now.

Our tendency to push tasks into the future also provides evidence of some other interesting quirks of human nature. We are, for instance, more than willing to justify our prevarication by expanding or contracting the amount of future time the job will take us to complete. Last week, you might have thought of starting your history paper and decided against it, reassuring yourself that composing the first two pages would only take you an hour. Or, you may have inflated the time it would require, making the task so big that it didn’t make sense to even begin to tackle it on that day. You may have said something like this, “My paper is big. It requires a six-hour block of uninterrupted time in the library. I only have two hours today, but I’ll carve out a big chunk next weekend.” And on and on it goes.

In addition to playing “time games” with ourselves, we also avoid tasks by setting unrealistic expectations for others and ourselves. Remember Union General George McClellan from your American history class? His picture should be next to “procrastination” in the dictionary. After all, he missed out on two golden opportunities in 1862 to vanquish the Confederacy—all because he didn’t want to make a move. He succumbed to a lethal mix of overwhelming fear of his opponent and conviction of his troops’ own inadequacy.

What should General McClellan have done to overcome his paralysis? How, for that matter, can you keep from making your life miserable because of procrastination? If putting off until tomorrow is the result of a psychic war being fought in your head between the part of you that makes the plans and the other part that is assigned to execute them, how do you declare a “cease fire?” One way is to convince your inner pleasure-seeker, the guy who wants to delay doing the job, that doing so might jeopardize the chances for future fun. Sure, postponing your paper in favor of partying until dawn might look appealing now, but it would mean that you will almost certainly be locked in your room all next weekend when you had originally planned to visit your parents. Better to put your nose to the grindstone today; there will always be other all-night parties.

Another great procrastination-busting strategy comes in the form of external tools. Use motivators like contracts and deadlines to prod yourself into action. If you need rewards—and who doesn’t—divide your task into bite-sized parts and give yourself a little present each time you accomplish one. Finally, you can limit the temptations that might get in the way of your ultimate goal. Tell your friends, for instance, not to invite you to upcoming events until you have completed your assignment.

This college paper that’s freaking you out right now will eventually be written. Yet, you have a lifetime of similar daunting assignments in your future. So instead of breathing a sigh of relief when you finally turn the paper in and going back to your old bad habits, begin taking positive steps to ban procrastination from your life forever. By doing so, you will reduce your stress and enhance your quality of life by leaps and bounds.

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The Eyes Have It

Photo: Steve McMurry

When was the last time you discovered something? The last time you came across something new and different and unheard of? Can’t think of a recent memory? Can’t even think of a memory at all? If so, odds are you’re thinking about it wrongly.

Discovery is about much more than “keeping your eyes open” or “putting the effort in.” Those are both important factors, of course, but they are not all that makes up discovery. To discover, one must be willing to see the chance for discovery in life. One must approach the world not just with open eyes, but eyes that are made new in each seeing, eyes that can see the wonder and the beauty in everything and get the signal to the brain that “…there are more things in heaven and earth… than dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Because if you don’t, how are you going to develop that new philosophy that you just know you have in there?

Originally posted: 4/30/10

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Lessons From a Nine Year Old

Recently, the above picture has been making the rounds on Twitter, posted by user @sarahsaturday. Supposedly a sign that is hanging up in a 9 year old’s room, the list reminds the youngster to do what is right, to not attempt to avoid responsibility and to be confident. A wonderful little signpost for any child, surely but also something that we could each use in our day-to-day lives.

Think about it; haven’t you ever found yourself trying to whine your way out of a task, thought up excuses to not share or be fair and found yourself nodding off at critical moments when you KNOW you should be paying attention? Of course you have, we all have, at one time or another.

Maybe it’s your parents’ fault, you’ll say, maybe you weren’t raised properly. How can you be blamed if no one made such a straight forward, helpful and colorful sign for you when you were nine? Well, true as that may or may not be- you are your own person now. NOW you are responsible for yourself and that means not just as you are, but as you should be. If you ever want to do something great with yourself or for the world, you need to be the best possible person you can and while this little list may not contain everything you need to set your life up, it’s a pretty good starter kit.

So the next time you haven’t done all you could or worked as hard as you know you should, think of this little list, tick off the points on it and see if you’ve followed through on all of them. It is only when we have decided to bring out the best in ourselves, when we have reached our full potential, that we can discover greatness in the world around us.

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Keeping a Promise to Yourself

Do I really want to get up this early? The sun’s not even up! It’s dark and it’s cold outside. I don’t have to be at work for hours and everyone else in the house is asleep. What am I doing awake?

Ever find yourself thinking that as you change into your workout clothes or while lacing up your running shoes? Ever just want to roll back into bed and pull the sheets over your head? Who hasn’t? But we all set goals for ourselves; whether it’s to lose 10 pounds before the company Christmas party or to get in shape for that marathon. Sometimes, the hardest promises to keep are the ones we make to ourselves. You know you swore to reach this goal, but is it really such a big deal if you beg off one day or start a little late just once?

Of course it is. When you set a goal for yourself, especially when it’s something others don’t think is important, you have even more of an obligation to keep it than when you promise to others. Bravery isn’t just the ability to fight for what right, it’s also the faculty that allows us to challenge ourselves, to stick to our guns when no one but us would know if we cheated or broke our promise. No one will know if you eat that last bit of cake, or skip the rowing machine this morning. No one, that is, but you. And don’t you owe it to yourself to do what’s right?

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The Sweet Smell of the Seasons

Can you smell that scent in the air? That elusive one, the one that smells sharp or wet or fresh? That smell that heralds with it the changing of the seasons? On the east coast of America that biting odor that pulls at your nostrils is only paralleled by the permeating smell of woodsmoke coming out of chimneys. In the Southern Hemisphere, the rich wet smell of spring is making way for the clear, fragrant odor of summer.

We can categorize just about everything- seasons, lovers, places, books, by almost any one of our senses. We can think of the feel of an old volume under our fingers, the site of your girlfriend’s crooked nose, the taste of Winter, because our senses are not just unconnected probing tools but infinitely sensitive miracles connected to the most amazing processor of all time- our brain.

Our senses collect the information, but our brain deduces from it, learns from it. It is that which tells you that the smell of turkey, the sight of Autumnal colors and the fell of damask table clothe means Thanksgiving dinner.

So as you find yourself, at this time when the leaves are turning colors and the air is replete with odors, feeling that it is finally, really, Fall- thank your brain and those wonderful analytical instruments you were born with, for it all.

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Obstacle or Opportunity

There are really only two things in life- opportunities and obstacles. Obstacles are, of course, those things that get between you and your goal. Obstacles are all those little annoyances, all those inconveniences, that life throws in your way.

Opportunities, on the other hand, are those wonderful chances that fate puts in front of you to do something great. Opportunities are those rare moments when you can make one decision, do one thing right, and find yourself so much closer to your final purpose.

So there are really only two things that anything you come across in life could be.

The real challenge is being able to tell the difference.

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The Great Detective

Some call him “The Great Detective” some simply, “The Master.” To most people he is known by his given name: Sherlock Holmes. Made famous at the turn of the 19th century by struggling physician Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes was so popular that even after Doyle killed the character off the unceasing letters from fans (including his own mother) forced Doyle to bring back his most beloved creation.

Holmes popularity has never really dissipated, the BBC just introduced a new show set in the modern day and Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are on set working on their second film about the detective. So what is it about Holmes that has made him a perennial favorite? While it would be nice to say it was his wide berth of knowledge (From the minutiae of tattoo inks to job specific indications of someone’s hands) it is really not what Sherlock knew but how he applied it that makes him so interesting to this day.

Deduction, or reasoning from inference, is what Holmes is famous for- the ability to take information, seemingly abstract, and apply it to what he sees around him. It is this gift that amuses and astounds readers of every age and every generation, and it is that ability that we must seek for ourselves. It is only through use of our knowledge, only through connection of the seemingly useless wisdom in our head to the mundane of life that we can truly say we are using it.

Need an example? The video below will show you how the great one himself did it.

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