Drawing inspiration from Charles Dickens' insights, learn to craft a personalised 'Dream Barometer' and explore practical action plans.
The Dickensian Insight: Balancing Distractions and Creative Flow
"It is only half an hour' — 'It is only an afternoon' — 'It is only an evening,' people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes — or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day." - Charles Dickens
I don't know about you, but I get very easily distracted by things. Be it my to-do list, prior engagement or a new shiny thing/idea that popped into my head. Sometimes, I find it impossible to stay true to my dreams. I betray them and feel guilty afterwards. I imagine them like little trusting birds flocking around me, hoping I'll notice them and spend time with them. But instead, I hop away, like a silly Easter bunny on an aimless egg hunt.
I have started this post with a quote from Charles Dickens where, in a letter to his friend, he explains why even a five-minute distraction might have dire consequences for his creative flow. And I appreciate that Dickens is Dickens; he is a genius who could not spare a few minutes but instead had to dedicate all his free time to his craft. However, genius or not, Dickens knew a thing or two about good time management. He preferred to spend time on something that helped him stay true to his goals and dreams.
I honestly believe that if we learn this simple trick from Dickens to check every action and intention against our 'dream barometer', we should never be silly enough to abandon or neglect our dreams and goals.
The Dream Barometer: Crafting Your Personal Guide to Consistency
What do I call the dream barometer?
The dream barometer is anything that could help you to stay consistent on the journey to achieving your dreams.
When I say it could be anything - I mean it. As long as it helps us identify whether we are staying true to ourselves or not - it's the dream barometer.
It could be a set of questions we ask ourselves before jumping from task to task or deciding to do something else instead of a planned activity.
It could be a photo, a card or a drawing where you look happy and prosperous or titled: "I always stay true to my dreams."
It could be a text message to an accountability friend who helps us judge whether the activity we are about to embark on is worthy of sacrificing the one we are about to dump.
Or it could be a physical object that you hold before making important decisions regarding changing your plans. Think of a fidget toy, a stress relief ball or anything along those lines.
You need to develop your own thing or a system that works for you, that talks to your inner self in the language you understand. Some of us are more visual, and others are auditory or kinesthetic. It's the same as learning styles. We prefer or engage better with certain things or ways information is presented to us. So why not use it to our advantage when we need to make the decision whether we stay true to our dreams or not?
Action Plan for Staying True to Your Dreams
We all need a good old action plan to achieve anything. Simply dreaming about it won't do. Or creating a to-do list - it's not what is going to bring you closer to your dream. Your action plan needs to be ruthless to stay true to your goals. It also needs to be around your current activities and things you value the most. Hence I am going to suggest the following three activities:
A Calendar Check
Check your calendar and see engagements and activities planned. Could you cancel or reschedule anything to spend more time working on or toward your dream? Can you delegate anything to someone else? Are those projects still important to you?
Self-Letter Writing Exercise
Write a letter to yourself similar to the one Dickens has written. Outline all the things that are important to you. What would you need to abandon in order to pursue your dream? Would it mean no more binge-watching Netflix? Or hour-long chats with your best friend? Would it mean reorganising your life so that you wake up earlier and spend the first waking minutes working on your dream?
A Mission Statement
Think about what matters to you and how you wish to live your life. Now, create a short mission statement where you outline your goals, talents and values. Think about examples of good causes you might want to dedicate your life to (e.g. climate change, sustainability, etc.). Don't overthink or censor. This personal mission statement is about getting everything out of your head that might be useful.
Identifying how to stay true to your dreams
I've noticed that I spend a lot of time planning my activities, which might sound like a fantastic idea. But in reality, it's a form of procrastination. I prefer to plan. It makes me look busy. It fools me into thinking that I am being productive and working towards my dream, but in reality, I am making one step forward and two steps backwards.
I also spend a lot of time coming up with goals and ideas. As with the previous point, I might look productive, but it also makes me more anxious as I have so many ideas that I don't know what to do with.
Ask yourself an important question - "Can I really commit?"
So, in order for me to stay true to my dreams, I need to be brutal and do it. Whatever it is. So firstly, I've created a simple mind map outlining all my dreams, ideas and goals. I then asked myself a simple question:
Can I see myself doing this activity day in and day out for the whole year?
Simple question, right? Can you stay consistently true to this dream for a long time? But it's so tricky. If you answer this question honestly regarding every dream and idea you have, you will notice that you won't be able to say yes to all of the shiny things you've come up with.
Use Your Body as an Honest Indicator - Yes or No?
Use your body as an indicator of making the right decisions.
I use my body as an indicator because my body cannot lie to me. It either wants it or not. So, if my body gets tense when I ask this question, it's probably not the activity I should pursue. However, if I feel like little wings are growing behind my back, even if I feel a bit apprehensive - it's a good "maybe".
Run a Traffic Light Test: Red, Amber, Green
I would then highlight them in traffic light colours - red - no, amber - maybe, green - yes. Colours make it much easier to notice things that are screaming "NO!" at you. Don't be afraid to use the brightest red for this purpose. And make sure your green is as mellow and inviting as it can be.
List your ideal activities for tangible commitment
The power of specific planning
Rewrite your mind map outlining only activities that passed your body test and a big question test.
Now, you need to be very specific to agree with yourself when you are going to act on this activity and how long it will take. People are much better at sticking with the goal if they pre-agree with themselves on the time and duration of the activity.
"Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick with your habits if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. For example, in one study scientists asked people to fill out this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].” - James Clear
The ONE thing rule
And very importantly, you should only have one activity that is very important to you. If you have more on your revised list, you must start and be brutal about it again. You need only one thing to concentrate on. There might be other more minor projects you spend your time on. But the one thing must be your North Star, leading you onwards.
"Implementation intentions only work when you focus on one thing at a time. In fact, researchers found that people who tried to accomplish multiple goals were less committed and less likely to succeed than those who focused on a single goal." - James Clear
Staying true to our dreams is not easy, but it's not impossible. We need to remember what we want or what is important to us and always prioritise that. We need to be ready to drop all the distractions that are trying to take over our time. No one else is in charge of turning our dreams into reality but us.