Preparing mentally to success vs. fantasizing: Where is the line?

There is no question that success is attainable and within reach of anybody who pursues it. But what does it take to be successful on our goals?

On very general terms, when pursuing success we are typically looking to achieve certain goals or steps to ultimately conquer an objective. Also in general terms, achieving success is not a simple task; it takes a lot of hard work, concentration, and vision to reach our goals. Granted, the way to achieve success cannot be described as a cooking recipe, where well predefined steps must be rigorously complied in order to obtain the desired results for our endeavours. Nevertheless, we can identify certain constants that usually lead to the way of success.

Some of those constants have to do with our mental and physical preparedness to embrace that success. They have to do with our attitudes and behaviours to face challenges and with the degree of tolerance we have to adapt to situations outside of our comfort zone in order to go forward on our path to completion. Moreover, since success is not a one-time only pursuit but rather an ongoing matter, those constants also have to do with the degree of maintenance we provide to that state of success, and with our mental and emotional state to keep the right attitudes in place. Positive thinking is a crucial ingredient before, during, and after reaching goals.

Whereas positive thinking and goal setting are without question positive practices, there is a fine and dangerous line that has to be noted between positive thinking  and fantasizing.

What is fantasizing? One of the dictionary definitions of the word fantasy describes them as “the power or process of creating especially unrealistic or improbable mental images in response to psychological need (…); a mental image or a series of mental images (as a daydream) so created”.

The definitions above would suggest that a person’s potential to achieve success is limited from the get go, which is an arguable point. We like to think (and in fact, we believe) that a person’s potential is as big as the magnitude of the objectives they set for themselves; however there are two points where both the dictionary definition and our understanding of success viability converge: on the words ‘unrealistic’ and ‘improbable’.

For an endeavour to be successful, it has to have a reality check where the individual must make sure that the goals they set for themselves are in fact attainable. For example, let’s analyse the case of a person who decides to undertake a new years resolution where they will lose weight. Is that an actual goal or a fantasy?

While the achieving success on the goal of losing body weight is a perfectly attainable goal in principle, the vagueness with which the goal is pictured makes it look more like a fantasy. Is the person aware of their own physical and mental state to pursue this goal? Do they have what they need?

In order to mitigate risks of pursuing a fantasy rather than an actual goal, certain professionals (of very different specialties) recommend the use of the SMART approach: For a goal to be likely to be achieved, it must be:

  • Specific: How does the person plan to lose weight? By eating less, by working out more, or by undergoing a liposuction surgery? Is there going to be a combination of factors that determine this decision?
  • Measurable: How much weight will the person lose to consider the endeavour successful? Would 5 kg. suffice? Will 50 kg. suffice?
  • Attainable: If the person decides that they will lose 1 kg, is it attainable? If they decide to lose 60 kg, is that attainable? Is it viable considering their body build?
  • Realistic: Does the person have a positive attitude to face this challenge? Is their willpower tuned up to keep up with the challenge?
  • Time-framed: How long will it take for the person to lose weight? If they are losing 10 kg, will a week suffice? Will 6 months suffice?

Having considered those points, for a person to pursue a goal where they will “lose 10 kilos of weight within the next 6 months by jogging 5 km every day and eating more veggies” sounds more likely to be a successful endeavour than just daydreaming about losing weight and hoping for the best.

All of the above does not mean that we should refrain from dreaming high and fighting for our dreams. It is healthy to face uncertainty and evolve as our circumstances change, and we have within ourselves the power to reach high. But having a route map drafted can be of huge benefit to ensure that our road to success does not get lost in the land of fantasy.

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Lessons on cars, traffic lights, and views on life

Years ago (so many, that I can’t even tell how many anymore) I somewhere heard a wise advise that would change the way I look at decision making forever. It versed more or less like this:

“You cannot wait until all traffic lights of the avenue are in green to start your car”

Indeed, when we drive a car through an avenue, do we ever wait until the next light is in green to get going? Chances are we don’t; we start our cars as soon as the nearest green light is on, regardless of what light colour is shown in the traffic light a couple of blocks down the road.

Likewise, when travelling through life’s paths, we encounter several situations where conditions don’t seem perfect or even largely favourable for us to carry on with our goals – and sadly, sometimes these adverse conditions prevent us from pursuing further what we believe in. If we notice a potential threat or adverse situation that may arise down the road while pursuing a goal, sometimes we stand back and refrain from moving forward with our idea because the panorama is not ‘cleared’ for us.

Here is a reality check: More often than not, when overtaking a challenge, the circumstances that will condition our success will not be all wholeheartedly favourable to us. Moreover, there will be adversities from the very beginning -plenty of lights still in red on the avenue- that will necessarily make us stop, reconsider our route, and make decisions that will allow us to continue the drive forward. But these stops are not a bad thing. All the opposite, these stops will give us learning experiences to keep maturing on our way, so that when we are closer to reaching our goal, we are better equipped to embrace it and use it to further continue our growth.

“You cannot wait until all traffic lights of the avenue are in green to start your car”. Remember those words whenever the thought of potential adverse circumstances is preventing you from going ahead. Give yourself a chance. Who’ll know? Maybe by the time you reach the next light, it will already be on green.

Decisions in life: Have we made the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ones?

Looking back at our own lives, we may sometimes be tempted to re-evaluate the way we have followed in life and decide whether the decisions that have brought us up until this point were the right ones. At the end of the day -we may think-, we could be doing better. Moreover, when we look at what we have done and what we have achieved, and we compare it to what other seemingly better-doing people have pursued and reach, there’s always a chance we will question our past (and current) ability to make decisions.

When we compare our own journey to that of others, does that provide us with a clear picture of how good have our decisions been in the past? At first, it would appear logical that it is. If we think about it, right after the moment we are born we are started on the race of life, where the older we get, the more we feel this urge to excel over others. Sometimes, the society that surrounds us acts as the judge to determine whether our race in life has met the standards to consider it a successful one or not. In their view, the best way to determine this is by comparing what one individual has achieved throughout their life against what other individuals have achieved.

In our modern times, and within most societal standards, these dangerous judgements are quantified (humans are, after all, driven and motivated by what is tangible and immediately available): We compare how much money a person has with respect to the other one, we compare what degree of professional development has a person achieved as compared to others, we compare how many possessions has a person amassed with respect to other people. We compare so many quantifiable attributes in people, and the more we compare, the better we can define whether a person has done well in life by taking the correct decisions. And then, we can see whether we have mimicked their decisions, or conversely, whether we have taken some wrong decisions and we are not as far ahead in the race of life as we could be.

But measuring and quantifying our lives is not an accurate view of our previous or current ability to make good decisions. Quantifying the goodness that surrounds us, the happiness we experience, and the success that we have achieved, is useless. In the end, we must acknowledge that our very human nature is not built on quantifiable attributes: Every person is a unique being, with unique qualities, unique goals and unique missions. Every one of us is pursuing a different path that does not lead to a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ direction, but it rather pursues different directions than other people’s life paths. Moreover, the paths we follow are not dead ends, but they are merely streets that lead to intersections which, down the road, will allow us to modify our route.

Given our uniqueness as individuals and the uniqueness of our missions in life, it is of no use to try to compare ourselves to other individuals, and determine from there whether we have made right or wrong decisions. There are no right or wrong decisions – there are just different decisions, that cannot (and should not) be quantified by tangible attributes. Rest assured that right now, you are at the right place, at the right time, as you are following the road that will lead you to fulfil your own mission.