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.

Fear – And how to tame it!

Fear is but a single, specific feeling – yet different people have different fears: Fear of death, fear of heights, fear of failure, fear of darkness, fear of change… you name it. But what do they all have in common?

The one and only factor that all kinds of fear shown by people (and the very only source of it) is uncertainty. People are afraid of facing things that they don’t know – or things that may be potentially harmful. Fear is a woe to overcome! But what if fear was not a woe, but an ally? How can you make a friend from your fear?

The first thing to consider when coping with fear is to acknowledge its very nature -the uncertainty factor- and analyze the potential outcomes from the perceived fear. Pick the fear of your choice and meditate about it for a minute. Consider: What is the worst case scenario that could happen if you were face-to-face to your source of fear? How would you deal with the anxiety so you can keep a moderate demeanour under such circumstances?

Having an action plan prepared in advance is a great thing to do, as it minimizes anxiety and provides a clearer rationale of why is that fear bugging us –  and what would we do in the event we had an encounter with it. Awareness and preparedness are amazing weapons to mitigate fear!

Another great way to deal with fear is to discuss it with a person who is able to listen and help you analyze the source and nature of the fear – a person who does not share the same fear as you do. Ask them, why are they not afraid of the same things as you are? What is the source of their “courage” (for the lack of a better word) to avoid such fear?

Keep in mind that fear, because of its very own nature, usually keeps us from thinking with a clear mind – hence creating false images and scenarios in our brains, which more often than not are but exaggerated and twisted products of our own rigged imagination. Is it worth to confront them while our minds are completely overwhelmed? Well no. Moreover, reasoning and making decisions under such circumstances is like shooting in the dark.

These exercises in discussion, reflection, and brainstorming will give you a valuable key to manage your fear and understand that such feeling is totally tameable. Understanding this every time, no fear -present or future- will lie between again you and your goals.