Dream Bigger: 8 Steps to Turn Small Dreams Into Big Ones
Are you dreaming big enough? Bigger dreams lead to bigger results. So if you want to create a high-impact, meaningful life, check out these strategies that can help you dream bigger.
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What Does It Mean to Dream Bigger? (A Definition)
Bigger is a relative term. It just refers to being a little higher or larger than now. That is, our goals and visions for the future are a little brighter. For example, maybe we dream of quitting our dead-end job. Then, dreaming bigger may mean we focus instead on getting the job we really want. Or, if our current dream is to make enough money to support ourselves, we could dream bigger by imagining living really comfortably or being able to support additional family members too.
Dreaming big doesn't have to mean we suddenly want to be a millionaire or become famous (although it could mean that for some of us). They just require us to set our sights a little higher.
Because dreams are a cousin of goals, they also need realistic and well planned out. So rather than just telling you to "dream big!" and sending you off to figure out how to, let's first talk about the psychological processes of 'dreaming big' and 'dreaming small'.
What Does It Mean to Dream Small?
I would consider myself a born small dreamer (but that is changing!). I was never one of those kids that wanted to grow up to be... well, anything. My mom cleaned houses and did other odd jobs so the only 'dream' I remember having during my childhood was not wanting that.
When I graduated high school, I didn't plan to go to college. I worked in fast food for a year before applying and getting into the state college. Again, I just realized after working in fast food that I didn't want that.
The problem for many of us who grow up in less than ideal circumstances is that we don't see other people pursuing big dreams. We've probably never seen someone we know achieve a big dream. And maybe we don't even know anyone who has a big dream. So we dream small... because that's all we know how to do.
If we have small dreams, it's nothing to be ashamed of. But it may not be what we want. If we do indeed want to reach higher heights, then we need to start shifting our mindsets and dreaming a bit bigger. So how do we start turning small dreams into big dreams?
Turn Small Dreams Into Big Dreams
Having gone through this process myself, I can tell you that it might not happen all at once. It's okay to swap out a small dream for a slightly larger one, then swap that one out for a slightly larger one, and so on. It may feel so uncomfortable for some of us to dream giant dreams. So small shifts may be as much change as we can muster. When you read these upcoming tips, you'll know why.
1. Dreaming Big Requires Big Confidence
One of the things motivational speakers will tell you is that to achieve big goals, you have to believe in yourself. Indeed, if we're a bit so-so about our self-worth, self-confidence, or self-esteem, we can have a hard time dreaming big. Why do I deserve that awesome thing? we might ask ourselves.
That's why perhaps the first step to developing a big dream is to build a bit more self-confidence. Try to remember times when you have succeeded in doing something you set your mind to. See if you can find examples of when things turned out even better than what you expected. And look for role models in your life or in media that have dared to dream big and achieve more than was expected of them.
If you're finding it tough to believe in your ability to achieve big dreams, keep this in mind: You are no worse than anyone else. That means you deserve no less than anyone else. Know your worth and start acting on that knowledge.
2. Dreaming Big Requires Overcoming Fear of Failure
The fear is real. Whenever we aim for something big, we'll have to learn to do new things. That's scary. There is a chance of failure. That's scary. And it could change our lives forever. And boy, is that scary.
This is why pursuing big dreams often requires we develop a growth mindset—or the belief that growth and learning are more important than success or other people's opinions. If we're doing things that are hard, we will fail along the way, at least occasionally. To build this skill, the goal is to do harder things, fail a bit more often, and get more comfortable with failure. Failure may never really feel good, but with practice, it can stop being so scary.
3. Dreaming Big Requires Overcoming Fear of Success
Everyone focuses on human's fear of failure. But we less frequently reflect on whether we are also—or perhaps even more so—afraid of success. Success means different things to different people. It might mean feeling like the odd one out in your family or friend group. It might mean having more responsibility than we really want. Or, it could lead to resentment from others or even confusion about our own self-concept.
I'm not trying to worry you about the side-effects of success. I'm only trying to help you explore whether these fears are what's preventing you from dreaming big. Honestly, I get more freaked out about success than failure. I've failed plenty of times. It's not a big deal to me anymore. But success? I don't know who "successful me" would be. Would I feel like an imposter in my own skin? I worry that I might.
If fear of success is something that might be preventing you from dreaming big, I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on success and working to shift your definition of success to match you. Maybe being a millionaire or a famous person isn't the kind of success that you want. And if not, then search for clarity. What is the version of success that you'd actually want to strive for?
Video: Motivational Talk on Dreaming Bigger
4. Dreaming Big Requires Mindful Imagination
Okay, so let's say you've worked through some of the issues that have been preventing you from dreaming big and you're ready to dream big dreams and set big goals to achieve them. Then it's time to use your imagination.
Start by visualizing a variety of different things—maybe being an executive at a big company, leading your own small business, living on a tropical island, traveling all over the world, or even living in a commune. Just image a bunch of things that you've maybe never thought about before.
As you visualize, try to be mindful, paying attention to how your body feels during each scenario. You're imagining that these scenarios are your life, so your brain actually starts responding as if this was your life. Try to tune into how that feels, taking note of any thoughts or emotions that come up. It's all useful information. Becoming mindfully aware of what you really want is key.
As you imagine different scenarios, is there one that feels better than the others? Ask yourself:
Use this visualization exercise to better understand which big dreams are a good fit for you.
5. Dreaming Big Requires Finding Meaning
Sometimes when we get stuck pursuing small dreams (or the wrong dreams), it's because we have not deeply explored what really matters to us—what gives our lives meaning. A big dream without meaning is pointless. This is why the common dream of 'becoming a millionaire' always kind of rubs me the wrong way.
What if you have to step on and harm other people to get there? Would that provide meaning? Or, what if you just want money to impress others? Does that really provide meaning? Or what if you have this big dream just so you can buy fancy things? How meaningful is that?
Now, I actually do think that 'becoming a millionaire' can be a meaningful dream for some people. For example, if it's about a desire to build something from nothing, provide for your family, or give back to the community in some way, then those are things that often give people a sense of meaning. It's just that most people don't think through the meaningful reasons for their desires.
So what goes into having more meaningful dreams? Here are some things that give us a sense of meaning (Ryff, 1989):
When dreaming big, try to keep these things in mind to ensure your dreams will be meaningful to you and inspire you to act on them.
6. Dreaming Big Requires Effective Goal-Setting
It's all well and good to have big, bold, meaningful dreams. But without goal-setting and taking action, these dreams may forever live in our minds. So once you know your big dream, get practical about it. Analyze it. Figure out the steps that are required to make it into reality.
A big dream is really just a goal, so it may be helpful to ask yourself some questions to make sure your goals are SMART, which basically means that they are easier to achieve (Lawlor, 2012). SMART goals are Specific, Meaningful, Achievable, Realistic, and Trackable.
So ask yourself these questions about your big dreams:
When you are crystal clear about your dream, you can better see the steps you need to take to get there. And by tracking these steps, you'll have a better sense of the progress you are making. That's why following goal-setting strategies is key for realizing our big dreams.
7. Dreaming Big Requires Taking Action
What is one action you can take to start to bring your dream to life? Getting started is often the hardest part. So see if you can take one small action today that gets you where you want to go.
If you get stuck on the way to your action, it can be helpful to already have some implementation intentions set up. Implementation intentions are simply plans for what you'll do when your 'plan A' goes awry. It is: IF situation X happens, THEN I will do Y (Gollwitzer, 1999).
Setting up implementation intentions can help us more easily execute our big dreams. For example, we can tell ourselves: IF I am unable to complete a task at X time, THEN I will complete it at Y time. Or, IF X strategy does work, THEN I will try Y strategy. It's basically just a way to make sure that we have alternative paths to walk down to reach our big dreams. That way, if the first path we try is blocked, we can still get to our desired destination.
8. Dreaming Big Requires Taking Joy in the Process
Once we have big dreams, we may spend so much time focusing on these big dreams that we forget to enjoy the process. Indeed, these dreams can be inspiring and maybe we imagine a life or a future that is unlike any that we've ever known. But we have to be careful not to get too attached to the end goal. Worrying about whether or not we'll reach those dreams just taints the whole experience.
Instead, try to focus on the enjoyable parts of the process. You're imagining a better future, you're slowly taking control of your life, you're carefully molding a new reality, and even small shifts are important and worth celebrating. If our dreams are truly meaningful to us, striving towards them can increase well-being, regardless of whether we achieve the big goal at the end.
By pursuing meaningful goals, we make easier progress, are more satisfied, and eventually may create an upward spiral of well-being (Sheldon & Houser-Marko, 2001). The process, even more than the outcome, may be what we really benefit from. So make sure that the processes you choose and the steps you take to reach your dreams are ones that you enjoy and value.
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Having big dreams is not always as easy as it may seem. There are some common psychological roadblocks that can get us stuck, and that's before we even encounter roadblocks on our journey to reaching those dreams. So hopefully this guide provided some insight that can help you more easily shoot for (and reach) the dreams that matter to you.