To “follow your dreams” is an inspirational concept that’s intended to motivate you to consistently work towards what you most desire to do, have, or accomplish in life. Encapsulated in three little words, it sounds quite simple, but in reality, there are many aspects to be considered to ensure you have the best chance of success.
Even when you have a clear vision of where you want to go, there will be obstacles along the way. Each individual’s dreams are unique, as are the reasons for deciding to pursue them. Regardless of why you have decided to make radical changes to your career to finally pursue what really gives you meaning and purpose, preparation for the journey is key to making those dreams attainable.
The Inner Critic
Even the most successful individuals must manage a negative inner voice while on the road to their goals. “Being your own worst critic” is a human tendency that afflicts us all, as our inner voices make negative judgements and forment our fears and doubts. If this internal negativity becomes excessively habitual, it affects how we feel and behave; we believe it, even if it is untrue. In a situation of change and uncertainty, when you decide to overturn the status quo and go after your dream career, it’s quite common for negative thoughts to become dominant.
Self-talk and Survival
This internal mental chatter is what psychologists call self-talk. Constant negative self-talk drowns out positive thought processes, becoming the main contributor to our view of ourselves and the world around us, despite an objective reality that may be quite different. It can prevent us from pursuing our dreams and can have seriously detrimental effects on mental and physical wellbeing.
Why do we have this self-damaging tendency? It is part of our ancestral survival strategies, when always being prepared for the worst proved the most effective in a threatening, unpredictable environment. The problem is that negative self-talk reinforces neural pathways towards negative thinking. We therefore overlook our successes and focus on our failures, in a spiral of never-ending self-criticism.
Transforming Negative Self-Talk
The good news is that you are not alone – everyone has this negative inner voice. Certainly, it is possible to alter your relationship with your thoughts, learning how to manage them rather than be managed by them. Turning down the volume is a good way to start. Use internal neurobiology to your advantage by recalling and visualizing experiences where you physically reduced the volume of a noise, such as by covering your ears with your hands or moving away from the sound source.
Interrupt negative chatter with positive questions, redirecting your focus onto what is pleasing and beautiful in the present moment. Evaluate and filter self-talk, identifying negative thoughts that are unrealistic and irrational. The majority of your thoughts are opinions, not facts – mentally list the evidence for and against a negative thought, then formulate a more realistic statement that keeps things in perspective.
Ask yourself whether the situation would really be so bad if that negative thought were actually true; sitting down to contemplate for a few minutes, can help reduce feelings of anxiety and helplessness. Consider how you would respond to a close friend who was experiencing a similar situation to your own; you would probably be sympathetic and supportive, so try to be equally non-judgemental and caring with yourself.
Positive affirmations can directly contradict the negative inner voice, creating a situation of conflict in your inner dialogue. The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT – This is a revolutionary treatment that can help relieve both physical and emotional pain, working on the idea that negative emotions are caused by disruptions within the body’s energy system. EFT is effective in clearing out feelings, allowing the individual to rid themself of limiting beliefs, whilst letting positive feelings emerge) can resolve and connect these contrasting positions by placing the term “even though” before the negative criticism and following it with the phrase “I deeply and completely accept myself”. We are, however, unable to force ourselves, or others, to be happy; this is as emotionally toxic as the habitually negative mindset, and equally destined for failure. Denying our fears and difficulties in the attempt to always ‘think positive’ engenders feelings of shame and increases the sense of defeat and inadequacy if we do fail.
Creating a Productive Inner Dialogue
Negative self-talk can be very convincing, and although it is impossible to completely silence or override it, you can change your inner dialogue to make it positive and beneficial. Pursuing your dreams is a challenge, which requires considerable mental muscle to stay focused and overcome all obstacles along the way. Don’t waste energy by pointlessly going into battle with your inner voice; just because you think something, does not make it real, so listen, acknowledge, and then let it go. This healthy response to your negative thoughts means they will have less effect on your feelings and behaviour.
Find strategies that work for you; meditation helps some people by increasing awareness of mental chatter and enabling them to choose a better way of communicating with themselves. A more productive dialogue helps to make positive change; once you are able to manage your internal voice, it will be significantly easier to follow that dream, and reach it.
The Road to the Dream
Research your dream career path but stay open-minded and don’t limit yourself. Assess your strengths and use the opportunity to also identify areas where you need to grow or learn new skills. Embrace the risks on the road; being outside your comfort zone is an immense opportunity for growth.
Set achievable goals on a realistic timeline, monitor your progress, and stay motivated, celebrating the small victories along the way. You are in control of your thoughts and your dreams – which really can come true. Why settle for anything less?