I’m a dreamer. I often set goals for myself and take action to do my best to realize these goals. I also suffer from bouts of depression that make it very difficult to feel like it is worth setting any goals let alone finding the energy to work toward accomplishing anything. As I type this blog post, I have just returned from a counselling session where it was clear that my energy and mood is at a low. Although this is not the best time for me to write out my thoughts – I had set the goal of publishing this post today and I’m going to push through and do it, because I feel that it is worth the effort for me to share my experiences in hope that you will relate or be able to take something from them. So – let’s dive in…
I believe that if you’re going to dream – why not dream big?!? Dreaming big to me is all about thinking on an idea and then growing that idea until it is just large enough to make me feel like I’m stretching the ability of what I can accomplish to the limit – and then I’ll think on it more and wonder what else is possible. I realize that statement is a bit vague – so I want to give you a real world example from my life experience.
In August 2016, I started walking in nature as an experiment to find the tie between our body and the natural environment. There have been many studies that show that spending time in nature is good for the body, the spirit and the mind. I had stumbled across a post about the David Suzuki 30×30 Nature Challenge – a challenge to spend 30 minutes a day for 30 days in nature. I thought – “why not?” and decided to give it a try.
On my first day out in the park I visited I noticed some beautiful flowers and a large observation deck that seemed quite interesting to me – so I took a picture of each. The next day, I noticed a few more interesting things and so I took pictures of those. I shared them on Facebook and by the third day I was finding things that were really beautiful (to me) that I hadn’t noticed previously. I started to feel an urge to want to share this experience and the excitement I was having with others. I had the idea of taking at least a picture a day for the 30 days that I would be out in nature and sharing them in some way with people. This is a pretty simple idea, but I thought on it a bit and thought – “what about if I created something that contained the pictures that could be shared?”. I immediately had the often present, negative voice in my head say “why?”, and “how are you going to do that?”. I held those thoughts at bay while I decided to start small – I would look to see if I had any software at my disposal that could help me with this simple project and it turned out that I did. So, I ignored the negative voice and pressed forward one small step at a time – I collected the photos each day and after 15 days of being in nature – I created and shared the item below.
I received some nice feedback about the pictures and the format. It motivated me to think on the original idea more. Each day I continued to spend in nature – I allowed myself to dream up bigger plans for sharing the beauty of this park with others. I was also collecting quite a bit more photographs to choose from, so my next “dream big” idea was selecting a subset of all of the ones taken in the 30 days and choose my 30 favorite. As weeks passed – it turned out that I had taken so many pictures that I changed the idea (grew it bigger) into 50 favorites – and I had decided stick with the “moments” theme and decided that however I shared them – I would call them “50 Moments”.
As I started to think about picking the 50 favorite photos to share – I “dreamed” bigger and thought – “what about if I found a way to frame some of the nicer photos?”. Again – my negative voice came into play – but I allowed myself the time to think on it and started small – I took a couple of my favorite shots to the local Walmart and was able to print them in a larger format 8×10 and picked up a couple frames. I hung these as inspiration for me while I continued to sort through the collection of photos, choosing the 50 that would be shared.
It was around this time that I had seen an ad for a local market that was happening at the Visitor Centre in town. This building also doubles as the “arts” centre – and displays local artists work each month. By now – you know where my mind went – “hmm. I wonder if I could put a few of my photos on display here?”. I’ve learned that it never hurts to ask – so I did just that. I collected the artist submission information and I filled out an application to have a part of a table at an upcoming exhibition dedicated to the work that would come out of the “50 Moments” idea. To my surprise – my application was approved and I had secured a spot. Within two weeks of that notification – I received another email letting me know that the other artist that was doing the full exhibition where my photos would be featured wasn’t going to be able to do it – so I was offered the full exhibition space for the month of March 2017.
Most people would have been scared to death at the thought of doing a full photo exhibition – I know that I was… but I gave myself permission to think on the idea and to dream big. What an opportunity this could be – I’ve never done a photo exhibition – heck I hadn’t really done too much in the way of framing my photos – but since I had just challenged myself and done that – “why not?” try this and do the best I can – one small step at a time.
It was October 2016 and I knew that I had several months to prepare for the exhibition – so I started small. I finished selecting my 50 favorite photos. I decided to work on taking my absolute favorite top ten and framing them as large 11×14 prints. By this time I was also starting to get better at manipulating and preparing the photos for print. I was learning new things along the way.
I knew I would need a lot more than just this to fill a full exhibition – so I started dreaming again – and I thought about the idea of creating a photo book with the 50 photos and perhaps some postcards of the top ten that people coming to the exhibition to look at and take as a souvenir. I let my mind roam again and thought about creating some additional content, a pamphlet, that talked about the other benefits I experienced while spending time out in nature. I started small – with things that I had access to – and where I didn’t have access – I looked for resources close to me that might allow me to use resources – like the local library. I was diligent in the think big, start small steps along the way and in February 2017 I self-published my photo book “50 Moments in August”. In March – I was able to fill a small room with a variety of framed photos, postcard photos, large format framed photos, information pamphlets, flyers and even a 3 x 4 foot canvas print of one of the photos. The exhibit was so well received that I was invited to submit another application for a future project.
If I were to stop here – I think you would agree that the story illustrates how a simple idea (taking a picture and sharing it for the enjoyment of others) can grow if you allow your mind to dream big. Here are just a few more things that came out of this idea as I continue to allow it to grow.
- The exhibition was seen by a few people – one of them a local librarian – who asked me to be the featured artist in the month of August 2017.
- I was invited to speak at the library and put together a full PowerPoint presentation filled with research that tie together the benefits of nature with the inspiration to create. People showed up and engaged in conversation with me for almost an hour. This was way outside of my comfort zone – but an amazing experience.
- I launched a project for those participating in the 30×30 Nature Challenge to extend their experience and to create something to be shared with others. The project is called “50 Moments Creative Challenge”
- The exhibition was seen by an artist group that led me to create a contact with another non-local artist group that was advertising and looking for stories about nature – I submitted a story and was published in their online magazine.
This is just one example of many that I have – and trust me when I say that I know that it’s not easy to fight through life’s struggles to set goals. For me – it comes in waves – there are days when the smallest step forward is going to consume all of my energy. There are others when I’m able to make progress and feel like I’m getting somewhere. Also – I hesitated to share photos / links – but I forced myself to as I think it adds a level of authenticity to let you know that I’m not making it up, but please know – I’m not trying to sell you anything.
This is what I hope you’ll take from this post –
Be Naive and Curious – Ask questions, Instead of “why” – think “why not?”
Don’t wait for someone (or worse yet – ourselves) to tell you that you can’t do something. I beg to differ – I think you can do anything you feel is worthy of doing. Explore – just because I hadn’t framed pictures I didn’t let that stop me from dreaming up the thought and belief that I could do a photo exhibit.
Be Authentic and Courageous – if you want something ask for it.
You’d be surprised how many people are happy to help you reach your goal. There are many people that have talent / knowledge that you might not know about that could help you in reaching your goal – but they can’t if you aren’t brave enough to let others know about it. This includes me – if you’re thinking of doing some project, dream or goal – let me know about it – I’m interested in your journey and how I can be supportive of it.
Be Generous and Compassionate – Work hard to Give More than you Get
It’s a cycle – if you are fortunate enough to receive – work hard to pass something on to the next person that you can help. By doing so, you’ll end up receiving more than you could imagine.
Here’s what I’m taking from pushing myself to create this post –
Even though I’m in a low spot in terms of mood and energy – I’m pushing forward with one small step at a time and I’m going to do my best to keep dreaming big.
I honestly feel that it is important for everyone chasing a goal to visualize and believe that the goal is attainable. There are many things that may get in the way of you accepting the achievement of the goal as it gets closer – but today I want to talk about things that I found helped me in the morning to start my day off right.
Early Choices are Good Choices
When I wake up in the morning – my willpower is at its peak! I find this is the best time to make decisions that help put me on the “winning” way for the day and start the momentum off on a good foot. I was inspired by this post that talks about 10 great life lessons and the first one says that if you “want to change the world, start by making your bed”. I’ll be honest, I have never been a “bed-making” person. I always felt that I had better things to do – after all – there was a day waiting to be started and breakfast waiting to be eaten!
So – I decided to implement this change for myself mainly because it resonated with me. If I did want to change things about myself, perhaps the easiest way to start was by doing something small. It didn’t take long and I was getting into the habit of waking each morning, using the restroom and upon my return to my room would immediately weigh myself and then proceed to make my bed.
The satisfaction of knowing that you have one thing “done” and that you’ve made a decision that is small, but positive, is a great feeling. This is a feeling that can be a nice foundation to build the rest of the day on…
Telling myself that I believed in my goal each day is one of the most important ways for me to start my day off right. Each morning I restate my commitment to my goal. In my case, I would restate my commitment to the program I was on, and would tell myself that I knew that there would be good times and bad times – that this was a journey that I was in for the long haul.
I would say my daily affirmations while making my bed, after weighing in. Doing this forced me to state my commitment to my goal – even if I had a bad weigh in, and as well – start my day in a positive way.
I learned that I needed to not only be surrounded by a strong support system of people that believed in me and were rooting me on – but that I had to find ways to believe in myself each and every morning.
In case you’re wondering – yes, I still do this same routine every day, and I commit to my new goals and to myself. This is just one of the many “Daily Choices” that I make as soon as the day starts, so that I set myself up for success. Later this week, I’m going to post audio content of my daily affirmations. Maybe you can use them or create ones of your own that you’ll listen to each morning to help get you “in the zone” for the day.
Is this something you could see yourself adopting and incorporating into your morning routine?
The daily affirmation is a great way to add something new to your day and to test your level of commitment. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but if you’re able to do this for a day, commit to two days. If you hit two days in a row – commit to a week. If you are able to do it for a week, commit to keeping it up for two weeks. When you’ve done it for two weeks straight – realize that you’re halfway to having done this new, healthy commitment to yourself for a month. Let this drive you through to complete 30 days. At this point, you will have moved this action into a habit and when if you miss a day – it will feel weird.
I’ve found that once I can make the “good choice” my default choice / habit – I find it much easier to continue to make the good choice. The more good choices I make through the day – the more I desire to choose things that move me closer to my goal.
In 2015, when I committed to losing weight and reaching my goal – I searched out specific characteristics about the program I would choose to follow that would help improve the chances of success. The program I chose had to have;
– A way of making me accountable for my results – good or bad
– An educational component, so that I could learn new ways of understanding my relationship with food and how to adjust it
– A program / plan that made sense to me and was founded in fact which was easily backed up by data that could be analyzed
If you examine the list above again – I’m sure you find that many weight loss programs come to mind that fit my requirements.
What I came to realize through my journey is that it wasn’t only the program I chose that led me to success and to be able to achieve my goal as much as dealing with the other feelings and situations that can influence and sabotage even the best of plans.
Here is my list of 5 challenges that I learned about on my journey that I needed to overcome to reach my goals. Below the list I’ll talk about each challenge in more detail and explain what I learned and how you can use it to help you achieve any goal that you have in your mind’s eye.
The unconscious mind and its ability to make a decision is a powerful thing. Although many may believe that things “just happen” to us, I have learned not to believe that. There are hundreds, if not thousands of decision points that we come across in a given day. A decision point is point in time where we are faced with making a choice. Sometimes we choose wisely and sometimes not. Sometimes that choice is evaluated using critical thinking methods and other times a choice is made in the blink of an eye. I won’t argue as to which method of choice is better as there are many books and studies about the topic – but what I do want to highlight is that I had to come to the realization that every time I reached a decision point – I could use the power of choice to move me closer to my goal. Conversely – there were many times when I was not as mindful / aware that I had reached a decision point – and here I found that what would win would be that action closest matching my existing habits. What I had to realize is that even when I didn’t actively make a choice – I was making a choice. Realizing this was empowering to me… frustrating… but empowering!
The good news is that becoming aware and active in your decisions is something you can work on. More good news – habits are formed over extended periods of time and absolutely change based on previous actions. The better your habits become, the better those unconscious decisions will become. Here’s an interesting TED Talk on how to implement small changes in habit.
In my case, meal time was most definitely a decision point. I’m faced with two options. Let’s call the “good” option (remember: this is the one that moves me closer to my goal) is Selection A. The “bad” option is Selection B. What I found through my journey was that having a plan and setting myself up to make Selection A the easier of the choices would result in higher success. In the world of weight loss, this is “meal planning”, making sure that I had readily accessible, healthy options that moved me closer to my goal. This can relate to chasing any other goal though.
Let’s say that your goal is to improve your photography. You should now realize that your current habits are something that you’ll need to overcome to reach your goal. You also know that you’ll be presented with decision points where you will have the opportunity to choose to do something that moves you closer to that goal. It is now up to you to plan ahead and make it so that when you come to the time of the decision point you choose Selection A over Selection B.
It’s not easy, but being mindful and aware is the first step that gave me more power in my decisions and allowed me to start crafting new, more productive habits that aligned with my goals.
An unfortunate thing about this world is that the good habits are much easier to give up than the bad ones. ~W. Somerset Maugham
The ability to achieve our goals relies heavily on our focus on those goals. Willpower, or the ability to exert control to accomplish something is a real thing. It is a wonderful thing and when complemented by determination and persistence combines into a force that can move mountains. The lesson I learned on my journey is that willpower and focus are finite resources. In general, we start our day with a certain amount of these resources and what I learned was that outside sources will chip away at these resources until we are left with none.
I have found that there is no greater nemesis of willpower than stress.
I had to consciously work and put effort forth to eliminate stress wherever possible. This was not easy, but if we let stress wear on us and deplete our focus and willpower, we will have less energy to continue the drive toward our goal. This lack of energy can also manifest itself when it comes to decision points, and we already know how important I feel that they are to the larger picture of our success.
The good news? Stress can be managed in many ways. Meditation being just one of them. In my case, I chose to use the method of living my day in “day tight compartments“, a method I learned about how to deal with stress and worry from a Dale Carnegie course. I would be conscious of when a stressful situation was upon me and I worked through it to either do my best to deal with it in short fashion, or accept that it likely wasn’t something I needed to be stressed about.
There are many situations that can cause us stress and chip away at our willpower and distract us from our goals. It is in our best interest to learn how to deal with and manage stress so that we can overcome this challenge on the way to our goal.
Doubt comes in at the window when inquiry is denied at the door. ~Benjamin Jowett
If our goal is large enough, doubt will be cast. We may hear it from those around us who we share our dreams with, or worst yet – it may come from inside.
Self-doubt may be something that you will deal with on the way to your goal. I had to deal with it in my journey quite a bit. There was the doubt that I would be able to make the change, the doubt that I was worth making the change, the doubt that I could maintain the change and the fear of what would happen if I did somehow manage to actually pull it all off!
The lesson I learned along the way, and still tell myself each day is that “I’m worth it”. I say as a form of my daily affirmation. I’ll explain these in more detail in a future post, but let’s just say that this is one way that I work to remove self-doubt.
Whatever your goal is – please know that you can achieve it. Don’t doubt yourself. I believe in you…
One of the main reasons that I had success with my goal is due to the support system that I had allowed to evolve around me. Note the word “allowed” in the previous sentence, it is there for good reason. I had to overcome my own pride and realize that having others know and support me in my goal would improve my chances of success.
This is not an easy thing as most people are proud and don’t want to admit that they could use help. In my case, I had to admit that I had a problem and I needed to accept all the assistance, love an support that those around me were willing to give. In previous attempts, I did not embrace this and in doing so I felt this was a game changer for allowing me to reach my goal with a bunch of people “cheering me on”.
In the case where the goal is not a “problem”, I still find that there is great value in vocalizing your intention and desire. There are many people that surround you that would be more than happy to support your and help you reach your goal – but they won’t ever have the opportunity to do so if you never tell them about it. Sometimes our pride, and the worry about what people may think of our goal / dream gets in the way… don’t let that happen to you.
Pride deafens us to the advice or warnings from those around us. ~John C. Maxwell
A lack of enthusiasm in achieving your goal can most definitely be a barrier. In previous attempts to lose weight, I found that I had an indifference in the results. Sure, I was happy when I would see the weight come off, but I didn’t have a burning desire to make a change.
I’ve found this to be the largest lesson learned on my journey and if you have a goal in mind – I want you to ask yourself this question.
How bad do you want it?
I know that the question is “cliche” and seems far to easy to answer, but think about it in the terms of the other 4 challenges above and be brutally honest with yourself as you answer.
– Are you willing to change and make new habits that support your end goal?
– Are you in a good mental state and able to deal with stress and outside influences that will look to distract you from your goal?
– Do you believe in your heart that you can reach the goal and are meant to reach your goal (hint: I believe you can…)
– Are you able to put your pride aside and tell everyone who will listen about your goal? Are you ready to accept their help and support when they offer it?
There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it. ~Napoleon Hill
The last and largest challenge I had to overcome was to get up everyday and be honest in my response to the question “how bad did I want it?”.
When the goal in your mind is your “burning desire” and something that consumes your thoughts when you wake and when you dream, you’re in a good spot to chase that goal.
Apathy, the lack of caring or indifference to the outcome can not exist if you are forging your path to your goal.
Let me know the biggest challenge you’ve faced chasing your goal and how you’ve overcome it in the comments below.
Depression is a beast. The worst part of depression as I know it is that it sticks around – hanging out at the back of the room, listening in on conversations, making mental notes to bring up at times of weakness. It seems to come in cycles / waves for me. I have to fight through the lows and do my best to take advantage of the highs.
Allow me to do my best to describe a recent low period and see if any of this resonates with anything that you’ve experienced:
When I’m in a low, my negative self-talk is at an all-time high. I dislike everything about myself, and most everything that is presented to me. I go through phases of extreme self-loathing and have feelings of social isolation. I find that I can’t relate to anyone or anything and it frustrates me and makes me angry. I’ll even start to start to hold disdain for others – being envious of their “perceived” happiness and normalcy.
Mainly mental, but at times physical – I won’t want to do anything. I won’t be open to new thoughts or advice, I will flip anything given on it’s head and find the reason that it won’t work for me. I will have thoughts of doing something – and almost immediately that thought will be replaced with a “who cares” or “why bother” thought – causing me to stew in the negativity and find more reasons to be frustrated or angry that I won’t do the thing that I “just know” that others are able to do – which circles right back around into more self-hatred / bashing.
Loss Of Hope
When I’m deep in my depression – my mind and heart hold little hope for anything. It’s a dark place where I do everything I can not to give up. Days or weeks can become a blur as time just passing with little to no meaning or purpose. It’s very hard to see a way out, or even believe that there is one.
When It Gets Really Dark
There are times when it gets really dark and thoughts turn to ones that are not safe. I’ve been there and if you’re there and you’re reading this – please search out help. Ask anyone that you’re comfortable with asking. There are national, local and online resources that can help. I’m not a doctor and how each person deals with these tough times is specifically unique to each of us. Two things that have worked for me in the past are – searching for gratitude in earnest. I will do all that I can to stop my thoughts long enough to think of one thing in my life that I’m thankful for and one person that has been there for me in a way that has affected my life in a positive way. I’ll use all of my energy to focus on those for a moment. Another thing that I’ll try and do is to search out a way to help someone else in need. I’ve often found that I can lose track of my own concerns by finding ways to help others. This distraction is, at times, just what I need to shift my thoughts.
The ways that I cope with my depression is to acknowledge it and to force myself to believe that it is cyclical in nature. I have to realize that there will be good days and there will be bad days. I work hard to be active and mindful of my energy level and tolerance for accepting and embracing change. When the times feel right – I work extra hard to take action. Some days I’ll be able to make great strides forward to my goal, others not as much – but as long as I don’t slide backwards – in the end – I’ll eventually reach it.
Allowing A Change Of Plans / Practicing Kindness
I also give myself the room to change plans and be flexible in how I move toward the goal. As mentioned above – there are times when I have great days and times that I don’t. I test my attitude each morning through my daily affirmations. If I’m feeling committed and locked in on my goals – I ride that wave and work to have the best day possible. If I’m not feeling it – I do the best I can that day and remind myself to live that day for just that day. No matter what – I start the day with my affirmations – and then I trust my gut on how I’m feeling. I practice patience with myself and allow myself room to breathe and change plans, if needed. I use the phrase – “Give myself today by forgiving myself today”. I say this to myself because I know that I’m not perfect and I need to be OK with that – while I’m doing my best to be the best I can be.
Depression can strongly affect our ability to love ourselves and to plan for the future. I want to end this post with these words:
You may not be ready to hear it… but you ARE good enough.
You may not be ready to feel it… but you ARE worthy.
You may not be ready to accept it… but I BELIEVE in you.
NOTE: Catch the premiere episode of the Daily Choices podcast here to hear more about the purpose and mission of this blog.
Goals are wonderful things. They give us a reason to get out of bed each morning and a place to focus our energy. Many goals are rooted in our dreams and desires. I’m a goal-oriented, goal-driven person.
In the Fall of 2015, I set my sight on the goal of losing weight. I have battled with weight issues my entire life but this time – something felt right – and so I committed and over the next fourteen months ended up losing over two-hundred pounds. I was much happier with the new me, many of those surrounding me were happier with the new me, but not everyone.
As I moved into “maintenance-mode” where I had learned to maintain my new weight by moving back to a more natural routine of nutrition and exercise – I started to feel lonely. Many of the people that were there to cheer me on during my journey to the goal packed up their stuff and headed home – their job was done. They were my cheerleaders on the climb up the mountain – I had reached the summit – mission accomplished. I can honestly say that all the highs that came along with people noticing the “new me” – also went away – as nothing stays “new” forever.
I maintained the weight for six months. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t difficult either. I had learned how to do it – and as long as I stuck to plan and made good choices – things were fine. Shortly after the six month anniversary of maintenance I slipped into a nasty cycle of depression. My depression comes in waves and I could feel a hint of it coming. I was moving into the “who cares”, “what’s the point” phase – and when I start saying those things to myself, I know that I’ve started an official fight with my depression.
I have used many methods over the years to help combat the deep, dark parts of depression – but there have been times for as long as I can remember that the dark side does take over in full force. This evolved into one of those times.
Days of depression become weeks, weeks become months. It got dark… very dark. My weight started to climb and I started to tell myself that I didn’t care about it. While I was having those negative thoughts of not caring, I was also strapping myself with feelings of guilt about letting the core support group that cheered me on to my initial goal down as I let all the hard work slide away. I was talking myself deeper and deeper, negative thoughts, beating myself up, calling myself a failure. This went on for several months, the deep depression leading to anxiety and getting to a point where I felt paralyzed and not able to function.
There are several unique situations in my life that allowed this to play out without too many others noticing – other than the obvious withdrawal from society / my somewhat infrequent posts about latest projects in the works. I reached the top of the mountain with great fanfare and celebration. I have fallen down the side of it – pretty much unnoticed.
As I type this blog entry – I have gained back nearly 150 pounds of what I had lost. It’s sad, and frustrating, but I feel like I’m on the upswing in my cycle of depression – and so I’m going to take advantage of that. I’m going to put the same power to use that lead me to dream and set a goal of losing the weight the first time – the power of choice. I honestly believe that our ability to choose is a superpower that can put us on the path to reaching any goal that we want to achieve. It’s not easy, there are many challenges. I learned quite a few ways to help when I was on my first journey – and I want to share these with others in the hope that they will find value in them.
I’m at the bottom again, but I’m setting up a new base camp. I’m a bit more seasoned of a climber now, with a few tips and tricks in my bag. I have set my goal on surpassing my original weight loss goal – because the only thing to me more amazing than losing two-hundred pounds is doing it twice.
The lessons I’ve learned about goal-setting and the power of choice can be used to enable us to reach any goal – no matter how small or how large. I want to share what I’ve learned with you and hope that you will share your story, challenges and celebrations with me.
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