What do you want to accomplish? To be a great leader? To get your writing published? Or to start doing yoga, or running? Or to lose those pesky 10 pounds? So just how do we turn our dreams and wishes into reality?
"When it comes to realizing our dreams, it can be easy to think that success comes easily to others, but not to ourselves. Others seem to have the talent, lucky breaks or willpower that we lack - whether it be the consistent rhythm and grace of great marathon athletes, the leader who can speak on stage with charisma and polish, the best-selling author who has just released another clincher or your dinner companion who can pass over the desert menu without hesitation," explained Megan McDonough, CEO and co-founder of Wholebeing Institute when I interviewed to her recently.
"We interpret and then weave stories in our head about what we see. We assign people attitudes, attributes, and roles--top athlete, successful leader, wealthy entrepreneur, prolific writer, healthy eater--based on our observations of their actions," Megan said. "The good news when it comes to creating positive changes in our own lives, research has found we can also interpret our own attitudes and beliefs based on the actions we take."
How does this work?
"It's a common misperception that we must first have the attitude and body of an athlete before we take athletic action, or that we must first cultivate a mindset of loving to write before we put pen to paper," explained Megan. "The truth is, to become what we want to be, we do not have to cultivate the attitude first. We just need to act as if we had it. Action and behavior can be the prime drivers of realizing our goals and dreams."
As Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do."
But is this simply a case of fooling ourselves?
What if the athlete we're watching really is in good shape, and we're not. Acting as if you were won't make it any easier to run the marathon. The truth is we tend to judge others and then compare ourselves and we usually come up lacking because it's easy to be tough on ourselves.
But what if there was another explanation to explain what we see?
"Others aren't always as perfect as we think they are; nor are we as insufficient," said Megan. For example, what if the marathoner joined the race in the last quarter of a mile to help a friend stay motivated? Or the speaker was just hired as a manager after a previously long and successful career in acting? Or the prolific writer works with a team of co-writers?
"The brain is very good at filling in gaps; your neurons want a full narration, not a stand-alone data point," explained Megan. "And the brain does not like incongruity at all, so any conflict between an attitude and a behavior will be reconciled one way or another--by readjusting either the attitude or the behavior to create more of a match between the two. The game is to match the two in such a way that it encourages forward movement toward your dream."
For example, when you take the stairs instead of the elevator, consciously note the behaviour by saying to yourself--or even better, say out loud--"I enjoy moving."
"When you have a dream, behave as if you already are what you want to be. Even tiny actions matter, and, in fact, are preferable, because they won't set up a gap between attitudes and behavior. Taking action toward our goals creates more congruency and, therefore, acceptance" suggested Megan. "In this way you can shape your success and happiness by the daily actions you take and the attitudes you hold towards yourself."
You can learn more about realizing your dreams in this free video lecture with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, a Harvard-trained innovator in the field of positive psychology.
What actions can you take to shape your attitude and achieve your dreams?