Are you creating the life you want or simply settling for what shows up instead? My experience working with thousands of people the world over suggests that most people won't even dream of a better life, much less take the action necessary to bring about their desired outcomes.
If you are like most people, life is a constant struggle and it seems nearly impossible to ever rise above what keeps you down. Having confronted my own version of this challenge many times over in my own life, I have learned that no matter how difficult the circumstances might appear, there's always a way forward. However, it's not as simple as "dream it and they will come."
"A vision, without a plan, is just a hallucination."
Will Rogers, the cowboy/entertainer/philosopher offered this bit of insight. The idea is as old as the wind and there's no shortage of sage advice about what you can do to create the life you want. There's also a pretty large selection of nonsense. Most truly useful advice starts with some form of self-belief and vision, followed by taking the necessary action. Connecting self-belief, vision and action are all pretty important and it's unlikely that you will succeed without all three.
Henry Ford summed up the challenge most people face when he said: "Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right." He was saying something rather simple and yet something rather profound: it's not your circumstances that hold you down as much as what you tell yourself about them. What makes his simple quote so compelling is the somewhat obvious fact that if you believe you can't do something, then you won't even try. Successful people the world over know that creating any form of improvement requires effort and it's pretty hard to expend the energy necessary if you don't even think you have a prayer and give up before you even start.
Successful people also know the difference between probability and possibility. I suppose "anything is possible," but not everything is probable. My friend W Mitchell, whom I have cited numerous times in these articles, is a superb example of the difference. Paralyzed after a small plane crash, and disfigured by burns over 65 percent of his body, Mitchell could easily have given up and resigned himself to a life of "what could have been," to have surrendered to a form of life behind bars -- in this case, imprisoned in a chair. Instead, he has become one of the world's foremost inspirational speakers who routinely donates his time to working with kids in schools, prison camps, and various limiting circumstances. His message, not dissimilar to that of Henry Ford, is one of embracing the difference between your circumstances and what you choose to do about them.
Another useful framework for creating the life you want comes in the form of this ancient proverb: "A vision without a plan is just a dream. A plan without a vision is just drudgery. But a vision with a plan can change the world." At a bare minimum, a plan with a vision can change your life.
However, my experience also suggests this old proverb needs just one more element to become complete: A vision and plan without action is just a disappointing daydream.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the French novelist and author of "The Little Prince," put it all together with a couple of succinct observations:
"A goal without a plan is just a wish."
"What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it."
Are you taking the steps necessary to improve your life or just wishing something would come along to make things better? If you aren't doing the work necessary, then in many ways you could be opting to stay stuck simply by your unwillingness to hold a vision, create a plan, and take whatever steps you have available to you.
Not all visions will come true, but as I am fond of saying, if you don't know where you are going, any road will do.
Not all plans will work out, but not much is likely to happen without one -- apologies to the blind squirrels who find the occasional nut. Luck is a good thing, but that blind squirrel still has to go out on a limb in order to find something.
Not all action steps will prove fruitful, but without that first step, no progress can be made. Even if you take a misstep, there's still another one you can take -- it's just hard to know which one without at least having a vision to guide you.
Taken together, then, you need a vision in order to provide a sense of direction and outcome, you need a plan in order to come up with options on how to get there, and you need to take that first step in order to get going. The challenge for most people is three fold: they lack the courage to imagine a better life, they lack the self confidence to create a plan, and they lack the commitment to take small steps.
If you happen to find yourself somewhere in one of these three camps, if not all three, then you may be tempted to dismiss this simple reality by pointing to external circumstances. No question about it -- times are pretty tough right now and many of us are being impacted in quite challenging ways. But, as Mitchell is fond of saying: "Before I was paralyzed there were 10,000 things I could do. Now there are 9,000. I can either dwell on the 1,000 I've lost or focus on the 9,000 I have left." Or, as he also says, "It's Not What Happens to You, It's What You Do About It."
What about you? Are you letting fear and uncertainty overtake your ability to live life? What vision could you imagine for yourself? Are you willing to hold that vision, create a plan, and then begin with that first step? What have you found useful in overcoming obstacles, in creating your own version of success in life?
I'd love to hear from you so please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your own life, how you can take a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your own life, please download a free chapter from my new book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.