I work with some of the most ambitious, driven people in The Bay Area’s tech community. High achieving individuals who operate on the model: attain success first and foremost. Their minds are used to operating at the speed of light- always problem-solving, always anticipating and avoiding pitfalls- essential skills for surviving the minefield of Silicon Valley and San Francisco’s booming young professional scene. A 2003 study led by Pennsylvania College of Technology examined the relationship between entrepreneurs’ personalities to long-term venture survival, finding the only “significant personality predictor” was conscientiousness, or the propensity to plan, organize, and take care of responsibilities. According to Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, it takes a special breed to take on the risk of entrepreneurship. “A lot of progress in the world is driven by the delusional optimism of some people,” he told Inc. “The people who open small businesses don’t think, ‘I’m facing these odds, but I’ll take them anyway.’ They think their business will certainly succeed.”
As an executive and personal coach, I see the underbelly of the pressure of success, and how it can negatively affect people’s mood. Many of them struggle with turning their brains away from constantly mentally building and managing their business or profession. When the mind focuses constantly on problem-solving it never gets a chance to reboot. When your thoughts remain hyper-focused on managing negative outcomes, it leaves no space for positive imagination- an essential part of mood management and happiness. The end result is mental burn out, which can lead to chronic physical manifestations of stress. Functionality becomes seriously compromised.
“Always being ON will eventually turn your brain power OFF, limiting your potential for success.”
The cure? Train your brain in the practice of ‘smart daydreaming‘, a strategy that helps people to better engage with the pursuits that are most personally meaningful to them. Kaufmans’s Theory of Personal Intelligence has revealed this practice as a powerful way to tap into spontaneous forms of cognition, including insight, intuition and the triggering of memories and stored information — types of intelligence often accessed through active daydreaming. The outcome? Improved mood and increased productivity. This is not your run-of-the-mill “Let my mind wander aimlessly until I go back to my usual mental diet of constant worry.” This is strategic, purposeful daydreaming, with the goal of rebooting your brain and getting your mood back on track so you can operate at your best when it counts. How does it work?
#BestAdvice: Smart Recipes for Daydreaming.
- Begin with ‘The Miracle Question‘- Begin with a clean slate and let go of whatever is on your mind. Take the time to imagine total freedom, and that any miracle you wish to come true is now possible. Step out of your usual ‘problem story’ and into an all new story where problems do not exist.
- Stop and pay attention to what specifically about your story makes you feels good, what makes you say “YES! THAT WOULD BE AMAZING!” Continue along this vein, flush it out, give it legs. Where would you be, what types of people would be in your life, what would you do, for how long would you do this, etc. How would your average day look in this miracle context?
- Each time you mind wants to problem-solve for “How would THAT ever happen? Why aren’t I working on making this happen right now? Am I failing at life for not achieving this?” Stop. This is supposed to be an implausible daydream, where solutions don’t matter, obstacles don’t exist, and there is no shortage of optimal resources, supreme experiences, awesome people, and boundless opportunity.
- After you have thought through a full on version of the ultimate experience, notice your mood. Instead of being driven by angst, you’ve given yourself a highly personalized mental vacation, possibly revealing new insights about what you care about most.
- Aim to practice smart daydreaming for 10-15 minutes each day. Track themes. Let these themes serve as a guide for what you’d like to ultimately have more of in your life. See if you can build some of those themes into your short term and long term vision of your life.
By actively engaging in positive daydreaming you are not only giving your mind and energy level a chance to reboot, you are freeing your mind to construct a concrete, idealized vision of your preferred future.
Ask a 7 year old what they want to be when they grow up, and they nail it, every single time.
Kids are natural dreamers. They’re too young to realize that being “a famous inventor, a marine biologist, a pop star like Katy Perry, own sushi restaurants all over the world…and become The President of The United States” is a stretch, to say the least (this is my child’s vision of her future right now, and who knows, she may pull it off!) They might not be able to tell you HOW this future could ever happen, but they’ll definitely enjoy telling you WHY having this grown up future would be ‘the best thing ever’. Their eyes light up, they smile and have a great time telling you all about it. That’s the point.
“We should make sure our ideas of success are our own. We should focus in on our ideas and make sure that we own them, that we are truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it’s bad enough, not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want, and find out at the end of a journey, that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.” Alain de Botton, from his TED Talk, ‘A kinder, gentler philosophy of success’
Dr. Christina Villarreal is a mental health expert, executive and personal coach/consultant, entrepreneur and educator practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA. For professional inquires visit her website at www.drchristinavillarreal.com