This is Part 7 in a series on vision. See here for the previous installments:
In a culture that places so much emphasis on big goals and dreams, you might develop a belief that something is wrong with you if you find yourself feeling blocked from dreaming big and creating a vision that resonates with you.
Know this: nothing is wrong with you. You are not flawed in some way because you’re in a place where you don’t have big dreams.
In fact, this is quite normal. Everyone goes through periods where they can’t access vision or dream big. Life takes us through seasons, and in some seasons of our lives — regardless of the season of the year — vision and big dreams elude us.
It’s important and helpful to understand why you might have difficulty accessing your vision. Here are seven reasons you may be struggling to dream big.
(1)You’re Stressed Out
When the nervous system feels threatened, it directs all resources to getting out of danger and finding a place of safety — we generally refer to this as the fight-or-flight response.
If you were facing a wild bear in the woods, your sympathetic nervous system — what we know as the fight-or-flight response — would take over. All of your resources would be focused on getting to safety. You wouldn’t need vision beyond the immediate concern of “how do I stay alive?”
You don’t need to create a life of meaning and impact if you’re not going to make it out of this moment.
Most of us don’t regularly face a bear in the woods, but we deal with other stressors. Maybe you’re dealing with a physical illness, or you are concerned about money, an upcoming presentation at work, relationship strife, an issue with your kids, a parent who needs your care, a sick pet, a big launch, a major decision, and so on.
You may have several of these things weighing on you at once. And you may even discount some of these by calling them “first-world problems,” which adds the fuel of your self-judgment onto the fire of stressors. After all, most of these things are not a bear in the woods.
Here’s the thing: as evolved as we are in many parts of our being, the parts of our system designed to protect us from danger are still very primitive. Your nervous system doesn’t differentiate between a situation when you are under immediate attack and a situation that is a “first-world stressor.”
(2) You’re Going Through a Big Transition
Transitions — such as moving to a new home, divorce, marriage, a new job, the loss of a loved one — are a particular form of stressor that merit separate mention. Transitions uproot us and create instability.
Think of an apple tree. The vision of an apple tree is to produce apples. But before it can produce apples, before it can even grow into a tree, it needs to grow roots.
Without a stable foundation, the sapling will get knocked over by the winds. It will never grow into a tree capable of bearing fruit.
(3) You’re Too Busy
Maybe you have a lot going on, and it’s all “good” stuff. You’re juggling lots of projects you love at work, coming home to cook dinner, taking care of your kids, connecting with your spouse, planning a vacation, and you’ve got a big launch next week.
Everything you’re working on fills you. You’re “good” busy.
Then someone asks you a question about a plan for several months from now. You might hear yourself say something like, “I’m so busy right now I can’t see past my upcoming launch.”
I am endlessly fascinated by the language we use and how it tells us exactly what’s going on.
If you’re so busy that you “can’t see past” a specific point in time, how can you expect to access your vision?
(4) You Don’t Sit Still
The communication between the nervous system and the body runs both ways. Just as fear or a life threatening situation can send a signal of danger that causes you to run or fight, your activities can send a distress signal to your nervous system.
If you are racing around from one activity to the next, you’re essentially communicating to your nervous system that you’re in danger. Then it kick into fight-or-flight mode. This results in a continuous feedback loop that keeps your nervous system focused on the essentials.
You can’t access vision while you’re running around putting out fires and being busy. Because this tends to be our habitual approach to life, most people don’t realize they’re in fight-or-flight mode.
(5) You’re In a Slump
Everyone goes through unproductive and uncreative periods. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an artist, a professional athlete, a CEO, or a stay-at-home mom. This is inherent in the cycles of life. We have periods where we feel capable of tackling anything, and other times when it seems that anything we touch falls apart. This can lead to what I often call a crisis of confidence.
In a crisis of confidence, your mind likes to tell you stories about how you’re incapable of doing anything of value, you have no talent, you’re a fraud. You lose faith in your ability to handle the circumstances that you are in.
These stories are, of course, false, but we lose sight of this in the valleys of life. And if you can’t see the truth in the present, how can you create a vision for the future? If you buy into these stories, you lose faith in your abilities and block your ability to access vision.
This is another way our nervous system tries to keep us safe. If you lack the ability to perform where you are, why would you create a bigger vision for yourself? Your mind wants to keep you safe from disappointment and more futility.
One mistake people make with vision is getting caught up in the “how.” This is not what we’re talking about here.
When it comes to vision, you don’t need to know how you’re going to create it, but you do need the confidence that you can.
(6) You’re Angry or Frustrated
Once again, we can see threads of this in our language. Consider the expression, “I’m so angry I can’t see straight.” Or “blinded by anger.”
These expressions don’t just come out of nowhere.
Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that each of our sense organs is a portal to one of our internal organs. The eyes are the portal to the liver. The liver is responsible for maintaining several functions, including the regulation and distribution of Qi — the energy force of the body — and blood. It also regulates emotions. The specific emotions related to the liver are anger and frustration.
To minimize negative influences to the liver, we must manage or emotions and stress effectively.
(7) You’re Grieving
Grief is a form of trauma to the brain and body.
Neurologists have learned only in recent years that there can be injury to the brain even if nothing shows up on an MRI or CT scan. In the same way, the emotional trauma of loss results in serious changes in brain function that endure.
Lisa M. Schulman, MD, a professor of neurology at the University of Maryland, explains that
When we think about brain trauma, we usually think about physical injury. But we now understand that the emotional trauma of loss has profound effects on the mind, brain, and body.
When your nervous system needs to direct energy to keep you safe, it doesn’t have resources to help you create a vision for the future.
Before you can access vision, you must heal the grief and resolve suppressed feelings about the past.
The Bottom Line
Human beings are not machines; we are complex beings run on a system of systems: interconnected emotional/physical/mental/spiritual systems that make up the whole. No amount of people telling you to “dream big” will help you access your vision if your system isn’t able to generate vision.
It’s important and helpful to know what our systems need to access and create vision. If something is in the way of your ability to dream, remember that this is ok. Compassion and kindness toward yourself will help you heal and give your system the safety it needs to dream big again.