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Dreaming and Scheming

"Write down all the dreams you have for this year, the things you have thought of a million times and never taken a step of action towards."

My small staff looks gobsmacked. We are at a quarterly team retreat and I am leading them through a new exercise I developed called "Dreaming and Scheming" where I ask them to write down a list of their heart's desires and then plot professional and personal next steps.

When I lead this exercise in corporate settings, I find that for many, the vulnerability of mapping all goals, long-avoided tasks, secret dreams and hopes for the future can at first feel intimidating and uncomfortable.

However, when we push past the initial resistance, teams and individuals experience extraordinary shifts in self-awareness, gaining greater confidence in their ability to move forward goals as well as forging greater intimacy, transparency and accountability with peers.

In my work, I have found that everyone has a secret dream (or ten): A thought, a wish, a desire that they have thought a thousand times but never pursued. Some are small: Visiting the botanical gardens. Fostering a dog. Getting promoted. Some have been around for years: Starting a restaurant. Hiking Machu Picchu. Becoming a parent.

When people give voice to their secret dreams, something magical happens. They snap into focus, their features come alive and they start to pulse with electricity and vibrancy. The truth is, many of us do not give ourselves permission to speak these dreams out loud - much less write them down - because of the excruciating fear of them not coming true. What's worse, to keep a dream for a lifetime and never act on it, or to act on it and witness it fail?

I ask everyone I meet: "What is the dream you have thought of a million times but never acted on?" Some have an answer immediately, while others need to sit with this question to canvas their deeply buried desires, maybe even going back to childhood to unearth their desire. A woman I met over the weekend who just started her own children's clothing line while holding down a full-time marketing job said: "I'm living my dream, at last. I finally realized that I couldn't waste one more day thinking about it and not doing it, so I committed to doing one step of action every day until it happened. It took me 15 months."

The exercise Dreaming & Scheming marries both ideation and execution in two distinct stages. When you do this exercise, one part of your brain will have permission to dream - to canvas all your long-held wishes and current incomplete cycles of action - and another part of your brain will move into taking action steps forward to make them a reality.

The video below breaks down the exercise into manageable pieces:

It is critical that the dreaming happen before you move into scheming, allowing our hearts to map what we really want without the self-sabotaging mechanisms exploiting all the reasons it will not happen.

If you need help with the visioning phase, feel free to listen to this guided visualization that will give you a glimpse of your heart's desire.

The work of visioning, or dreaming, can take time and call on our reserves of courage. However, research shows that visualizing an ideal future outcome as if it's happening can actually program the brain to increase its likelihood of happening. Once we have fully immersed ourselves in a picture of our heart's desire, we can turn our attention to the strategic work of setting up a plan for making it happen.


Allowing yourself to really dream is a radical act, one that is in service of the future we are attempting to build for ourselves and our communities. You will find that, over time, taking concrete steps of action towards your future will not only strengthen your self-trust, but it will inspire your world to believe in the seemingly impossible and make a reality out of that which was once a dream.

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