“If I only had time, I’d write a book,” people tell me—or go back to school, paint, write poetry, take nature photographs, or another variation on a dream deferred, pushed aside by the incessant demands of daily life.
A demanding day job keeps many creative people from living their dreams. “There’s no time. It’s impossible,” they say. Yet other people with full-time jobs and busy careers have apparently managed the impossible. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter while working in the Salem Custom House. Wallace Stevens became a major American poet while working as an executive for the Hartford Insurance Company. When our desire to create is stronger than our excuses, we can find a way. Wayne Dyer wrote Your Erroneous Zones in 14 days—two weeks before the busy fall semester began at St. John’s University where he was teaching. The book became a best seller and dramatically changed his life.
Focusing on the reasons why we cannot pursue our dreams puts a roadblock on the path of progress. The external blocks we see around us are not nearly as powerful as the blocks we build within us.
In my years of teaching and coaching, I’ve seen remarkable changes occur when people stop talking about what they can’t do and begin asking, “What CAN I do?” Recently, my colleague Dave Feldman and I ran a hope intervention with a group of college students, asking them to set a goal, write down steps to achieve it, and visualize themselves reaching their goals. Follow-up surveys showed that our 90-minute hope intervention significantly increased their goal achievement (Feldman & Dreher, 2011). Amazing results happen when we see our goals as possible.
The next time you catch yourself saying, “If I only had time, I’d_______,” shift your focus from problems to possibilities. Ask:
- “What CAN I do?”
- “How can I make this happen?”
- “If I don’t know, who can I ask?”
- “What else can I do?”
- “Now when will I start?”
When more of us ask “What CAN I do?” we will discover new possibilities to transform ourselves and our world.
Feldman, D. B. & Dreher, D. E. (2011). Can hope be changed in 90 minutes? Testing the efficacy of a single-session goal-pursuit intervention for college students. Journal of Happiness Studies. Published on-line. DOI 10.1007/s10902-011-9292-4.
Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, personal coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.
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