Monday, March 10, 2014

Daydreaming And Goal Setting

I’m a dreamer. I always have been. Sometimes that tendency has been used against me as an insult—I’ve been told I spend too much time with my head in the clouds instead of down in the nitty-gritty of real life. Maybe that’s true, but it’s also what has led directly to my career—all writers are dreamers! And it’s helped me identify and achieve some goals I wouldn’t have otherwise. Daydreaming is not always about living in fantasyland. Active daydreaming can lead to genuine discoveries about yourself and what you want out of life.
Now, I’m not a psychologist or a life coach or in any way qualified to give advice or make recommendations to anyone about their lives or problems. But daydreaming has helped me, it’s a fun thing to do, and I do think it can help other people, too, so why not talk about it?

Obviously I’m not talking about the sort of daydream where Henry Cavill rides in on his white charger and sweeps me off my feet before… Um, well, never mind. But that doesn’t mean an (almost) equally fun daydream can’t be valuable. For example, I’ve found the “What if I won the lottery…” daydream to be really helpful. Let’s try that one.
Caveat: I read somewhere that an even more useful daydream is the “What if I never win the lottery…” daydream, supposedly because it’s “more realistic” and forces people to focus on their real lives and blah blah. I don’t care. It’s not as fun, and if you tweak the winning-the-lottery one, it can be just as enlightening.

Here’s how my “If I won the lottery” daydream typically goes: I usually start with paying off all of our debts, including our house, and buying safe new cars for all of us (which is a big deal, since all three of my kids are now driving-age and my husband and I currently share just one vehicle.)
What does that tell me that’s useful in my real life? That being debt free and having safe vehicles for my family is a priority. Because of that, I have been focusing on trimming my (I admit out-of-control) spending and trying hard to get our credit cards paid off. That’s not going to be a quick thing, nor as easy to do as if I had just won the lottery, unfortunately, but the first step is cutting off the spending.
Once those bills are gone, it will be time to start sending some extra payments toward the mortgage.
Why do I want to be debt free? Well, aside from the usual stress reduction, I really, really, REALLY want my husband to be able to quit his job, which he hates, and take one that he enjoys at a lower salary. Right now, we’re locked into his position because of the money. If we were debt free, he would be free to pursue something—anything—else.
A lot of potential lottery winners daydream about big new houses filled with Grecian statues and whatnot (or at least that’s what I assume after seeing a few episodes of that TV show that followed the lives of actual lottery winners), but honestly, while I love the idea of a big, grand house (see my Dream Home board on Pinterest!), in reality I love our current home. I love our neighborhood and our neighbors. We’re lucky. I would definitely update some things around the house (new carpet, please, God!), but I don’t think we’d actually move, or at least not until the kids were all out of school and settled into their adult lives. That’s not to say we wouldn’t be in the market for a vacation home (or seven, haha), but that’s later on the list.
For the vehicle dream, since we couldn’t afford new, top-of-the-line cars, when it was time to find cars for our two girls, we did extensive research on used cars with a history of being both safe and reliable. We then took our time and found the best we could afford, rather than going right out and getting the cutest ones around, which is what our middle daughter and mini-me-princess might have preferred. Luckily, our son is going to benefit from an extended family member’s car getting handed down to him, so we’re not only off the hook money-wise, but we know its complete owner history, and it’s a solid, safe vehicle.
Next on my lottery-money list is always setting my kids up financially—paying off their college loans, buying them a house, putting money in trust for them for when they’re older (because I want them to have careers and work for the things they have in life, not just have it all handed to them—if I won the lottery, they’d be able to retire well, but they’d work their butts off first), things like that.

Obviously, those are not items I’m in a position to accomplish without a lottery win by my side, but what it still highlights are not only my priorities but my hopes for my kids’ futures. And that has led to really valuable discussions with my children about their financial habits. When counseling them on their spending, I’m always very clear about avoiding the mistakes their dad and I have made. For example, they know to stay far away from credit cards. If they can’t afford to pay cash for something, they save up for it until they can. When they’re ready to buy a house, they’ll know to not take on a bigger mortgage than they can truly handle. Of course, lending laws have changed now, so that decision will hopefully be easier (or enforced by their lender), but at least they’ll go into the process with their eyes open.
Once the debts and the kids are taken care of, though, we start getting into the bigger dreams categories. I always list family and friends whose debts and mortgages I would pay off and whose kids I would set up college funds for. Since, let’s face it, that’s never gonna happen without a big lottery win (sorry, guys!), we’ll skate by that one.
I also always list charities I would give big chunks of money to. Breast cancer research, leukemia research, literacy campaigns, animal rescue, child protection in its many forms, a hundred other things. How does that become a valuable dream in real life? Well, now I know what charities and causes I want to volunteer for or give the charitable funds I do have to. It may not come close to what I could achieve if I won the lottery, but I do what I can.
So, now that the family and altruistic endeavors are taken care of, we can get back to the more selfish fun stuff. This is where the vacation home comes in. It doesn’t have to be grand—in fact, if you visit my CW~ Writing Retreats Board on Pinterest, you’ll see I have second-home dreams that range from the verrrrry small, like a garden shed converted to a writing retreat in the backyard, to much bigger, grander homes that more accurately depict a vacation home, rather than just a writing retreat for me personally. It’s a broad spectrum and I’m sure if the day came that we could actually look into something like that, we’d fall somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.
What that particular lottery-dream tells me is that we need to be able to get away once in a while. We don’t need a second home to accomplish that, though, thank goodness! So we’ve just made it a priority to take advantage of opportunities to go on little trips here and there, even if it’s just a day or two visiting extended family. My husband travels extensively for work and builds up points and vouchers from various hotels. We used a combination of points and vouchers to head up north to visit our daughter in college over the Martin Luther King weekend—it was a nice little get away for us, and a great surprise for our daughter, who misses us even more than I thought she would.
The writing retreat is another aspect of the vacation home/getaway dream, and really comes down to the one thing I would absolutely change about our current home if I could (and which will be a definite requirement in any new home we ever have from this point forward): my own office! I want a room, even if it’s a teeny, tiny little room, with a door. Preferably one that locks.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore my family, and I love spending time with them, but there have been issues with setting boundaries between work and family time. For their part, they just honestly don’t understand how seriously difficult it can be to get back into a scene after even a short interruption.
For my part, since my schedule is so erratic, I often end up writing when everyone is home. Since I currently write either in our family room, where the main computer is, or in our dining room, where my laptop lives, and our house has a very open floor plan, I rarely have peace, quiet, and privacy to write. In addition, our three cats loooove to “keep me company” while I’m writing, which includes spreading out on top of all my paperwork and research, eating my storyboards and other writing accouterments, and meowing desperately for attention. If I had a door…
What does all that tell me that I can put to use in real life? I either need to finally sort my schedule out once and for all—not likely, since I’m a lifelong night owl—or maybe I need to start making use of my college-daughter’s room when she’s not home. Which would mean a bit of an overhaul on her room, but it could be a good temporary solution.

Next? Travel! Real travel, not just a quick getaway. This is a tough one, since it definitely requires money, and lots of it, to accomplish, but with the hubby’s hotel points and vouchers and some judicious spending, we can accomplish a lot on a small, local scale. That way, we at least feel like we’re seeing little bits of the world, and it helps us identify yet another goal to save toward, even if building that savings is a long, slow process.
Then there’s the more personal stuff—wardrobe and pampering! My Pinterest style boards are full of clothes, jewelry, shoes, tiaras, makeup, all sorts of very spendy stuff, not to mention the spa treatments. I could just make that another goal to save toward, but that would mean all this daydreaming really comes down to money in one way or another, and that’s not particularly helpful.
Since I struggle with my weight, not to mention body image and confidence, I’ve decided to use this lottery-dream in another way entirely. Let’s say I did actually win the lottery and could afford all those fabulous clothes. Guess what? I don’t have the body that could wear any of them right now. So one goal is to work toward getting that body—all the usual suspects: eat healthier, exercise more, get more sleep, drink more water, etc., etc., etc.
The rest of that dream—the accessories, looking or dressing a certain way, the pampering—all come down to one thing to me, which is self-confidence. Because I often feel bad about my body, I don’t dress it the way I’d really like. Instead, I hide it in baggy clothing, I don’t wear jewelry or makeup, I haven’t worn my heels in months. I could turn that around right now and value myself just as well now, in my day-to-day state, as I daydream I would as a lottery winner. I have at least sixty pieces of pretty costume jewelry. No, it’s not the real stuff, but it sparkles almost as well. I have drawers full of makeup and hair accessories. All it takes is time and effort, and the belief that I’m worth it, to start looking (and feeling) better on a daily basis. I don’t need the celebrity wardrobe for that!
This list doesn’t incorporate every little thing that goes into my lottery-win dream (I’m a writer, after all—it gets pretty elaborate! Jet skis, yachts, horses, all the fun toys people lust after...), but it touches on my personal biggest-ticket items. So for the (free) price of one little daydream, let’s look at the goals and epiphanies that came out of that downtime.
Goal: get out of debt
Epiphany: the “dream house” is a nice dream, but I’m actually really happy right where I am
Goal: get hubby into a new job
Epiphany: life really is too short to spend it in a job you hate, no matter the size of the paycheck. Not that my honey is making gobs of money, but even a million a year wouldn’t be worth the stress he’s dealing with, which spreads to the rest of the family by extension and because we love him. I would much rather we live more simply and get to see him come home with a smile on his face every night.
Goal: safe vehicles for us and the kids
Epiphany: while I might daydream about the hotrod (at one time, the hubby and I discussed matching Mazda Miatas once the kids were out of the house!), when it comes right down to it, I’d rather put the money toward a bigger, safer, maybe less-fun vehicle with good gas mileage and a reliable owner rating. Boring, I know, but that Miata, or if we’re really dreaming big, the Ferrari, are not only not as safe, they tend to come with massively expensive repair bills if anything goes wrong.
Goal: make sure my kids are financially savvy
Epiphany: even if I had the money, I wouldn’t just hand it over and allow them to pursue lives of debauchery and mayhem. I want them to work hard and accomplish their goals on their own merit, not as trust-fund babies.
Goal: charitable giving
Epiphany: there are a lot of ways to help my designated charities aside from giving to them financially. Volunteering is just as valuable.
Goal: get away once in a while!
Epiphany: small local trips can achieve the same feeling as a grand vacation if we go into it with the right attitude. What we really need is just time away together to relax.
Goal: privacy for writing
Epiphany: I can achieve a lot of what I want by changing my habits just a little—either adjusting my schedule or taking advantage of my middle daughter’s temporarily vacated room to get some peace and quiet.
Goal: Real travel, not just the local variety
Epiphany: Local travel can help assuage our desires for now, until we can afford the bigger trips, and this is something we know we want to make a priority to save toward. It’s on the list after paying off our bills and mortgage, along with more aggressive retirement savings. Again, it’s a long, slow process, but we’ll get there. Identifying the goal is the first step.
Goal: a great wardrobe, regular pampering, and always looking like a million bucks (even if I’m really more like ten bucks—for now, anyway!)
Epiphany: there’s a lot I can be doing right now with what I already have to accomplish that million-dollar feeling, from working out and getting control of my weight to making sure my nails are done on a regular basis (which I am perfectly capable of doing myself at home, I’ve just been lazy about it), to wearing makeup, to putting on a few cute accessories when I get dressed.
Pretty valuable stuff for a daydream, right? So the next time someone tells you you’re wasting your time daydreaming, think about all the epiphanies you’ve had and goals you’ve set based on your own daydreams. Then just smile and nod and go on your way, and maybe feel a little bad for that person, because they just don’t get it.
Care to share any of your daydream insights? Put them in the comments!

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