A friend of mine recently confided that she hasn’t been able to do the artistic work that fills her spirit because of all the pressing commitments she has to meet.

The obstacles to spending time in her studio are many and real: her son needs special attention, bills have to be paid, boxes unpacked, attorneys met with—the list is long. Just hearing it almost convinced me that it would be impossible for her to spend time with her art until the proverbial dust settled.

Almost. Because I could hear myself in her words: focusing so intently on the obstacles to what I want that I begin to stop wanting. And I lose the energy and motivation that comes from letting myself imagine what I really want.

Growing up, I got brownie points for acting adult, which meant “being realistic,” i.e., shaping my wants and desires to fit what looked possible within obvious constraints. Don’t want too much because that’s greedy and besides there are kids starving in Africa.

But wanting a lot and thinking you have to have all of it are two separate processes.

I LOVE root beer floats. They’re on my dream list of “I love and I want.” Just thinking about them stimulates memories of hot summer afternoons, cool waters and endless hours at the beach. Eating a float, though, would make me sick, so these days I don’t have to have them even if they are on my dream list.

Wishing and wanting tap our imaginations. Deciding we have to have something, or even pursue it, is a choice.

Nobody told me that I could dream big without having to squash my desires into a right-sized package.

The process of dreaming big and imagining what we want stokes our energy and our motivation so we can then proceed with the process of discerning what’s most important to us, setting goals, and pursuing them.  With the infusion of energy we tap when we get in touch with our dreams, we can tackle the obstacles that we know we’ll find along the way.

Over the years I’ve coached people who have squished their desires down so tight that they can’t even say what they want. Faced with constraints that life presented them, they forfeited the right to dream big.

Here’s the real news: dreaming big should be everybody’s right and everybody should do it!

An exercise to uncover your wants and wishes

This exercise is deceptively simple (and it can be confronting.) It’s best done in pairs with a very supportive partner, although I’ve also done it by myself.
Instructions: Pick a time to do this when you are feeling relaxed, unhurried, and can enjoy yourself. Once you get going, it’s hugely fun. Your partner (or a supportive part of you) will start the exercise by asking:

“What do you want?”

And off you will go, listing everything you can think of that you want. Give yourself full permission to want WHATEVER you want without censure. Your listener won’t comment, except to encourage you, while she or he writes down everything you say.

When you feel like you’ve run out of items, your listener will ask:

“Is there more? What do you really want?”

And off you go again dreaming big. Make your list long. Go for one hundred items.

It’s your list. Want anything you want. Tell the politically correct critic sitting on your shoulder to take a hike. You haven’t lost your values and commitments. You’re just giving yourself a little time off for exploring your desires.

  • World peace
  • A 1963 Jaguar XKE roadster
  • A set of Snap-on tools
  • A truce in Alleppo
  • A date with Johnny Depp
  • Two weeks in Bali
  • Lunch with Meryl Streep
  • The end of suffering
  • Manolo Blanhik shoes
  • Time alone

After your first dozens of wants, the list may change unexpectedly. Maybe you’ll experience a deeper set of wants for ending suffering in the world, or remember that you really wanted a tent.

Keep going until you’ve emptied out everything you can think of. And have fun!!! More is possible than you can possibly know..

When you’ve finished, give the list a chance to sit. Then as you begin to review it, you can make choices. You can bring your wonderful discernment and think about what’s underneath some of your desires, consider outcomes you really want, identify the obstacles, and choose what wants you might shape into goals.

Because now you’ll be able to tap that big pot of energy you’ve surfaced as you bring that big, bold, tender, ferocious, loving and sometimes lusty you into what you do.

Just try it and let me know what you discover. And you may find a way to take five minutes in the studio or capture a tiny piece of your dreams!