March 9th 2012 will be the last day I work 9-5 in an office environment. Less than two weeks after that I will be leaving the UK to embark on a round the world trip which has no set end date and during which I will set up an online location independent business based around this blog.

Working for myself and travelling around the world have been dreams of mine for as long as I can remember and my recent announcement to leave my job and make this dream a reality has provoked a variety of reactions from friends, family and colleagues.

I’ve had positive reactions, I have heard the words ‘jealous’, ‘inspiring’ and ‘brave’ and there have been naysayers. All in all, noticing how people have reacted to my news has inspired me to write a post detailing the steps I’ve taken to make my dream a reality.

1.  Identify your dreams

If they are not already blindingly obvious, as a first step I’d seek to distinguish between your dreams and your fantasies. For me dreams are those ideas and desires that stand the test of time. For me ‘travel the world’ is one such example. It’s been there for as long as I can remember, it never goes away and I know I won’t rest until I’ve done it.

Climbing Everest on the other hand is an example of a fantasy rather than a dream, a nice to have rather than an essential. Another indicator for me is what I call the deathbed test, try asking yourself if it is something you will regret not doing or trying to do when you are in your dying moments. It may sound a little morbid but personally I find this a really powerful motivator.

2.  Picture your dreams in HD

I nearly wrote Technicolor there but I think perhaps times have moved on! It’s really important to clearly visualize your dreams. Really think about what life would be like if they were more than just dreams, how would you feel if they were your reality? Where would you live? What would you be doing? Who would you spend time with?

I tend to have very visual representations of my dreams so that a whole dream can be captured in a simple image. Two images I’m seeing a lot recently is one of me getting up for an early morning surf somewhere in Indonesia and then sitting in a beachside café working on a new business idea or blog post. They are not super detailed but I rarely think of my trip without seeing one or both of those images.

3.  Identify what’s stopping you

I’d suggest making a list of all the reasons that you haven’t already achieved your dream or why you’re not working proactively to make it happen. Is it financial constraints? Fears? Current commitments? Lack of time or skills? Write them all down (even the ones that you know deep down are just excuses).

I sometimes hear people use life as an excuse for not living their dreams and hear comments like “I couldn’t do that because I have a mortgage” or “because I’m too old”. It’s really important to unpick reasons like this. Houses can be sold or rented out and assumptions like ‘I’m too old” should be seriously questioned. Reasons like this are easy to roll off the tongue but can rarely be justified when examined a little closer.

4.  Have a word with yourself

Armed with your high definition dreams, your desire to avoid deathbed regret and your list of reasons for not taking action, now it’s time to have a serious conversation with yourself. Often the easiest person to fool is our self, especially if there is fear involved. If we want to avoid facing something then more often than not we’ll be complicit in and even actively encourage a course of denial.

The problem with denial is that once you’re in it, it can be so easy to stay there, and it’s when we’re in denial that life happens without us being truly present in it. I suggest really looking at your list of reasons and trying to take a different approach. Perhaps try telling yourself you have to make this dream a reality or there will be serious consequences (deathbed regret is not to be sniffed at) and taking each reason in turn, ask yourself why it’s on your list and if it remains on the list then figure out a way around it. Nine times out of ten there is always a way around it.

5.  Face your fears

Often the biggest obstacle to progress in life is fear. I have let fear stop me doing things that I want to do for years and it’s only recently, when I realised that this was the case, that I made it my mission in life to face those fears and remove the limits I personally was imposing on my life and my dreams. Facing fears is a whole subject in itself so I’d encourage you to read a post I wrote on the subject called ‘Why it’s important to look under your bed’ for more on this.

6.  Stop dreaming

I’d suggest that in order for dreams to become a reality it’s important to reframe them as tangible and achievable goals. Only then do we start to take responsibility for making them happen. Instead of saying wouldn’t it be nice if…we can start to say won’t it be nice when. It’s a subtle but powerful distinction.

7. Be accountable to yourself

I think everyone has dreams but the shame is that some people leave it at that and resign themselves to never seeing them come true. The main difference I’ve noticed between the people who seem to be living their dreams and those who seem to be resigned to never achieving theirs, is as simple as accountability.

For your dreams to come true you have to take personal responsibility for making them happen and it’s important that you are accountable, not to those around you but to yourself. I spent far too long living my life according to other people’s expectations and it’s only when I started living my life according to my own expectations did I really start to feel like I was living the life I’d always wanted to.

8.  Don’t wait for tomorrow 

Often people talk about their dreams as something that they will get to at some point in the future but the problem is that their dreams remain in the future forever.

If you have a dream that one day you will travel the world let’s say, but you never take any proactive steps to make it happen then it will simply remain a dream. I tend to work my way backwards from the dream and set goals and milestones along the way. In planning to take my forthcoming trip, I identified how much money I would need to survive for a year without working, then I worked out how long it would take to save that up and then worked out what date I’d therefore be able to hand my notice in. This provided me with all the steps I needed to make my dream a reality. Then all I had to do was take each one. I put the wheels in motion on this dream over two years ago, which might seem like a long time but had I not taken those first steps, I’d be no closer to realising my dream today.

Start. Do not delay. Life is short. Take the necessary steps to achieving your dreams and don’t look back. Having a goal which you’ve made clear and one for which you’ve worked out the steps to get to is extremely motivating. I find having something to work towards gives my every day a real purpose.

9.  Ignore the naysayers

When you start to follow your dreams, prepare yourself for naysayers, people who will try to put your ideas and plans down and even go as far as tell you that you’re not capable of achieving them. I think there are numerous reasons that people do this and regardless of what those reasons are, it’s important not to get beaten down by negative comments. When I’m faced with such people, I try to feel compassion for the person and then carry on regardless. What I don’t do is give weight to their fears and doubts about my plans, that’s because I have enough of my own to contend with without taking on other peoples. If there are risks involved in my plans, I trust myself enough to know that I have evaluated them and weighed up the pros and cons of my approach, before choosing to proceed.

10.  Live the dream

If you follow these steps, I firmly believe that one day your dream will come true and when it does the only thing left to do is enjoy it!

Essentially, all I’ve described in these steps is the approach I take to achieving goals. For me a dream without a plan is just a fantasy and a dream with a plan is a goal to be achieved.

Are your dreams in danger of just being fantasies? Are you allowing fear to stop you living the life you truly desire? Do you have any tips or steps to add to my list? If so I’d love to here from you.

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