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Stop Your Side Project From Getting Dream-Blocked

My little side project here at Creatro had been moving along reasonably well. I was building up some writing habits and publishing blog posts at least once a week, but then in June I hit a block. I felt unconfident about my writing and it led to me feeling unable to write.

This happened because my ideal of what I should be writing kept ratcheting up. At first, I had a goal to write 1,000 word posts, then it was 1,500, then I was aiming for 2,000. I kept adding in all these must-have components to the writing as well, such as referencing original research, aiming for a specific format, and a number of stylistic goals. All this was connected to a larger vision of becoming a certain type of business writer.

It worked for awhile, I made some improvements, but at some point my dreams were too far from my reality of where I was at with my writing process and skills—there was a disconnect. It felt as though I was gliding down a wire, supported in the air, moving along smooth and fast, starting to see myself as a writing ninja, and then suddenly someone cut the wire. My confidence plummeted and my output stopped.

Has this happened to you? Have you been making progress toward your dream; then suddenly fell? If so, have you analyzed why this happened? Have you outlined how you’ll avoid this in the future?

The Problem With Big Dreams

You have big dreams.

You want to set your creativity ablaze, with polished output sprouting from your hands with energy that can rival Picasso. You want your side project to shake up your niche, make a name for yourself, make connections with the big dogs, and open up massive business opportunities for you.

Whatever your dreams are, they are unique to you. They are likely massively important to you as well. But those dreams, the big ones, which you might be disguising as goals, are really just roadblocks to your forward progress.

A new side project is a fragile thing, any fresh venture is. You’re fragile in this new pursuit as well. You’re learning lot’s of new things and are building a number of exciting, creative business habits. Any one of these new actions, especially early on, could easily lead to you missing the mark and stumbling. In fact, it will.

To build any new habit requires change. Change will never go the way you’ve imagined. No one does anything new that is worthwhile and doesn’t make a series of mistakes. If you have rigid goals, when you miss the mark, this can lead to a downward spiral of negative thoughts.

Your big dreams can feel as though they are slipping from your grasp. Fear sets in. This fear leads to inaction and for all too many side project this is the point where they die an untimely death.

The problem isn’t some mistake you made; the problem is the fantasy, that ideal you’ve set in your mind.

Our Fantasies Run Amok

Our fantasies, if given the opportunity, will take over. Imagination is a powerful force. It’s not easy to keep in check.

Instead of being present in our projects, focused on the task at hand, and completely absorbed int the creative moment, we instead live in a potential future. Each action you take, can’t readily flourish, if you’re constantly placing it into some kind of ideal future scenario—comparing and contrasting each creative step you take against what you’ve set up as the ideal.

Similarly, our minds quickly run to the past and negatively pick apart our progress, comparing it to some kind of ideal we’ve set for ourselves. Do you look at your mistakes, your failures, and feel depressed? Do they get you down and hinder your inspiration to create today?

By not embracing where your really are, you’re current reality, your current abilities, and owning that, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

How to Moderate Your Dreams

As with most things, dreams are not inherently bad.

If we drink one cup of wine a day, it’s good for us, but opening that bottle at breakfast will likely lead to overdoing it—and passing out in a hammock. Even healthy habits can hurt you if you don’t moderate them. One of my friends in high school ran cross-country track. He ran everywhere, hundreds of miles each month, then he blew out his knees and could no longer run; he overdid it.

Dreams are fine in moderation. Having a goal and reaching toward it is helpful to many creative business owners. A lofty ideal can push us to try things we might otherwise have never attempted. But getting too locked into this fantasy, and feeling bad when you’re not hitting it, isn’t helpful. Instead you’ll benefit from a minimalist approach to dreaming:

  1. Put your dreams into a realistic context. This is the first step toward moderating your dreams. If your dreams are quite far from where you are today, and negatively hindering your ability to take action, then remind yourself that it’s okay to stumble forward. Make mistakes; take a step forward, and a step back, then a few more steps forward, and fall over, get back up, and do it again; that’s on target with the growth mindset of learning.
  2. Go on a dream diet. As with dieting with food, limiting your intake, and setting some restrictions are helpful. With going on a diet with your dreams, your intent is to keep your fantasies in check. Either let them wash over you and fade away or purposefully put them on hold. Try sprinting for a week with all your fantasies left on the sidelines.
  3. Embrace the moment. The opposite of living in your head, is to live in the moment, right now. The term for it is mindfulness. Work on being present in your actions, focused on the task at hand, and working with a playfully experimental attitude. Avoid, thoughts of, and especially comparisons to your fantastic ideals.

Our culture has a wonky concept of creativity. Yah, imagination is beautiful, fancy is fun, and dreams can be a powerful force, but the idea that they should be in the driver seat all the time is ridiculous.

Put Your Dreams in a Box

It’s quite hard to not let our dreams take over our consciousness, to not slip into bad feelings about the past, or concerns of the future. It’s hard to put our dreams to the side, so we can focus on playfully experimenting in our creative projects.

It wasn’t until I put my expectations on hold, and focused on the actions I am able to take, the writing that does fit my current abilities, that I started making progress again with my side project. My creative output surged forth again, and now from a more authentic place within me.

You can put your goals on hold and focus on today. Experiment with mindfulness—with putting your dreams in a box and locking them for a few days. See where it takes you.

  • Samantha

    Another great article Sean! It’s so easy to become distracted by our dreams and expectations that we lose focus on the joy of creating in the present. I find that my best artwork was created while I focused ‘ in the moment’ and I became playful with my decision making. Mindfulness, like you mentioned, is important to practise. :)

    • Sean Hodge

      Hey Samantha, yah it’s kinda weird that mindfulness is something that needs to be practiced. I’d think it would come naturally.

      It’s actually hard to do at first, to not let concerns and distractions take over the time we have for focusing on our creative project, but with daily practice it does start to feel more natural and get easier.

      Great to hear you’re playfully practicing mindfulness when working on your art.