As long as I can remember, I desired to have a thin midsection. I can recall being a young girl and picking up on messages from the women in my life that thin equaled beautiful, happy, successful, in-control and desirable. The equation seemed simple, even to an eight-year-old. If you want to live a terrific life, you could accomplish this by being thin. There was a significant problem with this equation, however. My body was not then, nor is it now, meant to be thin. I am built solid. My body does not resemble the women in magazines or on popular television shows or movies. I recall sucking in my tummy regularly. For most teenage girls, shopping is a fun social event. To me, shopping was misery. I only selected black or “flattering” articles of clothing that would fool others into thinking I was thinner than I was.
The result of wishing as an adolescent led to being obsessed. I would constantly compare my flawed body (according to cultural standards of beauty) to those around me. Of course, I could go on about the ideals of thinness and even how body image distortions impact women over a life span (perhaps future article topics), but my intention here is to discourage the process of wishing.
Wishing pulls us in the opposite direction of gratitude. While I was wishing for a different body, I was also narrow-mindedly not being grateful for all that my body offered me. My lens focused on the perceived problem areas of my body that were aesthetic only, rather than pausing on the fact that I have been born with a pretty easy life given my body is healthy and functional overall. I can: run, breathe, see, and hear. Typical in most regards, but extraordinary if looking through a lens of gratitude.
Wishing, Dreaming, Goalsetting
There is a significant and meaningful difference between wishing, dreaming and goal setting. Understanding the difference will help you to decide which to engage in and which to stop pursuing. From childhood on, we are encouraged to wish. We look to the stars, blow dandelion fuzz, battle over a chicken bone and blow our birthday candles. These common activities reinforce and normalize the process of wishing without critically thinking about how this shapes the endeavor. A wish is magical, right? It simply happens without effort, planning or work.
Quite simply, a wish focuses our sights on a comparative pattern of thinking whereby the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. We are taught to long for what we don’t have and hope that it may come true one day. Being hopeful is soothing and healthy. The core of hopefulness is about not giving up, but hope in the context of wishing is simply waiting for something different to happen.
Dreaming is the process of constructing what we would want our future to hold. As a form of visioning, dreaming can help to keep us motivated and moving in the right direction. Let’s compare wishing to dreaming when it comes to a college education. If attending Harvard University is something a teenager wishes, it may mean she thinks it would be super cool, but is not buckling down and planning for what it is going to take to make it a reality. When in comparison, a freshman in high school who dreams of attending Harvard is likely involved in extra-curricular activities such as National Honor Society. She has diverse interest areas within and outside of school and of course, studying hard to get good grades and test scores. Dreaming is good, productive and meaningful.
Dreaming typically includes a 2 step process of first envisioning the end result (having a second home on a Caribbean island sounds pretty fantastic) and next putting the wheels in motion. The dreamer works backward and begins to construct a plan for how the end result can actually come to fruition. In fact, dreaming that only includes the first step of envisioning the outcome without the plan is wishing.
The final process I would like to leave you with is goal-setting. As you might imagine, the best combination is dreaming and goal-setting.
They are best buds and work very well together to enhance a person’s life. Healthy goal-setting involves elements of being realistic, allowing for contingencies, allocating resources appropriately and thinking critically about what it is going to take to get from point A to point B. Goal-setting is the meat and potatoes of the dreaming process. It is where the rubber meets the road. Dreaming is what you see on the horizon and where you are driving toward. In comparison, wishing is looking in the same direction, but standing still and having no forward movement. It is worth mentioning that wishing can evolve into dreaming and then incorporate goal-setting.
Certainly, some of this boils down to semantics, but doesn’t everything? Differentiating and defining these three concepts will hopefully assist you in assessing what you are doing and how you are thinking. If you are dreaming, action needs to accompany the process. If you are wishing, be aware that it has the possibility of leaving you worse off than when you started. Wishing can leave us feeling not in control and at the mercy of fate.
In wrapping this up, I will revisit the initial wish that I had as an adolescent and into early adulthood of being thin. I have retired this wish through a good deal of self-analysis and reflection. I continue to remind myself of its’ retirement. However, it is very deeply embedded in my way of seeing the world (really hate admitting this). Seems funny to admit that I have to fight the process of wishing, which becomes toxic for me. Instead, now I actively dream of being active and living in my body in a loving and appreciative way. My vision is to see myself smiling and having fun in my body, just as it is. The dream is to live freely which is more emotionally-based and the wish was to live thin, assuming this would lead to being free, which it most certainly did not.
It’s not too late to look back at your dreams or wishes with the help of Perspectives Therapy Services.
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