In times of intense stress, like after losing a job or a loved one, survival mode is triggered and we do our best to just keep our head above water. But I’ve spoken with quite a few people who feel like life just happens to them and they are perpetually in survival mode. This could be because they were raised in unstable conditions and never felt what it could be like to be safe to dream big, or because a series of unfortunate events happened that made life feel too out of their control or pointless to bother to shoot for more. Regardless of how you get into survival mode, it’s uncomfortable yet familiar at best, and keeping you from living a life you actually enjoy at worst.
Sometimes nothing is outwardly going on in our lives that could trigger survival mode, but because there used to be something going on, we keep up that lifestyle of responding to life instead of creating a life we’ll truly love. I’m guilty of this at times- I’ve heard myself think that planning exciting things is pointless because anything could happen in the meantime to derail my plans. Other variations you may have heard yourself think or say:
“Just keep your head down and make it through life.”
“You should feel lucky to even have a job.”
“Why rock the boat?”
“Things could be worse.”
“You can do what you want when you retire.”
All of these thoughts and feelings do a great job of keeping us small — the infant version of who we came here to be. If you’re going through a survival-level situation, these thoughts make total sense and sometimes you do just have to make it through something for a little while. But if you feel like it’s been years, or even your whole life of survival mode, and you’re technically not experiencing an emergency…. it may be time to train yourself to dream a little. To embrace your birthright as a creator. Just. A. Little. Just like learning any skill, learning to create your life will start small and get bigger and more daring with experience.
If you don’t know what to dream, think of what isn’t working about your life right now. What would be the opposite of that? Start there. Let’s pretend you have some control over things. If you allowed something to change in your life, what would be a really nice thing to change? If energy shifted in one area of your life and just seemed to start flowing better, in what area would you like that to happen?
Most things we want to be, do, or have are within the realm of possibility. But we shoot ourselves down before we can even start to break our dreams into manageable steps, or are so accustomed to not having good things happen to us that we simply stop dreaming. Sometimes I see stuck energy like a bottleneck of creative resources that are simply getting stuck in old beliefs or fears that aren’t even our own. A baby step to take might be to imagine a switch, a bottle opener, or a dam breaking that allows energy or ideas to flow safely out into the world.
It’s worth noting that creating a life you love doesn’t have to mean creating vision boards or mission statements or SMART goals (although I love all those things and they have their place). Sometimes it means being able to just be and enjoy life without fear or constant to-do lists of obligations. It could mean allowing yourself to be, do or have something that you know would increase your joy, like allowing yourself to live alone after a long period with roommates. Something bigger than a bubble bath and Netflix, as nice as that is. I like the word “allow,” because it doesn’t force something into your life; it goes with the flow of what you already know on some level would work better for you.
There’s a game called “Have you heard about (your name)?” that can be really fun to play, even just by yourself. Basically you gossip your own dreams about yourself as though they are already happening, to get used to the idea that a new version of your life is possible. I’ll go first. “Have you heard about Gracie? She bought a houseboat off the coast of Valencia and spends every January there. Her business is so successful that her waiting list is a year long. And she’s in perfect health!” Your own version of this could be less dramatic, but the idea is simply to tell yourself (or have a friend tell you) a new story about you. A story that helps you see or allow a life you might really enjoy. Sometimes just hearing a new story about yourself can help unclog old beliefs that stop you from what’s possible.
Life can be overwhelming and sometimes we simply shut down. That’s fair. But if you’re tired of feeling like you operate at less than what’s possible, it is okay to allow a new story about your life to form. Let’s try something else and dream a little dream.