How to keep a vision alive

Change is hard. When we are striving towards big goals, whether personal or creative, it can feel like an uphill struggle. In the short term, it can be difficult to see change taking place. And even when we do see the difference, the results can be fragile. There are several reasons why making big shifts in life can come to a halt or even slip backwards.

Despite the adage that habits take only 60–70 days to establish, we all know that that they can disappear in a much shorter time. We can wipe out the habit of good nutrition in one holiday or the ritual of daily yoga during a minor illness. Moreover, the fact of having been successful can make us complacent. After the initial euphoria we find ourselves on a plateau, feeling stuck.

How do we keep the vision alive? What is it that allows passion to thrive and grow rather than wither?

Part of the answer lies in knowing how the vision has become dimmed in the first place and there are plenty of possible reasons.

Losing the vision

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1. The quest was never yours

Sometimes we embark on huge projects without the goal ever having been clear. This can be because we’ve never listened to ourselves. It can be because we’ve spent a lifetime picking goals that will please others or that seem the most ‘common sense’.

If you’ve made progress but feel nothing but boredom or apathy, it’s likely you’ve put yourself on someone else’s path. It’s time to start treating yourself with the respect you think others deserve. To stay vital, the vision has to be your own.

2. You’ve been surviving on willpower, not motivation

Willpower is finite and fickle. Sometimes we need it and summoning resolve is essential. But when we live on it, we’re likely to burn out. Motivation is something completely different. If you don’t desire sugary food, it isn’t hard to resist. But if all you want is that doughnut then the only way to refuse it is with willpower. Sooner or later, willpower won’t be enough. You’ll make a deal with yourself and five doughnuts later despise yourself.

When you begin to take yourself seriously this will change. When you take the space to think about the person you want to be and the life you want to lead, the focus shifts from willpower to intrinsic motivation.

3. Having has stifled doing and being

If you did set out with your own quest and made it work because of your intrinsic motivation, you can still find the vision dulling. One reason is that succeeding can make us stop developing. We stop to admire the view and enjoy the rewards and some while later realise we’ve been standing still for a long time.

Success is double-edged. As soon as we start to think we’ve ‘made it’, we’re lost. And when the benefits of success (what we ‘have’ as a result) loom larger than the behaviour that got us here or the person we needed to be to make such progress, we’re lost.

These are the times when you need to pause and remind yourself that process is more important than outcomes. These are the times when you need to reappraise the person you desire to be and how such a person would act in the world.

Deep achievement isn’t about having more. Don’t let the lure of success poison the creativity that ignited your initial vision. There is always more to learn, more to be be.

4. The quest is too much for one person

Not all quests are solo expeditions. And even those that are might have a team in the background providing the lifeline of support. You don’t have to do it all yourself. It’s good to ask for help and make connections.

Re-igniting the vision

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Whatever the reason for sometimes running out of steam, there is always the chance to start again.

1. Reconnect with or create your vision

If the vision was never yours in the first place, now is the time to create your own quest. We can create other stories. In the same way, we can imagine ourselves different, make daily changes until we are different. We don’t have to believe we have a mission planted deep in our souls for us to discover meaning. We can create it.

I’ve recently been reconnecting with the vision I had for Cinnamon Press. Keeping an independent press afloat for over twelve years is quite a feat. In the determination to do that, I’d lost touch with the motivation to publish only the books that delighted me. The push to survive and do ‘what works’ meant adding more and more to the workload until it reached unmanageable proportions.

We were succeeding but the spark had gone.

Over the last six months, reviewing the vision has brought new vigour to the press. The smaller list and more focussed literary competitions and courses are once again motivating.

2. Value consistency

Quests never end. We get to where we thought we were going and find another peak not far ahead, and then another. The death of vision is thinking we’ve arrived.

I see this with writing all the time. A writer with tens of excellent books behind them who still hones his craft and pushes his boundaries is thrilling to work with. Not so a writer who tells you she’s learned all she needs and is going to keep on churning out the same type of work.

In the film Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s character tells ‘Annie’ that a relationship is like a shark. If it doesn’t keep moving the shark dies. What they have on their hands, he says, is a dead shark. It’s not only true of relationships. Any aspect of your life or creativity can stagnate. When that happens, what you have on your hands is a dead shark.

Keep moving. Small consistent steps are all it takes.

3. Say no more often

If you have a vision not everything you’re asked to do will fit with it. By all means be generous, be a giver, but continue to make choices. In Essentialism, Greg McKeown comments that:

You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.

Whatever comes along, whether it’s a pay increase or a distraction, you need to ask whether it is in accord with your vision. If the answer is no, don’t say yes for the sake of short-term gain. Don’t say yes to appease someone.

Of course there are times when we say yes to something we’re unsure of because we want to try something new or test an idea. Not everything we do fills us with enthusiasm at the outset (losing weight, starting new form of exercise; learning a new skill). But saying yes to these expands us and we can give something a try and review.

But we generally know from the outset when something is a bad fit. When your heart is sinking at the same time as you are saying ‘yes’ then you know it’s the wrong way to go.

4. Fuel desire with clarity

The clearer your vision the more you feel motivated. Ambiguity leads nowhere. Even if all you know is what the next step should be you will be more likely to stay focused and feel the passion. If your ideas for creativity or career or fitness seem huge and amorphous, concentrate on what would move you forward now. One clear step will lead to the next …

Who needs a vision?

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There’s no compulsion to go through life imagining a vision, honing a craft, setting out the next quest. Many people drift through life and they’re not all miserable. They may, however, be asleep.

That isn’t how I want to live.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with our one wild and precious life?

demands poet Mary Oliver.

If that question resonates with you, then creating and sustaining your quest is unlikely to let you go.

Enjoy keeping your vision alive.

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