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One of the greatest psychological downfalls in the field of human potential is the unrealistic expectation we put on ourselves and others in terms of how we think life should be. It is the biggest factor that holds people back from fulfilling their potential in any area of life, whether it be their career, relationships, finances, health, or mental wellbeing.
This “fantasy thinking,” as I like to call it, is where we compare our reality with a fantasy, and because a fantasy only includes the “good” or “positive” aspects of what we’re seeking, we are doomed from the start.
For example, people tend to fantasise about the upsides of having great wealth but neglect to consider all the hard work and challenges involved in generating it. A fantasy doesn’t and cannot exist in real life because it exists only in our mind, where we mentally compile different bits of “good” elements to make up the fantasy and fix our attention on them. In doing so, however, we’re only focusing on one side of the coin: the good side.
But reality doesn’t work like that. Reality always includes both sides of the coin. We have good times and bad, successes and challenges, wins and losses, ease and difficulty, advantages and disadvantages, benefits and drawbacks, pleasure and pain.
As the Buddha said, “trying to avoid the unavoidable and trying to obtain the unobtainable is the source of suffering.” A fantasy, the illusion of a one-sided “all positive” life, is what holds people back and keeps them stuck in a state of procrastination and dissatisfaction. The irony is that it’s the attachment to this illusion, seeking success without failure, pleasure without pain, benefit without drawback, that prevents people from achieving their deepest potential and living their dreams. This truth is so powerful that at first it is hard to believe.
But I assure you that if you stop focusing on your fantasies and start appreciating your reality, you will dramatically increase your potential to achieve your dreams.
Our greatest suffering occurs when we compare the perceived downsides of our reality to the perceived upsides of a fantasy. So, for example, we might compare the worst parts of a current relationship with the best parts of being single. Or worse, we compare the downsides of our current relationship to the best qualities (upsides) from a range of past relationships, which, of course, no real person could ever measure up to. We also do it with our work, where we compare the parts we hate to the highlight of doing something else. We do it with our health, our finances, and nearly every area of life.
Social Media is another classic example where it’s easy to fall victim to comparing the downsides of our reality to the one-sided highlight reel of other people’s lives. People rarely ever show the uninteresting or dissatisfying aspects of their life on social media, which often results in false comparisons and unrealistic expectations for how people think life should be.
And every time we do it, we create an imbalanced perception that leads to feeling unfulfilled and dissatisfied with what we have. Therefore, broadening our awareness to see the downside or “negative” aspects of any fantasy and learning to see the balance or “whole picture” in every situation, goal, and dream are the keys to self-mastery.
Wisdom Is Seeing the Balance in All Things
Let’s look at someone who is tired of their corporate job and has decided to jump ship and start their own business. At the beginning, they are super excited and can’t wait to get going! They fantasise about all the money they’re going to make, how much more flexible their lifestyle will be, the respect and admiration they will earn from their peers, and how much more accomplished they will feel for making it happen. At this point, the focus is only on the upsides of running their own business, and it seems so much better when comparing it to all the downsides of their corporate job.
Then, eventually, when they get going, they inevitably find they are putting a lot more time in their business than they initially expected. They discover unexpected gaps in their skill set and knowledge, come face to face with all the tedious and required behind-the-scenes administration work, and realise no steady income is coming in, so financial uncertainty starts to creep in.
Now, they find themselves comparing the downsides of their new business venture to the upsides of their old job: the stable income it offered, the fixed working hours, being able to switch off at 5 o’clock and leave their worries at the office. Most of all, there was someone else to fall back on when they came across challenges. They wonder if they’ve made the wrong decision.
And this is why 95% of new businesses fail, because the owners haven’t adequately taken into account the whole picture (positives and negatives) of what’s going to be required to make the business successful. Instead, they continually find themselves facing challenges until they wake up from their fantasy and return to reality, where they can be centred. In this centred, grounded position, they realise the challenges they face are in fact necessary to help them succeed.
The challenges are not put in their path to stop them; rather, they are put there to reveal where there is room to grow and what the next stage of evolution is to entail.
The centred business owners are prepared to endure the challenges and not just celebrate the successes. They are prepared to face their weaknesses and not just their strengths, to wait for long-term reward rather than short-term gain. Therefore, success is certain for these individuals who have a balanced view of what it takes to succeed. For the fantasy seeker, success will elude them so long as they maintain their unrealistic expectations of how they think reality should be.
Any time we expect to get a positive or an upside without any sort of negative or downside, we are setting ourselves up for suffering. The two are inseparable as they both make up the whole. This applies to our mental wellbeing, our relationships, our career, our finances, our health, and life in general. Wisdom is seeing that success requires us to handle both sides of the coin.
About the Author
Byron Sakha is a qualified Master Coach, Speaker, and Trainer who works with individuals and businesses to help them remove the roadblocks that are holding them back from achieving their highest vision of success. He specialises in a number of disciplines, including leadership, sales, business development, personal empowerment, relationships, health, and wellbeing. Byron’s mission is to inspire and empower his clients by providing the tools and strategies for creating positive, lasting change. For more content from Byron, follow him on Instagram.