January is goal setting time. If you doubt me, study the covers of almost all the major magazines. This is the time of year to start on that body you’ve always dreamed of so you will look fabulous living in your stylish house that is so organized it’s virtually self-cleaning.Then it will be time to start on the perfect wardrobe for spring and summer. It all sounds so damn good, every January, before it starts to crumble, sometime in early February.
Much of what they are selling (and we crave) is fantasy, some is dreaming, very few are goals–and that accounts for the massive failure rate.
There was a segment on Good Morning America this week about a new diet that was guaranteed to zap your belly fat, specifically. It made me cringe (and crave avocados, because it was all about avocados). Following this diet definitely wouldn’t hurt anyone. The suggested foods were all healthy and could help with weight loss. Where I saw it as dangerous was that it continued to foster the fantasy that we can change the general shape of our bodies with the right diet and exercise. And this idea is sold to us as a goal, something that we can reach if we just try hard enough.
After years of working at Weight Watchers and watching people shrink before my eyes I can tell you that when you lose weight you get a smaller version of what you already have. If you come from a family of women with big hips, or butts, or bellies, or boobs, diet and exercise cannot change this any more than it can change your height or eye color.
According to Loretta Graziano Breuning, PhD, author of “Meet Your Happy Chemicals”, we buy into the fantasies for a reason, the rush. Just anticipating a joyful event releases dopamine in your brain, so it feels great to think about how we are going to feel when we have a movie-star body. It’s actually a high. This high would be a good thing, if that which we are fantasizing about was even a possibility. When it is an unattainable goal it guarantees a swim in a pool of the depressing brain chemicals, or the February feeling of I suck because I didn’t do what I planned to do (which is a really sucky feeling.)
Now for the good news (and some of that dopamine). Dreams and goals can produce the same high, but you have a much better chance of actually getting to the place where you get a flood of happy brain chemicals on a more consistent basis.
Dreams (by my own definition) are longer term, loftier goals, but with in the realm of possibility. I would love to travel Europe for a summer someday. Right now my budget and lifestyle make this impossible, but Europe will still be there when my kids are off to college and if I work at it I might have the money to do this. I anticipate a summer filled with happiness and doing that gives me a wonderful endorphin rush now. My definition of a goal would be a short-term, somewhat easily achievable task. My goal today is to produce a quality blog post. I get a lot of joy from doing this and part of that is knowing I have the means to accomplish it and I’ve pulled it off before.
The other good news is that fantasyland does have a place in our lives. Getting a happy high from thinking about living in a castle with Prince Smouldering-Hot or a penthouse with a billionaire is anything but wasted time. Fantasies are a window to your soul, a look at the ideas that fuel you. There are reasons you fantasize about one scenario versus another and those reasons are the key to finding some dreams and goals that can also make you very happy. If you don’t allow yourself to take those flights of fancy, you miss out on the clues. There is also nothing unhealthy or wrong with taking a dip in the happy pool just for the fun of it. Knowing it’s unrealistic can make it so much more fun and really free your mind to get creative.
Now for the big wrap up…I tie all this into reading…cause that’s what I do. It’s not easy to go from cleaning the bathrooms to movie-star goddess in our heads. We don’t often allow ourselves time to fantasize. And often we don’t have a clue how to find all the clues hidden in our souls. They need a spark. Enter the novel. Someone else’s fantasy, expertly told, can be that spark. Creativity isn’t born in a vacuum, it is always sparked by an idea from someone else. Novels allow us to live other lives in our heads, try them out, and enjoy experiencing the feelings of the characters. They can take you to places that don’t really exist, or warm-fuzzy places in your own memories.
If I’ve sold you on the idea of reading to get to your happy place, let me throw another your way. Buy a fantasy today…(on sale!)
click here to go to Amazon and get in on the sale: