How Not to Follow Your Dreams

In this month’s guest post from Joely Black of In These Heels? she explores the best ways to never accomplish anything.

Augapfel on Flickr.comA few years ago, I had a friend who was a hairdresser. We used to get together for chats, and I used to talk about what I wanted to do with my life, my dreams and ambitions. One day, she brought me one of those office posters that I’ve seen up in various places where I’ve worked.

It was entitled “How Not To Follow Your Dreams.”

It recommended that it was very important not to have any idea what you wanted in life, and if you did, to avoid it as much as possible. It was crucial never to mention to anybody what you were doing. It was best to stick to the safe road, in a job where you could never get any fulfilment and to avoid all chance of promotion.

But it missed out on one really crucial thing. The most important means to avoid your dreams.

Believe that there’s no way you could ever do it.

Think small. That’s how you make sure there’s no chance you’ll ever get anywhere near those damned dreams. Remind yourself every day that although you could go out there and change your life, well, it might take a bit of effort and there’s a risk there.

You want to make sure you keep reminding yourself of all the people you’ve never heard of that you’re sure have failed at things. Keep telling yourself that everything you’ve done that showed an ounce of courage or power was just a fluke.

Buy a really, really big TV, and spend all your evenings watching it. It’s important to avoid anything inspirational, informative or remotely educational when doing this. Make sure you watch a lot of the news. The news is great for reminding you what an awful place the world is and nothing is really worth doing.

It helps if you can keep reminding yourself of all the terrible things that might happen if you even consider the possibility of living your dreams. What if you screw it up? What if your friends start hating you for doing something different with your life? What if it gets in the way of all that vital TV watching time?

I was reminded of the reason why it’s important to think differently about yourself if you want to do anything big with your life this week. I’d been practising the fine art of thinking small.

In a very, very tough situation, with my back against the wall, I couldn’t see a way out. I went to friends for advice and support. One of my friends wrote back to me and told me off. She reminded me that I don’t need advice from other people.

What I need, more than anything else, is help to start thinking better thoughts. This is how we avoid our dreams most effectively. We start thinking about ‘just getting by’, about what we might be able to find out there rather than what we’ve got to offer.

It steals away our creative responses to life. It’s all very well to talk about just taking action, but before you can do anything you need a powerful drive behind it to make that action work. The key lies in how you think about yourself, and the stories you tell about who you are and how the world works.

So this is my advice. If you’re going to avoid your dreams with any effectiveness, you need to keep telling yourself over and over again it’ll never work out. Listen to all the negative people and stories you can find about failure and loss, keep thinking that you’ll never make it, that you don’t have the answer, and that you can’t do it.

That way, you’ll probably never even make it out of bed in the morning, let alone get anywhere near a dream.

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17 thoughts on “How Not to Follow Your Dreams

  1. Kelly says:


    Oh. My. Goodness.

    I feel for you deeply. And if it’s help to start thinking better thoughts you’re after, I know (as do you) that you are in a great place here. Alex has infiltrated my being with his incredible attitude toward Someday Syndrome.

    First I was laughing with recognition. All the people I’ve known who are like this.

    Then my guts started to hurt. All the people who are close to me, who drag themselves down, and who want to drag me down so they can have company. Misery loves it, you know.

    Very, very sneaky post. Powerful wrapped up in haha. Asking “this isn’t you, is it?”

    No, I race and climb for my dreams daily.

    But I think you know—that’s mighty hard to do with the weight of those negative folks tied tightly around your feet.


    Thanks for this post.




    Kelly´s last blog post..Inspiration Points: Don’t Sell Me. Help Me Gather Memories!

  2. Hi Joely,

    I understand that the intention of this post is to motivate. I get that this tactic can be effective for some people. But for others, including myself, saying what “not to do” is really quite depressing, confusing, and uninspiring. I know that some people might relate to it and then get off of their butts to change their life. But I don’t think it works for everyone.


    Vi | Maximizing Utility´s last blog post..Diversify your self-worth portfolio

  3. Motivation in reverse. I only use this after long, caring support, empowerment and nurturing, and only if it’s indicated. Making people feel the pain of their stuckness can work but it’s really something that requires mastery.

    Pamir | Reiki Help Blog´s last blog post..The action of Ki in Reiki

  4. I agree with Vi that this might not work for everyone, but I thought it was great! I like the “motivation in reverse” as Pamir said, and I found it quite inspiring! Now I just need to get off my butt and do something!

    Positively Present´s last blog my happily ever after now

  5. Joely Black says:

    @ Kelly – Yes, exactly. I was rather stumped when Alex asked me to write in reverse, but then I’d had the experience of having it pointed out how incredibly negatively I see myself all the time.

    @ Vi, Positively Present, Pamir – I don’t see this as “negative motivation” – it was more an appreciation of how hard it is, when you’re surrounded by negative attitudes that you’ve absorbed all your life, to get through it and think more positively.

    My point revolved around the fact that although I don’t have a big TV and I’ve done incredible amounts of work, I’m still pulled back by the way I see myself, and the thoughts I think. Of course, I could have written a post where I told everybody just to think positively. But then the internet is full of those kinds of posts.

    This kind of points out the very, very subtle ways we sabotage ourselves. Even when we think we’re making progress, we hold ourselves back. I’ve known many people in my life who, when talking about ambitions say, “Well, I’ve watched TV and I know it’s all bad out there…” Inertia tends to win out and it’s a challenge to really understand where your thoughts come from and how they may have held you back.

    Joely Black´s last blog post..Random miscellany: the problem with experts

  6. Thanks for this post. What resonated most with me was your idea that our ability to persist at something really stems from our overall image of ourselves, as opposed to our understanding of how well we can do some specific task. For instance, I know several people with Ph.D.s in their field and other impressive credentials who keep saying they’d “like” to write a book, but their picture of the world as unwelcoming has them hold back despite their qualifications.

  7. I really am questioning this technique. I pity the poor soul who happens on this fine blog and takes this at face value. You know there will be someone.
    Let’s hope nothing in this post is taken out of context.

    Tom Volkar / Delightful Work´s last blog post..Is Your Inner Child Still Running Your Life?

  8. Alex Fayle says:

    On my down days I’m tempted to do just that – after all, ignorance is bliss and I’m all about happiness, no? 😉 But then I realize that I wouldn’t actually be happy – I’d just be numb. It’s good to explore the possibility, however, just to show myself that it’s totally not something I would want.

    @Vi, @Pamir, @Positively Present & @Tom
    Everyone has their own way of inspiration and motivation – for me getting silly and slightly sarcastic like Joely has here works to kick me out of a pity party I’ve decided to throw for myself for no reason other than I’m feeling sulky.

    For many writers when we get writer’s block or are overwhelmed by the internal editor, often the best way to clear it is to let the negativity free and let the editor tell us just how we totally suck. It gets all the negativity out in the open where we can look at it and see just how unrealistic it is.

    Great clarification on the post and thanks for hitting just the right tone (for me) to make me laugh at myself for my own sulky behaviours.

    Exactly – the scripts we use to hold ourselves back can be really limiting and sometimes we need to bring the scripts out into the light of day to see that they really have no basis in any sort of reality.

  9. Kelly says:

    “Ignorance is bliss…”

    LOL. Alex, I have been trying all my life to get back to ignorance to test the theory. It hasn’t worked, so I have to grab my bliss where I find it. I guess humor like Joely’s is one of the things that gives me both a little relief that I’m not alone, and a tiny slice of bliss.

    Until later,


    Kelly´s last blog post..Inspiration Points: Don’t Sell Me. Help Me Gather Memories!

  10. Friar says:

    I’m a big screw-up.

    Everyone is telling me what I shoulda woulda coulda do. If I try to express myself, I get shot down, or ignored. Nothing I do is good enough, nothing I have to say is of any importance.

    Yep. I”m a big screw-up. Especially according to the the work place. Even according to some family members.

    That is…IF I chose to listen to them. Which I often don’t.

    But sometimes, when our defenses are down, it gets hard NOT to. (Our Inner Critic can be quite vocal at times).

    That’s why I try to avoid the nay-sayers, and hang out with supportive people. (I know of 2 or 3 right now).

    I do my dreaming around them.

    Friar´s last blog post..Fish of the Week

  11. Kelly says:

    ::hugs to Friar::

    Any man who can be a PhD nuclear engineer who paints gorgeous watercolors, skis, fishes, travels extensively, and writes a rockin’ blog—and still be a screw-up—has got some seriously critical family.

    Friar, are we related?

    “I do my dreaming around them.” LOVE that!



    Kelly´s last blog post..Inspiration Points: Don’t Sell Me. Help Me Gather Memories!

  12. The approach in this post is not for the newbie or the faint-hearted. It can work if masterfully handled & applied, but negativity is insidious. There’s a way to write about positivity without it being hollow or sugary.

    Pamir | Reiki Help Blog´s last blog post..Healing Resources: Book Review

  13. Alex Fayle says:

    It’s really easy to slip into that sort of negative thinking, isn’t it? But once we put it down on paper (computer screen), we see how empty it is – as Kelly pointed out – you’re pretty much the opposite of a failure – seeing the two lists makes it pretty obvious just how much you’ve accomplished in your life, no?

    I see what you mean – if it’s done without enough care the negativity can grab hold and spin you into a cycle. That’s why when I do negativity exercises with my clients, I always have them turn each piece of negativity into a positive desire – to pull them out of a spiral.

  14. Sara says:


    I liked this approach because it makes the reader THINK. As I read it, I started getting ANGRY at you. How dare you tell me to not follow my dreams and tell myself that I’ll always be a failure!

    I think anger can be a great motivator for some people! It’s easy to read the “you can do it” and “believe in yourself” posts, but not take any action. Sometimes getting really pissed off can produce the best forward movement.

    Thanks for this clever post:~)

    Sara´s last blog post..You Can Reach Beyond Your Fear

  15. Alex Fayle says:

    There’s nothing quite like a little righteous anger to get your blood boiling and your mind churning on actions you can take to “prove the bastard(s) wrong” eh? 😉

  16. […] How Not to Follow Your Dreams ( […]

  17. learn reiki says:

    It is amazing how many people don’t follow their dreams. I wish more would.
    .-= learn reiki´s last blog ..Learn Reiki =-.

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