How practical is it to stop living in a fantasy world and face reality instead?
Have you ever been told to stop living in a fantasy world filled with illusory happiness, and face reality? It sounds logical. It sounds like perfectly solid, down-to-earth advice. You may have even struggled to think of a response—especially if it is coming from someone who seems to have all their marbles in a row. However, if we look a little closer at the reality of this "advice" it is not as...well, realistic as it may appear on the surface.
Let's look at the reality of facing reality:
When a sculptor has a lump of stone in front of him, were he to "stop living in a fantasy world, and face reality" he would simply sculpt the stone into the shape of the stone. The reality he is looking at is stone-shaped. If he is to create a work of art, he HAS to use fantasy in order to imagine his creation—a shape that is impossible to see within the current "reality"—in order to be able to create it.
Picture a garden that is overgrown with weeds. A gardener, if "facing reality" would simply accept and water the weeds. In order to transform the garden from chaos to order, the gardener HAS to have a vision of what it could look like without the weeds and with different plants. It is only by fantasy that we are able to improve on "what is".
If all humans had accepted the idea of not living in a fantasy world and instead, facing reality, we would still be living in caves. There would certainly be no technology. Every single advancement made by the human race has been as the result of someone "living in a fantasy world".
Okay, so, maybe it's acceptable for inventors and pioneers, but what about the average person facing the daily struggles of "regular" life? Is facing reality wise and sensible advice for those of us who are not going to invent the next technological leap for humankind?
Well, let's look at the options on a personal and individual level. In the following example, a regular person has two options:
- Face Reality
- Live In A Fantasy World
This example is simplified for clarity, but the implications apply on all levels.
Sally has a problem paying her bills. Her income is not enough to cover all of her living expenses and she has been using credit cards which she is unable to pay off. This means that the interest is mounting up, and Sally is getting deeper and deeper in debt.
She keeps hoping she'll win the lottery (she buys a ticket every week) and in the meantime, she treats herself to experiences and material things that make her feel wealthier. This helps her to escape the feelings of worry and stress. Her loved ones tell her to "stop living in a fantasy world and face reality!"
Here are her two options:
Option 1: Face Reality.
This means coming to terms with the fact that she is in serious financial trouble, and that it is only going to get worse. The only actions she can take involve cutting back dramatically on spending, and possibly subscribing to a debt-management plan. She may try to find another job or a second job. However, the "reality" she is facing is that the job she has is all she is able to get.
The well-meaning, practical side of this option is that by cutting down on spending Sally will slow down the accumulation of debt. If she is able to subscribe to a debt-management plan this will help her to afford to begin to reduce her debt.
However, the reality of this option is that, being human, Sally's mental and emotional state will be affected by this decision and the actions that go with it. She will be looking at the reality of the debt instead of the fantasy of no debt. Considering we follow what we focus on, as long as she is looking at the debt, she is likely to remain there regardless of how much she cuts her spending.
If you want to reach a target, you need to be looking at the target, and not where you are. You need to be looking at the "fantasy" and not the reality. By focusing on the debt and cutting her spending, and the debt management plan, Sally's full attention is on the problem.
Even the "solution" of cutting spending and managing the debt is focused on the problem itself. This means that even when opportunities open up for her, Sally will not see them—she will be completely unaware of them—or she will not have the belief in herself to take the action to make the most of them. It also means that Sally will be in a specific physiological state.
The way we feel affects absolutely everything—the choices and decisions we make, the actions we take (or don't take), how much physical energy we have, what we eat, whether we exercise and the opportunities we notice. It also affects whether we take advantage of them or not, as well as the way we communicate with and relate to others. Sally will be experiencing very different results in all areas of her life to those she would experience were she feeling positive, happy and inspired.
Option 2: Live In A Fantasy World
The key is choosing the right fantasy world!
It's clear that if Sally were to continue on her current track of hoping to win the lottery while increasing her credit card debt, she would continue to spiral into deeper debt. Of course, she may win the lottery but there is naturally no guarantee of that, no matter how strong her desire. However, "stop living in a fantasy world and face reality" is not the only other option.
Instead, Sally can choose a different fantasy world—a more effective fantasy world that results in different action. She could still cut her spending down and subscribe to a debt management plan if that's the best practical option for dealing with the debt, but in addition to that she could place her focus on the "fantasy" of being debt-free.
She could start by imagining what it would be like to be free from debt and financially independent. The difference here is that she is not taking any physical action based on that fantasy—yet. She is not spending money as if she is debt-free, and she is not incurring more debt. She is simply fantasizing about it.
This fantasy will change Sally's physiological state. Her body and brain will be flooded with different chemicals to those associated with stress, worry and despondency and this will have a knock-on effect on every other aspect of Sally's life.
While, on the physical level she is still cutting her spending and managing her debt, her mind is living in a fantasy world - a world of being financially free. And since being financially free feels a whole lot better than being in debt, she will be in a completely different emotional, mental and physiological state.
This means she will make different choices and decisions to those she would make if she were living in a "debt mindset." She will be more active, have more energy, eat more healthily, be more likely to exercise, be more aware of opportunities (and be more likely to make the most of them), be more social, communicate with and relate to others differently, be more creative, more inspired and more productive.
It is clear how all of this will contribute to more success in all areas of her life, and how it gives Sally a much higher chance of changing her financial situation than option 1.
The answer is not to stop living in a fantasy world and face reality. The answer is to live in the RIGHT fantasy world. The physical actions we take and achievements we make are the result of our dominant mental, emotional and physiological state as well as the visions we hold. Keeping your focus on the target is the only way to hit it.
For a runner, focusing on the current "reality" of rough ground, aching limbs and shortness of breath will make finishing the race much more difficult than focusing on the Finish Line (or even the hot shower or meal waiting for them after the race is over). Although the Finish Line, the hot shower and the meal are all fantasies in that moment since they are not yet within reach, focusing on those fantasies is the most effective and realistic option for finishing the race.
Of course, one could argue that for the runner, the finishing line, hot shower and meal are all more "realistic" than say, Sally's idea of being debt-free. However, when we consider how "realistic" it was to believe humans could fly, or that it would be possible to speak to someone thousands of miles away (not to mention of course, the ability to access information world-wide on a wireless, handheld personal device), it can put fantasies such as Sally's in perspective!
If the current fantasy world you are living in is not serving you, instead of taking advice of "facing reality" simply move to a more effective fantasy world!