“I have (had) a dream”

Today I am delivering a workshop on positive psychology and life coaching to engineering students at the University of Cambridge, UK. To some extent: (part of) my dream (has) come true. And yet getting there and speaking in my new professional capacity, is only ONE step of a profound personal and professional reinvention journey that I am on, and which started when I allowed myself to “dream big” (again)…

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think? Like in the words of Alanis Morissette, maybe it’s akin to entropy and the third principle of thermodynamics—expansion is “natural”, development theory – growth is spontaneous in humans, and — change is a part of life. Yet, so many of us struggle with accepting or adapting to change, not to mention creating or pursuing it.

When I decided to become a life coach I was extremely excited and also reluctant to accept the “dream” becoming a “goal” for myself. It felt safer when it was private and only in my mind, it was also becoming to important to ignore, and yet self-doubt was so strong: what would people think? What I was thinking, seriously??

Recently, I observed a woman being coached on her difficulty in “dreaming big” to advance her business goals. It got me thinking: why is it so hard? What gets in the way, even when we take the time to envisage why we may seek changes in our lives? A fascinating issue I encounter with my clients is the difficulty, especially as adults, in setting goals without having a detailed plan to achieve them. We lack the creativity and imagination to believe it is possible to reach a destination without knowing the exact route.

The Brain’s Resistance to Change

Our brains are wired to resist change. The Motivational Triad tells us that our brains seek to avoid pain, find pleasure, and exert minimal energy. Changing a belief goes against this comfort. As you think differently, your brain resists with dissonance, causing feelings of dread and anxiety. This is actually a sign that you’re on the right path.

When you take massive action toward new thoughts, it feels like a lot of effort. Your brain prefers old thoughts and familiar evidence because it’s a survival pattern we need to outgrow and outwit. Moving toward discomfort on purpose is necessary to evolve into the next best version of ourselves.

Cognitive Dissonance: The Struggle Within

Cognitive dissonance occurs when you hold two conflicting thoughts simultaneously, creating discord because the brain craves consistency. At this point, you have a choice: give up one of the beliefs or increase dissonance. Most people abandon the new belief because it’s easier to stick with what they’ve always known. The old thought has history and results backing it up, while the new thought only causes anxiety without any proof yet.

Don’t panic when this happens. Understand that your brain is trying to reconcile new thinking that seems to threaten consistency and security. Unless survival is at stake, the brain will always choose old thoughts over new ones, unless the reason for change is compelling.

Choosing New Language for New Thoughts

When developing new thoughts, it’s important to use language that generates the emotions you want to feel. For example, instead of saying, “I want to change jobs” try, “I want to thrive in my ideal career.” Notice how different the second statement feels.

Play around with language and words that create the emotions you want. You get to believe anything you want with any words you choose.

Create new thoughts purposefully to inspire yourself. For example, you might start with a thought like, “It is possible that someone like me could learn mountain climbing,” before moving to a more assertive mantra such as, “I am going to get on top Mont Blanc” 😊

To help such thinking, we need to ask different questions, teasing our potential to properly formulate new powerful thoughts. By choosing the right language, we can open and fulfill our potential.

Practicing New Thoughts

Practicing new thoughts is like rehearsing for a role in a play. It will feel awkward because you’re stepping into a new way of thinking, feeling, and acting. Embrace this new way of being by living as if you already believed the new thought.

To bridge the thought and make it more actionable, it is important to practice the thought. For instance, when I was changing my professional identity from engineering expert towards positive psychology, I practiced believing, “I am an established life coach and psychology practitioner, and I support powerful amazing people achieving their best life on a daily basis.”

Initially, it felt impossible, but I started trying to live as and embody this person, as if it were already true. I stepped into the role of that person, thought those thoughts, felt those feelings, and acted from them. Eventually, I became that new version of myself.

Rehearsing New Thoughts, Feelings, and Actions

To solidify new thoughts, access your prefrontal cortex and manage your thoughts. Visualise yourself believing what you need to believe to achieve your goals. Imagine your thoughts, feelings, and actions in that future state. Who are you? What matters to you? What’s it like to have accomplished your goal?

Ask yourself, “Who is that person that thinks this (accomplishment) is totally possible / / within reach / normal?” Rehearse this visualisation repeatedly until it feels natural. Then practice it live, acting as if you already embody that future self.

The Power of Coaching

Coaching provides a supportive, non-judgmental space, in which clients learn to bridge the gap between current and desired states. I encourage my clients to dream big and take actionable steps toward their goals. It’s about finding the right language, practicing new thoughts, and visualising success until it becomes a reality.

Conclusion: Embrace the Journey

Change is inevitable, and growth is a natural part of life. Embrace the discomfort of new thoughts and practices. Use language that inspires you, rehearse your future self, and trust the process. With the right mindset and support, you can achieve your dreams and become the best version of yourself.

If you’re ready to embrace change and achieve your goals, let’s connect. Together, we can work towards a more authentic and peaceful self, and help you dream big.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Sophie


Inspired by:

Howard, P. (2024, March). Believing New Things. Get Coached by The Life Coach School. Released online to Members March 2024.