Dreaming big is what God expects of us! I’m sharing 3 tips for dreaming if it’s been a while and you don’t know where to start.

“If you don’t use it, you lose it”

This clichéd phrase has commonly been used to explain how, if you don’t exercise the physical abilities you have, you’re at risk of having them either disappear or become much more difficult to access. 

This is especially true with neural pathways in our brains. 

Specific neural pathways are activated when you engage in certain activities; the more those neural pathways are activated, the easier it becomes to access that specific part of the brain and thus to do the activity. 

Think of it as a pathway cut through the woods: what starts as a difficult-to-get-through, overgrown path quickly becomes a wider, clearer, smoother road to travel the more frequent the trips taken on it.

With that being said, when was the last time you used your brain – specifically, your imagination – to dream about your future ?

Whoa whoa whoaWhat? Are you serious? I can barely get through today! What’s the point of focusing on a desire for my future? ⁠⁠It doesn’t matter what I dream or want, because it’s probably not God’s will.

If you’re feeling this kind of resistance come up, it’s okay!

When faced with the difficulties of life – skyrocketing interest rates, an unexpected illness, family drama, daily challenges – connecting with your deeper desires and dreams can seem… well… silly. Impractical. ⁠⁠⁠⁠Unnecessary. 

But the truth is that your unique dreams and desires are important! 

God has placed certain dreams and desires in your heart for a reason

They are part of your discernment, of your growth in holiness, and of becoming who God created you to be! ⁠Learning to become aware of those desires – i.e. discovering and uncovering what your dreams are – helps you to be a collaborator and co-creator with God in your life. ⁠

So it’s not only not silly to take time to dream, it’s an essential part of being human! And if you don’t engage in the creative process of thinking outside of your current reality to what you desire for our future, it can become way more difficult to access those desires. 

If you haven’t used the part of your brain circuitry that helps you to dream big, simply sitting down and expecting it to come easily would be like starting to exercise a muscle you haven’t used in a while: it’s going to be pretty pathetic. But if you repeat the exercise over and over, soon you’re doing so much more than you ever thought possible!

So what do you do if dreaming about the future seems overwhelming? 

If you go blank when asked what your future goals are or where you see yourself in five years? 

Or if you’re scared to dream about your future because you feel your dreams will be in opposition to God’s will for your life?

Here are 3 tips for dreaming and getting those circuits in your brain firing again:

#1. Start little, but start! (And then keep going back to it)

Exercise your imagination to start dreaming about what you can do. 

Even if you’re not used to it, even if you have so many choices that it paralyzes your brain – start somewhere! Get those old rusty gears back in motion.

Practice using your imagination to step into a place and try it on for size. Think about what your life will look like five years from now: how old will you be? How old will your parents or friends be? If you’re married, think about what anniversary you’ll be celebrating; if you have kids, how old are they? Place yourself into your life five years from now: imagine what that looks like. 

Dreaming is an iterative process. If you sit down right now to list your dreams for the next five years but you haven’t used your imagination or thought about it in a while, what you put down on the paper today is only going to be the start of a creaky gear-grinding process.

Because after you write those dreams down on a piece of paper and let them sit, what happens is that those ideas marinate unconsciously in your psyche. That action stirs things up. Then when you go back to it, it will be a little easier for new thoughts related to your dreams to arise.

And when you come back to it again in three days or two weeks or a month (it’s an iterative process that you try over and over again) a developmental picture will formulate over time.

#2. Get into a creative mode by learning to be present to the present moment

Dreaming is also a creative process. And to engage in the creative process, it’s crucial to not have your fight or flight system activated. 

Why? Because when you’re in fight or flight mode, you don’t care what your life looks like five years from now. You’re just trying to make it through today

The brain patterns which operate your sympathetic nervous response in the fight or flight system actively counteract the creativity that’s necessary for imagining – for stepping outside of this time and place. 

If you’re feeling as if there’s a threat to your life in this time and place though, you’re not stepping away from it! You’re going to zero in on it. 

Help yourself to calm that fight or flight response through deep breathing and Catholic mindfulness. Recalling that all is well, that you can trust in God’s providence, that Jesus is with you and is working all things out for your good can aid in stepping outside of your anxiety. 

Then, use those imaginative and creative juices to get your brain neural pathways firing!

People have different ways of tapping into their creative juices: start journaling, have a conversation/dialogue with someone, paint a picture. It really doesn’t matter how you communicate your dreams; the point is that you’re activating those neural pathways in your brain.

#3. Pray

Lastly, but most importantly, open up your dreaming process to the Holy Spirit. Ask for his help. Let your prayer sound less like “God tell me what to do!” and more like “God help me understand myself.”

Remember, sitting down to start dreaming is not about figuring it all out right now. It’s simply a mental exercise of “lifting a little weight” to get those neural pathways fired up. Then come back again and keep trying it. Put it on your calendar, set a reminder to check in with yourself after a specific set of time. 

Dreaming big is what God expects of us! He has placed specific desires on our hearts and has invited us to be co-collaborators with Him in our lives. Part of your discernment process can be creating time to ask yourself “What do I desire? What have I been dreaming about?”

For more on this topic, listen to: Being Human Podcast Episode #30: What If I’m Afraid to Dream?

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