What Keeps People from Pursuing Their Hopes and Dreams?

A man and woman hold up a frame together in a fieldI want to be loved. I want to be fit. I want to have a job I’m proud of. We all have hopes and dreams, but sometimes we take too little action to make them come true.

What is it that gets in the way of taking the actions necessary to fulfill our dreams? How do unfulfilled dreams and a lack of action affect a person’s experience of life?

The pursuit of a goal can give your life purpose, energy, hope, and excitement, but it can also bring anxiety, insecurity, and overwhelm. Sometimes, simply acknowledging what you want can arouse feelings of longing and despair. Some choose to avoid those uncomfortable feelings by disengaging from their pursuit. Avoidance might resolve the discomfort in the short term, but in the long term, refusing to participate in your pursuit of happiness, and facing the mixed bag of feelings that come with that pursuit, can leave a person feeling stuck, depressed, or empty.

It would be wonderful to have all of the energy and excitement of the chase without the fear and self-doubt. The more you want something, the more it matters to you, the less likely you will be relaxed about it.

There are many reasons a person may become afraid to do something they want or need to do. Here’s a short list:

  • If a person is attempting something they’ve never done before, they might fear the unknown. Will they like it or will they hate it? The real problem underlying this fear may be that the person doesn’t believe they can survive hating something, even briefly, or believes they’ll be stuck in this hateful experience forever. In most circumstances, this fear is irrational.
  • If a person is a perfectionist, they may not be able to tolerate the discomfort that comes along with learning something new. The only way to learn is through trial and error–by being able to make mistakes. This can be challenging for perfectionists.
  • A person can put too many limitations on identity. “I was bad at sports in high school, so I can’t join the office softball team now.” It can be comforting to think you know everything about yourself, but it’s also limiting. It can stop a person from expanding who they are and what they’re capable of.
  • Because a person has failed at something before, they’re afraid to fail again. It’s not the failing that’s the problem; it’s how a person feels about failing. If failing led to self-loathing and depression at some point, of course a person won’t want to feel that way again. However, inactivity and stagnation may end up leading a person to those same feelings. If a person came to see failure as a learning experience that can lead to success, they might be less afraid to try.
  • For some people, fear doesn’t arise from the actions they need to take, but from the judgment or ridicule of others. In some critical and unsupportive social environments, any attempts to improve oneself may be met with hostility, including attempts to recover from addiction or return to a healthy body weight.
  • People who lack self-soothing skills, such as encouragement, forgiveness, acceptance, and self-care, generally have a more difficult time recovering from disappointment than those who have those skills. It is important to learn the skills to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” —Norman Vincent Peale

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Rena Pollak, LMFT, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert Contributor

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  • Tee

    November 30th, 2015 at 7:04 AM

    fear of failure

  • Tyler

    November 30th, 2015 at 10:17 AM

    I look back on certain things at times and I am very disappointed in myself for not having the courage to try to at least take a chance on something. I am a pretty safe kind of person so the thought of going outside of that comfort zone is very foreign to me. It makes me feel like no one would ever see me as a success even if they just once see me fail, and that maybe I wouldn’t even see myself as having the ability to succeed anymore.

  • Missy

    November 30th, 2015 at 3:01 PM

    I grew up in a home where it was always encouraged to learn about and try new things. But my boyfriend? Not so much. He was never given that opportunity or even the encouragement to spread his wings and try something new and therefore I think that now that he is a little older he is scared of what he may encounter if he does. I think that he is afraid of what he might see or learn after conforming to the standard rules of life for so long. I want to show him that there is more to life but I think that he is afraid, and I don’t want to push so hard that it just pushes him away.

  • Susan

    December 1st, 2015 at 10:20 AM

    Great points! I often shoot for MANY goals at the same time, and then struggle to succeed in any one of them. It’s best when I can relax and enjoy the experience of something by remembering that life is a journey of learning and growing (kind of the “hey, I’m on an adventure here, why not try?”). I have to remind myself frequently (or be reminded by loving friends, creative partners and mentors) not be too hard on myself for not being “perfect.” Finding those sorts of people in your life to support your growth and vice versa REALLY helps!

  • Deshaun

    December 5th, 2015 at 7:38 AM

    I have to work really hard on this whole is the grass greener on the other side issue. Things always look great from afar but then they become a part of your life and you start to wonder what it was that you thought was so great about that to begin with?

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