Sometimes you have to do a little housecleaning on your dreams.

It’s wonderful to be aspirational and motivated, to let ambition drive you. And plenty of my posts here on The Opportunity Machine center around practical advice for turning dreams into realistic action steps. But there’s a less pleasant – but no less necessary – side of this.

Sometimes you have to cut a dream loose.

Why? Because an unrealized dream will eat at you, destroying you from within. It will cripple your motivation for other dreams because it will constantly serve as a reminder of your worst proclivities.

You will absolutely not achieve 100% of your dreams. That’s totally okay! But the more mental space you clear for the things you both really want to do and really have the juice to accomplish, the more focused you can be. Better to have one dream become reality than ten dreams that languish in your mind, in the dreaded kingdom of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”

But how – how can you give up on something, and have it be a positive step forward?

First, recognize that cutting a dream loose doesn’t automatically equate to saying “I can’t accomplish this, I never could, it was stupid of me to dream this.” That’s folly. Instead, recognize it as you saying “This dream was one of many seeds that could have taken root, but my life went in different directions – directions I am pleased with or am working to improve. I have had many dreams, and others deserve my attention more now.” You can’t do everything.

Next, examine the dream for what parts you can salvage! Let’s say you wanted to be an astronaut, but a realistic examination of your life reveals that you have passed the point where that’s attainable. Well – why did you want to be an astronaut? Was it because of a love of space, or because of a love of science, or because of a desire for fame, or because of the thrill of exploration? Those are four very different motivators, and there are many paths in life that can reward those motivators that aren’t “astronaut.” Cutting loose the dream of being an astronaut doesn’t mean cutting loose the dream of exploring or of a career in science. Recycle the best parts!

Lastly, recognize that dreams are an infinite resource. You will always be able to have new ones – you can even resurrect old ones if the time becomes right. But space in your psyche is decidedly finite. If your head is filled with unrealized dreams then you’ll constantly be thinking about what you don’t have, what you haven’t done, a million “what ifs” that will poison and control you.

It is far better to have clarity of thought and purpose to the best of your ability. When you dream, dream of things you can actively work towards; when you work, work on the things you dream about. The rest of your time, fill with leisure, laughter and love – not longing for dreams unrealized.

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