We think it is safe to say that the way we think about the future right now has changed quite considerably since March 2020. Not to add another string of words about the unprecedented change in the way we think since the pandemic, but it cannot be discounted how it has affected us all. Psychologically, we’ve noticed that an attitude and way of coping is to focus on the immediate rather than the future. This is a practice that is heralded in mindfulness and is especially effective in dealing with anxiety and grounding in the now instead of fortune telling. It is also well noted that in times of great stress, many people prefer to adopt a ‘lets get through this moment and then the next mentality’. We totally understand this, and in many ways, this has been our go to method to help us a lot (and certainly not perfectly) in these strange times. However, this technique has also had a quite impactful effect on our thoughts about the future – and in speaking to several friends, we found this wasn’t just us. There were thoughts of ‘I just don’t see the point in really dreaming about the future right now because I’m not sure when I can do it’ and ‘I’m really tired of getting excited about things and then just feeling disappointed’. As we’ve discussed recently, a lot of the mental health reading and work we’ve been doing is around the idea of reward culture, which is something that is inherently a part of our needs as human beings – we need to feel like there is a reward for something we do or else it can severely cloud our balance mentally. So, combine this feeling of ‘I don’t really know if I want to dream about things because when will it happen’ (i.e., losing your reward) with the feeling of needing to just get through each day as it comes, it isn’t hard to see why we might be feeling muted from dreaming.
Coupled with this, there seems to also be this feeling of wondering when and if things will ever return to a sense of normalcy. That is pretty normal. The thing is, what we are experiencing right now has become the normal we live in, so it makes sense that we are finding it hard to imagine a time when this won’t ever be the case. What we’ve learned over the years is that your normal is based on your circumstances and you don’t generally notice the subtle changes over time. We had this sad realization a while ago when we were watching a documentary that inspired a further ‘hopes and dreams’ conversation the following day. We realized that we felt bad about dreaming, or rather, the excitement of it wasn’t quite there. That was a moment when we realized just what an impact the pandemic has had on us. In the past, dreaming conversations were such a big part of our lives. These dreaming conversations would start to form the basis of our project plans and the adventures that we wanted to embark on and plan. Every single big idea we have, everything we’re working towards with what we are doing with This Expansive Adventure falls on the back of intense dreaming sessions which turn into conversations about how to make those dreams happen. Or at least the start of them – and how we can create the stepping stones towards what we think will create those moments we long for.
It’s weird when you start realizing just how much something has changed that used to be such a big part of you. So, we decided to give ourselves the permission to start actively seeking out dreaming again. This might sound easy, but it was more difficult than it might sound. There were all these limiting beliefs that came up that firstly needed to be worked through. Secondly, nobody really talks about how difficult it can be to get wildly creative when you’ve been living with the impact of depression and anxiety for quite some time. Combine that with the added stresses and pressures of life at the moment and it can feel quite difficult. We used to be people who’d spend time visualizing outcomes. We found this particularly helpful before a big hike – the idea is to visualize what you want to happen and get into the feeling of already having it. When we started thinking about bringing back this joy of dreaming, this felt like an alien concept. Because we had our world effectively closed to us for a good while, we just hadn’t used this muscle or this technique. The fact is dreaming is important for everyone at any age. Dreams allow us to get a handle on what we want, and what goals we have for our lives. They can give our lives purpose, direction and meaning. They can help us define and shape our lives and they can give us enormous senses of hope about the future. So why was it so hard?
ID: A landscape image. Matt is sat on the top step of the staircase. He has a journal on his knees and is writing in it with his right hand. He looks deep in thought. The stairs are a dark wood and in the background you can see entrances to other rooms with plants scattered around. The walls are white. He wears green top and black trousers. The journal is fuchsia.
We started to think this through in detail and concluded that it was a real combination of things that had happened over the last year, but the biggest one that came up was that we’d lost our confidence. We realized that confidence plays such a huge part in dreaming. What we don’t always realize is that when we are lost in a daydream thinking about something we want, we often connect how likely we think that event is going to be. This can be determined by so many factors.
We decided to turn this on its head, as unnatural as this felt and start to try and dream again unapologetically. However, just dreaming about these things when you have no confidence at that time just feels really difficult and we found that we couldn’t focus on clear thoughts or images of what it was we wanted. This was a problem and so we decided that instead, perhaps a better way to start dreaming was to start focusing on actual things that we’d need to learn or know to be able to achieve the thing we were thinking about. We’ve always said that if you want to turn your dreams into reality, you need to take action and so this was the technique we adopted. We decided to use planning and researching as a way to distract from anxious, unhelpful thoughts. The idea was that, if possible, when we found ourselves having anxious thoughts, we’d use it as an opportunity to research what would be involved in certain things that would interest us. This was incredibly helpful. You see, when you’re thinking about your dreams, they can seem like complete fabrication – when you start to investigate the steps you’ll need to take, start to make plans and break things down, you’ll start to get that joy back into dreaming and realize it is possible. We find that it is human nature to become quite overwhelmed when we look at a big challenge and don’t know how to get there. We often end up looking at the A to B of a situation, rather than seeing the A to Z. We often get stuck when we can’t work out a route to something but in fact, we can often break it down to a string of small steps that can become a lot more achievable. With that in mind, if you haven’t been used to dreaming for some time with everything going on, it is understandable that all of the usual things that might impact you when you are dreaming are going to feel like impossible hurdles to get over if you don’t have the benefit of insight into knowing what is going on.
We felt like we needed to encourage a sense of excitement and so we started looking at old photographs that inspired us, documentaries, experiences we’d had. We started talking and allowing each other the space to explore what was exciting individually and together. We looked into memories of experiences and started to work out what it was about all those things that we enjoyed and that interested us. We observed the feelings they evoked and worked out how we wanted to feel doing the things we were starting to dream of. This experience of being curious was incredibly interesting and the more we did it, the more we started to feel like it was becoming normal again.
ID: Two landscape images from left to right. Left: Matt is walking on snowshoes through a snowy landscape of mountains. He wears red trousers, black gators, snowshoes, black coat and grey backpack. There are alpine mountains behind him. Right: In the foreground we have spines of mountains covered in snow. In the background are more spiny high mountains with a cloud inversion over them. In the background are blues, pinks and purples in the sunset.
Matt has always been really intrigued by skiing – ever since a very young age. Being from Ireland, this wasn’t something he really got to experience and never learnt to ski. He grew up longing and dreaming of mountains and lit up every time he heard his parents talk about their travels. Skiing and more specifically ski mountaineering is something that every time we’ve visited the Alps, has fascinated him. For many years, he’s talked about wanting to learn and developing this into what we do so that we can explore further. We’ve explored a lot on snowshoes and ski mobiles, but taking that further is such a passionate goal for Matt. We’d planned to start learning how to ski just before the pandemic hit, but of course that has been put back. That sense of dreaming had started to faulter, it felt like it was becoming an impossible idea. However, starting to gently dream again and start to look into what is needed and what we need to learn has made it feel like more of a reality that we can start working on again.
Since Fay got into snorkeling and did a taster dive on the coast of Egypt, this is something that has been of great interest. Fay has always wanted to explore underwater and conversations about exploring skip wrecks and underground caves have always felt fascinating. In more recent times, we’ve spent a lot of hours watching deep sea diving with sharks and the idea of swimming with sea life has become something of a massive fascination and curiosity. Every time we’ve been somewhere with the ability, Fay is off snorkeling – remarking on just how incredible it feels to be connected to the earth in this way. Moving on from that, Fay is desperate to start working on exploring underwater photography and cinematography. That sense of dreaming and starting to plan what is involved has really started to create clarity in this goal and the steps forward are visible. The sense of calm that comes with dreaming has been incredibly good for Fay’s mental health too.
ID: Three landscape images, clockwise from left. One: A landscape image. Fay is swimming in a secluded cove. There is a pebbly beach around ad the water is clear. Two: A landscape image. Fay stands in the water gholding a snorkel mask and wearing a blue bathing suit. The water is turquoise. There is sandy.rock behind. Three: A landscape image. In the foreground, a wave crashing from the ocean. The water is wine dark and blue. In the middle of the frame is a rocky outcrop in the water with sea birds sat on. The sky is dark with elements of a sunset in oranges and reds.
The thing is dreaming doesn’t have to be something that immediately leads to a result right now. It can be something that will take our entire lives to achieve. It can be something a lot more straight forward, but the fact is dreams give us a sense of purpose. They give us a sense of wander that there is something more to the world than just getting up and doing the same thing each day. They give us a feeling that we’re connected to something that is bigger than us. They make us feel alive. Getting back that sense of dreaming can feel incredibly difficult at the moment but moving into gently exploring what brings you joy and allowing yourself to experience a sense of dreaming again, even if it is small to start, is an incredible way to start feeling a sense of excitement for life, adventure and connection to our world again.