Ideals: The powers and pitfalls of dreaming big.

April 30, 2024

A person sits under a tree day-dreaming of peace, strength, and wellness

It’s great to dream big. Doing so is active goal setting and helps us aim for goodness: Completing a job perfectly? Sure, we can get behind that. Having no health ailments? Absolutely, it’s a great aspiration. World peace? Yes please.

These are things we can unanimously support but, realistically speaking, are any of them possible to fully arrive at? Perfection…there’s always room for growth, so the idea of flawlessness is not achievable. Health…aging and death are inherent parts of being human that can’t be denied. Peace…since conflict is inevitable due to our diverse interbeing, permanent peace is elusive.

Reality is not always ideal.

There is a duality when we orient ourselves towards these lofty ideals, where the target is simultaneously unachievable and yet also valuable for growth. Whether we realize the end goal fully or not, falling short of perfection still lands us in a better place than if we had never made an effort at all.

Commitment to the process is more important than realizing the goal itself. If we hold our idealized aspirations lightly (remember: you are only a single person in a complex world and there’s only so much you can do individually – and that’s okay), there are many concrete positives that these abstract aims enable:

  1. Inspiration: Ideals can inspire us to strive for excellence and push our boundaries. By setting high standards, we are motivated to work harder, learn more, and develop new skills in pursuit of these goals.
  2. Direction: Ideals offer an orienting sense of direction and purpose, helping us prioritize our actions and decisions. They act as guiding principles, enabling us to focus on what matters most and embody efforts that align with our values and aspirations.
  3. Personal growth: Pursuing ideals can lead to personal growth. The journey towards an ideal often involves overcoming challenges, learning from mistakes, and developing resilience – all of which contribute to our overall development.
  4. Benchmarks for progress: Ideals can serve as benchmarks against which we measure our progress. Recognizing incremental improvements can help build confidence, foster a sense of accomplishment, and sustain commitment despite hurdles along the way.
  5. Collective improvement: When groups or societies strive for shared ideals (such as justice, equality, or peace) they contribute to collective progress and improvement. Ongoing efforts can lead to significant advancements in social, political, and economic spheres.
A person walks up stairs coming out of the clouds to a goal flag at the top

But it’s not all giggles and sunshine. Be wary of placing too much emphasis on end goals and falling into a pitfall of perfectionism, for measuring oneself against the impossible is a surefire way to slip into despair and inaction. Aiming big can be daunting. If the gap between a goal and where we are is too wide, it feels insurmountable. “Why bother?” we mutter to ourselves, hesitant to even try.

When this sort of paralysis takes hold, try to break down the looming large concept into realistic, achievable goals that serve as stepping stones toward the overall goal and vision. Rather than trying to achieve massive change all at once, we can focus on small and incremental improvements in the same direction.

In doing so, we embrace the power of small wins. These little victories create a positive feedback loop which makes our larger efforts sustainable. The formation of lasting good habits, bolstered long-term commitment, an understanding that everything changes…these life-long benefits are all the result of daily efforts.

Living in a complicated world is an iterative experience, so remember to be kind to yourself when you encounter setbacks. Acknowledge your efforts and progress. Embrace challenges as opportunities for learning and growth by committing to the process rather than the outcome. Try to maintain a balanced perspective, through which you can harness the power of ideals to inspire, guide, and drive development.

While we may never fully achieve world peace, we can cultivate peace in our lives by learning to better dance with the unique conflicts we face.

Here at Mediation Services, this focus on conflict resolution is our specialty and we’ve created a FREE Conflict 101: Demystifying Conflict Through a Psychological Approach webinar that unpacks little wins we can all bring into our relational lives. More specific case studies and applications (dealing with defensiveness, respect in the workplace, etc) are available as part of ongoing in-person and online programming.

It is our sincere hope that the strategies and tools we offer can help each of us meet the complexity of coexistence in our families, workplaces, and communities. They may not solve everything to the measure of our dreamt-up ideals, but they certainly can help us orient in the direction we want to go today and across a lifetime.

If we aim for something ideal, we succeed even when we inevitably fall short. Each of us can take a little step in the right direction today.

If you have questions,
please don’t hesitate to call.


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