6 Steps to Complete the Dreamlining Exercise

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“Stick to the process, and the results will follow.”

This is something that the CEO of my company reminds us of in nearly every morning leadership meeting.

If you take the appropriate steps that you’ve been trained to do, it will lead to positive outcomes for the business. Everyone’s work will accumulate over time and lead to success.

But think about how this applies in your personal life, too.

We’ve talked about this a lot through creating SMART goals, trusting the process, and the benefits you can accrue through habit stacking.

But let’s revisit what positive outcomes look like to you. What do you want your results to be? A high income? Entrepreneurial status?

Success, in its traditional sense, has been known to leave people wanting more. People get addicted to the “stuff” that comes along with success. You get a nice car with your bonus, and a few months later, you want a nicer one. Getting new things produces a temporary high that people constantly chase after. As soon as the excitement wears off and feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction seep in, the cycle starts over.

But fulfillment is getting the things that you actually wanted in the first place. Fulfillment is sustainable, while happiness is fleeting. People just assume success and having the finer things in life precipitate a sense of fulfillment, when in fact, it leads us away from it.

In his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss focuses on designing your life to increase efficiency and maximize your time so you can focus on things that make your life significant and worthwhile, which ultimately leads to fulfillment. If you’re among the 80% of people who aren’t passionate about your work or how you’re spending the majority of your days, it may be time to reevaluate how you can make better use of your time.

Through lifestyle design, you can build a life surrounded by meaningful activities so you can garner the sense of purpose you need to feel satisfied with your life. Of course this will be different for everyone based on your values and long-term goals, which is where the dreamlining exercise comes in.

Similar to lifestyle design, dreamlining is about coming up with how you can make progress toward living your dream life. So in this article, we will review 6 steps you can take to complete the dreamlining exercise and get on the right path toward living a more fulfilling life that you’re passionate about.

But first, let’s take a deeper look at this exercise that Tim Ferriss introduced in The 4-Hour Workweek.

What Is Dreamlining?

Dreamlining is a goal-setting technique used to support achieving one’s personal dreams that involves applying time and cost calculations with written goals. Dreamlining is a system that you can use to help actualize your dreams by figuring out what the required characteristics and costs associated with that life would be.

Completing this exercise helps you apply a timeline to your dreams, hence the name. The results of this exercise are a systematic step-by-step process to follow to ultimately live the life that you want. Dreamlining removes any boundaries or barriers that you think you face– including the risk of failure.

Hint: Think big.

How would you fill your time if money was removed from the factors of life? What processes would you need to undergo now in order to live your dream life in the future?

The purpose of the dreamlining exercise is to define the following without any judgment:

  • What you want to have
  • What you want to be
  • What you want to do

This exercise will help you determine what your highest aspirations are, how much time, money, and resources it will cost you to get there, and what you need to eliminate from your life that isn’t helping you achieve your goals.

Once the exercise is complete, you will know what you’re working toward and what you need to do in the short-, mid-, and long-term to get there.

The validity of this exercise may seem a bit out there, but think back to Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” As this theory shows, just writing down your dreams on a calendar and creating a timeline will push you to achieve them sooner than if they’re floating aimlessly around in your head. 

So let’s get started. Here is a step-by-step guide to completing your dreamlining exercise.

6 Steps to Complete the Dreamlining Exercise

1. Get Set Up

Set yourself up to create a short-term and long-term dreamline. Start with two of these dreamlining spreadsheets, which will help you make the outline of your dreamlines and determine the costs associated with each component.

To start the process of realizing your dreams, assign a fixed amount of time to reaching your goals. For your short-term dreamline, apply between three and six months, and for the long-term one, apply between six and twelve months. Simply notate this on your dreamline.

2. Brainstorm

What is on your list of personal and professional goals? There are a few things to keep in mind when writing these:

  • Think outside of the box, don’t limit yourself
  • Don’t focus on what society wants for you, dig deep into what you want
  • Don’t worry about your lack of time, money, skill, etc.

If you’re not sure what you really want out of life or what your purpose is, here are 12 steps to help you find your purpose in life and here are 9 life purpose quizzes and questionnaires.  Check these out to help spark some inspiration.

Write everything down that you can think of during your brainstorming session that you dream of having, being, and doing during your lifetime.

3. Write

After your brainstorming session, fill in your spreadsheet by writing down 5 things you want to have, 5 things you want to be, and 5 things you want to do.

Initially, you may think along the lines of: I want to have a million dollars, I want to be an olympic athlete, and I want to travel the world. But there are other angles you could take on this. Consider this: I want to have a loving partner, I want to be fluent in Chinese, and I want to rebuild a lost relationship.

The point of step #2 is to really individualize your list, so think past the obvious or the things that you assume makes everyone happy. Make sure your top 15 aren’t generic by attaching a reason to each of them (even if it’s just in your head).

4. Make Cuts

From the 15 goals that you have written down, pick out the four most life-changing options. These will be the goals that you will move forward with at this time. Picking your top four will help you narrow your focus to the goals that are the most meaningful to you right now and prevent you from spending time on things that won’t help you make progress toward reaching your goals.

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From the goals that you have written down, pick out the four most life-changing options.

5. Determine the Cost

Now you want to do some research to figure out the cost of each of your selected four dreamlines. But instead of concentrating on the final amounts, think in terms of monthly costs and your money in vs. money out, and then see how you can make it work for you.

For example, if your long-term goal is to own a fancy car but you don’t have $200,000 to spend right now, look into how much it might cost to lease the car of your dreams. Leasing a car monthly would cost a fraction of buying one, and it would allow you to live out your dream much sooner. Saving up to buy a car may take years, but saving to lease one could be reachable within a few months.

Or, if taking a cross-country trip is a goal, budget out your daily costs (and don’t forget to add in any one-time costs associated with your trip, like camping gear). This way, you can figure out how much money you will need for the length of time you want your trip to be.

Once you have these figures, you can calculate your Target Monthly Income (TMI), which is how much money you will need to be bringing in to maintain your dream life.

First, add up all fixed and variable costs of your dreamlines (and keep in mind, some may not have costs associated with them). Then add in the monthly expenses (using this monthly expense calculator) that you’ll incur once your dreamlines have been realized (multiplied by 1.3, which will give you a 30% safety net).

Your current monthly expenses are your baseline. Figuring out your TMI will help you see how much more money you need to bring in each month to live your dreamlines.

6. Start Now

Now that you know what you’re working toward, you can get to work. For each of your four dreamlines, write down the first three things you need to do to get started.

Don’t push your start date out— use these first steps to help you build up your momentum. Get started with the first step today and plan on doing steps two and three tomorrow and the next day. Each step needs to be something simple that you can do pretty quickly–like emailing an inquiry or signing up for a lesson.

It may help if you start by working backward. Think about what you need to accomplish within the first month to move closer toward achieving your goal. Then break that smaller goal down into weekly objectives, which can be further broken down into daily tasks. What can you do today to make progress?

And there you have it– you’ve completed your dreamline and you’ve started working toward living the life of your dreams.

One unique tip about dreamlines is that it’s best to keep them to yourself. And, I know what you’re thinking, “But what about accountability?”

That’s true, we do like to share our goals to help keep us accountable for achieving them. But

studies have also shown that keeping your goals to yourself can increase your likelihood of achieving them.

So, which is it?

I think it depends on the goal. The studies found that people who kept their intentions to themselves were more likely to achieve their goals than people who had their goals acknowledged by other people, with the idea being that once you’ve told people what you’re planning to achieve, it satisfies a premature sense of completeness. Your self-identity has already been affected through talking, which can allow your brain to neglect the need to take action.

It may be possible that having accountability for short-term goals when your momentum is only needed for a limited amount of time is helpful, but it’s better to keep your longer-term goals to yourself. With this in mind, perhaps keeping the end goal of your dreamlines to yourself while sharing what you’re trying to get accomplished this week could be effective in helping you be successful.

I also believe that creating goals with the intention of keeping them to yourself will help ensure the goals are authentic to what you want to get out of life and not catered toward what other people want for you.

Final Thoughts on Completing the Dreamlining Exercise

This exercise is powerful because it can help you live out your dreams quicker than you thought was possible. Now that you’re ready to get started, check out this sample of a completed dreamline (and a blank copy for you to use as well).

Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.

Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.

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6 Steps to Complete the Dreamlining Exercise