Are You Sleepwalking Your Life Away?

Desert

“The first step toward change is awareness.” – Nathaniel Branden

(Originally written and published on Jan 2 ’09)

Do you have a clear direction for your life? What life long goals and dreams do you have for your life, career, health, relationships, wealth and spirituality? Are you actively pursuing them? Or are you just keeping them stashed at the back of your mind?

Sleepwalkers – These are people who live through their lives in an unconscious state. Being conscious isn’t about being physically awake – Many people around us are physically awake, yet living unconsciously. They are not fully aware of who they are, the larger context of life they are a part of and their real purpose in life.

Sleepwalkers look like any one of us, but are really just physical shells living through their lives as drones. Have you ever seen people who have no clarity on their life? People who live on a day-by-day basis, never thinking about the future or what they really want? These people are not able to articulate what their life is about. Every day, they are just running around doing various activities such as working, playing, partying, sleeping, but none of it has any relation to life in the bigger picture. This is what they have come to know as life.

These people are the sleepwalkers.

How do you know if you are a sleepwalker? Below are 8 signs to watch out for:

1. Lack of awareness of the bigger picture.

What is life to you? Is it about going to school/work, going home, eating, sleeping, and having fun in between? Unlike what some may think, the boundaries of life are beyond what comes within your direct sphere of contact. There is a far bigger world out there, outside of you, your work, your family, friends and religion. Sleepwalkers are not aware of their life as part of a bigger context. They do not realize their life is part of the whole universe, part of the whole spectrum of human history and part of something greater than what they see every day. What do you think of your life in terms of?

2. Not living in alignment with real purpose.

Do you know what your purpose in life is? Do you have a clear vision of how you want your life to be 5 years, 15 years, 30 years from now? Or is it fuzzy and undetermined? Sleepwalkers are not aware of what their purpose in life is. They have ambiguous, sketchy purposes which they were fed with at some point in their lives – and they are not fully convinced of it themselves either. Some have an idea of their dreams and goals, but they put it in the back burner in pursuit of other things that others expect them to do in life.

3. Life runs on auto-pilot.

Are you caught in the loop of ‘going through the motions’ or ‘running the rat race’? Sleepwalkers live their lives in automated mode, repeating the same activities daily with no conscious control over them. They drone through the weekdays, looking forward to Fridays and weekends, where they recharge themselves for yet another dead week ahead. This cycle continues week after week, with no end. They are too comfortably snuggled in the cycle to do anything about it.

Occasionally events happen which derails the motion, such as the transition to a different life phase, changing careers, loss of a job, etc. This is also referred to as the mid-life crisis. When this happens, they get a wake up call. They start realizing that they have not really been living their life. At this point, some may start taking direct action on their lives. Some choose to scurry back into their rat wheel, convincing themselves that their current life is the best one.

4. Engage into non-value added activities.

When sleepwalkers are not busy getting caught in the motions, they fill the gaps in their lives with random activities. This includes addictions such as playing games, partying, eating, watching TV, surfing the net with no end in mind, gossiping, complaining, etc. The person is often not capable to stop this at will until there is an external stimulus which cuts it off, such as time to sleep or eat. He or she is also not able to articulate a clear reason for engaging the activity, other than ‘Because it is fun’, ‘I like it’ or ‘There is nothing else to do’.

5. Passive or avoidance approach to life.

This is the common motif of “Living on a day to day basis” and “Live and let live”. They roll along with the punches and manage them as they come along. Control is something they relinquish to people around them. Asking ‘why?’, questioning existing establishments or taking charge of events in their lives are just not in their nature.

Sometimes they find themselves trapped and unhappy with where they are in their lives, such as their relationships or their work. However, they remain passive about it because they do not see any way out. When asked about their reactive behavior, they reply with “I want to, but [insert reason]” .They are under the perception that what they are doing is temporary sacrifice for a better, long-term future.

They dislike conflict and try to avoid issues or confrontations as much as possible. After a while of avoiding problems, the unresolved issues will culminate to a breaking point scream for their attention. The sleepwalker’s automatic reaction is to avoid and drown them out by engaging in numbing activities. Unfortunately, this does not resolve anything and the problem emerges again sometime in the future, in a different context. An analogy would be the popular myth of the ostriches ‘burying its head under the sand’. Just because you refuse to acknowledge a problem, does not mean it isn’t there.

6. Find no time to do things you want to do.

Sleepwalkers are often busy all the time – they frequently complain about having a lack of time, not being able to do things they want, etc. But they do not realize they are the ones who put themselves in that position in the first place. When questioned by other people, they cannot exactly put a finger to where all the time and energy went into. Sleepwalkers are always waiting for a proverbial ‘next time’ for their goals, dreams and desires in life, but they do not realize that the ‘next time’ never comes. By the time they do, a long time has already passed, and now they switch to thinking that it’s now ‘too late’ to work on their goals.

7. Unconscious of your thoughts and emotions.

Are you aware that 60,000 thoughts run through our mind every day? What thoughts dominate your mind every day? What were you thinking and feeling just before you started reading this article? Sleepwalkers constantly have their minds cluttered. In addition, they also have low awareness of those thoughts that occupy their mind.

8. Lack of motivation or ambition.

Sleepwalkers are not very motivated or driven in their lives. They live simply because they are here. They spend their lives living other peoples’ expectations to make something out of their lives. While some of them have personal goals and desires, they keep them stashed away in pursuit of other things which they feel they ‘need’ to do.

Does any of the criteria above describe your current situation or anyone around you?

My life as a sleepwalker

Up till 2006, I was living my life as a sleepwalker. I was busy pursuing inculcated goals such as getting good results, earning money and becoming successful. I was caught in the paper chase, such as scoring in projects and exams, getting a high CAP (GPA) and being on the dean’s list. I was busy earning money from the side with my designing business and tuition. My life was single-mindedly focused on what would make me rich and successful.

When I was not busy doing those, I would be playing MMORPGs (mass multiplayer online role-playing games) or online games with my friends, indulging in excessive materialism through shopping, going out with friends, watching/rewatching my favorite dramas, chatting online or just surfing random sites. I still remember the games my friends and I were addicted to at the time were Ragnarok Online, Maple Story, Gunbound and Warcraft 3; My favorite dramas/shows were Buffy, Angel, Charmed, Friends, American Idol, among others.

As I was growing up, I was slowly gaining consciousness through random encounters in my life. However, I was still largely a sleepwalker living out other people’s visions and goals, such as marketers and advertisers, the society, family, etc. I was lacking my own overarching vision in life. It was when I was transitioning between graduating from university and moving on to work life that I was jolted awake.

When it comes to education in Singapore (or any other developed society for that matter), everything has already been conveniently segmented in chronological stages of primary, secondary, college/polytechnic and/or university. As students, all we had to do was ensure we can seamlessly progress one stage to the next.

Graduation from university however, marks the end of the road. This is where the forks in the road appear.

My imminent graduation forced me to think if this was what I want to do for the rest of my life. It made me think of the actual meaning my life is based on. When I looked at the bigger context of life, I found out that external, ego-based achievements do not matter at all in the long run – they are physical possessions which are impermanent. They are definitely valuable right now, they may be even more so 10 years later. But how about 100 years later? 1,000 years later? When I looked ahead, it became obvious that this was not how I want the rest of my life to turn out.

As I have detailed out in Two Important Things that Led Me to Discover My Real Purpose (over 6,000 word article on the story behind the discovery of my purpose), I eventually found my real purpose – to help others achieve their fullest potential and live their best possible life. It is my life vision to wake up all other sleepwalkers and unlock all the potential that is hiding inside of them. Fast forward to two years later in 2008 – This personal development blog is created as one of the mediums to achieve that vision. :)

Sleepwalkers around us

Whenever I look around me, I see sleepwalkers droning their lives away. People running fervently in the rat race and in their rat wheels. People busy earning money for a better life in the future. People who do not know what their lives really stand for. People wasting their existence away. People denying themselves of what they really want on the inside. People not knowing what they truly want.

Every day, it simply charges me up so much seeing all the potential in these people that is just waiting to be unleashed. There are times when I feel like just grabbing these people by their shoulders and shake them violently out of their stance!

Similarly, I get energized to no end when I witness sleepwalkers waking up from their dreams. 😀 It can be due to life transitions, sudden wake-up calls, epiphanies, etc. In the past 2 years, I have seen people in both my workplace and social circle who suddenly wake up from their auto-pilot sequence one day and make hard decisions to pursue what they truly want to do. Whenever that happens, I will feel a surge of warmth and ardency welling up inside of me, because I know that no matter what they do from here on, everything will fall right into place.

Waking up from your dream

Maybe you just found out that you have been sleepwalking your whole life away. When you first wake up from your dream, you may be shocked at how much of your real life has gone past you while you were sleeping. You may be angry at yourself. You may be upset. You may even be depressed. That is perfectly fair.

The most important thing from here on is what you choose to do after waking up. Are you going to delude yourself and go back to sleep, pretending all this has never happened? Or are you going to courageously face reality and start leading the life you are meant to live?

It is akin to when Morpheus offered Neo the red and blue pills in Matrix. The red pill reflects the truth; the reality. The blue pill reflects the dream; your life as you have known it to be. The red pill is what is going to liberate you and let you achieve your greatest life ever. The blue pill represents a path of denial – denying who you truly are and what you are really meant to do here.

Recognize that you have power over your situation and you can start acting on it, right now. Through conscious, deliberate action, you can pave the path for whatever life you want. Every day in my life, I make choices and actions which move me closer to my goals. And you can definitely do the same too. No matter where you are in life right now, no matter who you are, no matter how old you are – it is never too late to be who you are meant to be. Unless you choose to take action on what you want, nothing is ever going to come out of it.

It is easy to just go back to sleep – back to the life you knew. But is it what you really want to do? Is this how you are meant to live out your existence? Are you really living your best possible life this way?

What to do after you wake up

If you have decided to pick the red pill and wake up from your dream, congratulations! This is where your real life begins 😀 Here are the following articles I would like you to start off with:

  1. Discover Your Real Purpose series (7-parter). There is a lot of information written inside, including important factors to consider when defining your purpose, an exercise to find your purpose, how to integrate your purpose into your current life after discovering it.
  2. You Are the CEO of Your Life. Look at your life via a refreshing angle – holistically as a company, rather than in a myopic manner.
  3. ESPER: Successful Goal Achievement series (7-part series). This is a comprehensive 5-step framework (ESPER) which I have developed. It will help you to transform your purpose into concrete goals and conquer them.

The path ahead will not be smooth. It will be challenging, it will be rocky and you may even feel like quitting at times. But I can guarantee the level of happiness and quality of life you will find on this path will be significantly greater than if you were to live out your existence out as a drone. I guarantee you that you will find more fulfillment on this path compared to anything else you ever did. I guarantee you that you will start feeling exuberance and passion unlike anything you have ever felt before in your life.

I will end this article with a quote from Socrates in the movie Peaceful Warrior: “Death isn’t sad. The sad thing is: most people don’t live at all.”

This is part of the Conscious Living series.

Update on ninth Jan ’09: The sixth Jan front page listing on Digg.com for Are You Sleepwalking Your Life Away? article (600+ diggs) has definitely thrown everything off the record! After the listing, linkbacks sprang up from Delicious popular page, series of forums, social networking sites among a multitude of other sites. So far, we have approximately over 23K new readers coming in and counting – that about floors the visitor target I had set for the full month of January :) Thanks to everyone who has dugg the article and welcome to all new visitors :) Please check out the archives for all the articles that have been posted so far.

At the same time, I have received a lot of emails/comments on this article. I have written a follow-up post to reply to all feedback. Read them in Are You Sleepwalking Your Life Away? Part 2

Images: Desert, Forest