Are You Sleepwalking Your Life Away?

Girl in the desert

(Image: HORIZON)

“The first step towards change is awareness.” — Nathaniel Branden

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 keeping them stashed at the back of your mind?

Sleepwalkers – these are people who live their lives in an unconscious state. Being conscious is not about being physically awake. Many people 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 just physical shells living their lives as drones. Have you ever seen people with no clarity of their life? People who live on a day-to-day basis, never thinking about the future or what they want? These people are not able to articulate what their life is about. Every day, they run around doing various activities such as working, playing, partying, sleeping, and eating, but none of it has any relation to life in the bigger scheme of things. Their daily existence is what they have come to know as life.

These people are the sleepwalkers.

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

1. Lack of awareness of the bigger picture

What is life to you? Is it just about going to school/work, going home, eating, sleeping, and having fun in between? Unlike what some may think, life is more than what’s in your sight. There is a far bigger world out there, outside of you, your work, family, friends, and religion. Sleepwalkers are not aware of life in the bigger scheme of things. They do not see their life is part of the universe, as part of human history, and as 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 life purpose is? Do you have a clear vision of what you want your life to be 10, 20, and 30 years from now? Or is it fuzzy and undetermined? Sleepwalkers are not aware of their life purpose. They have ambiguous, sketchy purposes that they were fed with at some point in their lives. Some have an idea of their goals and dreams, but they put them in the back burner to pursue things that others expect them to do.

3. Life runs on auto-pilot

Are you ‘going through the motions’ or ‘running the rat race’ every day? Sleepwalkers live their lives on auto-pilot, repeating the same things daily with no conscious control over them. They live 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 in sight. They are too entrenched into the cycle to do anything about it.

Occasionally things happen which derail this loop, such as the transition to a different life phase, changing careers, loss of a job, loss of a long-term relationship, etc. Some people call this a mid-life crisis. When this happens, they get a wake up call. They start to realize that they have not been living life. At this point, some may start to take action on their lives. Some scurry back into their rat wheel, convincing themselves that their current life is the best one, even when it isn’t.

4. Engaging in non-value activities

When sleepwalkers are not going through the motions, they fill the gaps with random activities. This includes addictions such as playing games, partying, eating, watching TV, surfing the net aimlessly, shopping, and complaining. The person is often not able to stop it until something cuts him/her off, such as time to sleep or eat. He or she is also not able to articulate a clear reason for engaging in the activity, other than “Because it is fun,” “I like it,” and “There is nothing else to do.”

5. Passive or avoidance approach to life

Sleepwalkers have a passive stance in life. 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, and taking charge of things in their lives are just not in their nature.

Sometimes they find themselves trapped and unhappy with where they are, such as their relationships or work. However, they remain passive 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 as much as possible. After a while of avoidance, the unresolved issue will culminate to a breaking point, screaming for attention. The sleepwalker’s automatic reaction is to avoid and drown it out by engaging in numbing activities. Unfortunately, this does not resolve anything and the problem surfaces again in the future, in a different way. An analogy would be an ostrich burying its head in the sand. Just because you refuse to acknowledge a problem doesn’t mean it’s not there.

6. No time to do the things you want

Sleepwalkers are often busy all the time. They frequently complain about not having enough time. But they do not realize that they are the ones who put themselves in that position in the first place. When questioned by other people, they cannot put a finger to where all the time has gone to. Sleepwalkers are always waiting for a proverbial ‘next time’ for their goals, but they do not realize that ‘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/emotions

Did you know that 60,000 thoughts run through your mind every day? What thoughts dominate your mind each day? What were you thinking and feeling before you started reading this article? Sleepwalkers constantly have cluttered minds. In addition, they have low awareness of the thoughts occupying 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 dreams, they ignore them in pursuit of other things which they feel they ‘need’ to do.

Does any of the criteria above describe your 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 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 these, I would be playing 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 then were Ragnarok Online, Maple Story, Gunbound, and Warcraft 3. My favorite shows were Buffy, Angel, Charmed, Friends, and American Idol, among others.

As I grew up, I slowly gained consciousness through random encounters in my life. However, I was still largely a sleepwalker living out the visions of marketers and society. I lacked my own overarching vision in life. It was when I was about to graduate that I was jolted awake.

When it comes to education in Singapore (or any developed society for that matter), everything has already been segmented in stages of primary school, secondary school, junior college/polytechnic and/or university. As students, all we have to do is to score well enough to progress from one stage to the next.

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

My imminent graduation forced me to think if this was what I wanted to do for life. It made me think of the actual meaning my life was based on. When I looked at the bigger context of life, I found out that external, ego-based achievements do not matter in the long run – they are physical possessions which are impermanent. They are definitely valuable right now, maybe 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 is not how I want the rest of my life to play  out.

As I wrote in Two Important Things that Led Me to Discover My Life Purpose (over 6,600 word article on how I found 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 in them. Fast forward to two years later in 2008 – this blog is created as one of my 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 their rat wheels. People busy earning money for a better life. People who do not know what their lives really stand for. People wasting their existence away. People denying themselves of what they really want. People not knowing what they truly want.

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

Similarly, I’m energized when I see sleepwalkers waking up from their dreams. :D It can be due to life transitions, wake-up calls, or timely epiphanies. In the past few years, I have seen people from both my previous workplace and social circle who woke up from their auto-pilot sequence and made hard decisions to pursue what they truly want to do. Whenever that happens, I will feel a surge of warmth, because I know that whatever they do from hereon, everything will fall into place as long as they keep their focus.

Waking up from your dream

Forest in the sunlight

(Image: benmillett)

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

The most important thing is what you do after waking up. Are you going to delude yourself and go back to sleep, pretending that your revelations 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 pill and blue pill in The Matrix. The red pill reflects the truth — the reality. The blue pill reflects the dream — your life as you used to know it. The red pill is what’s going to liberate you and help you achieve your best life ever. The blue pill represents a path of denial – denying who you truly are and what you are meant to do on Earth.

Recognize that you have power over your situation and you can start acting on it, right now. Through conscious action, you can pave the path for the life you want. Every day, I make choices and take 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 act on what you want, nothing is going to come out of it.

It is easy to 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 life this way?

What to do after you wake up

If you decide to pick the red pill and wake up from your dream, congratulations! This is where your real life begins. :D Here are some articles to start with:

  1. Discover Your Real Purpose series (7-part series). There is a lot of information in here, including important factors to consider when defining your purpose, an exercise to find your life purpose, and how to pursue your purpose after discovering it.
  2. You Are The CEO of Your Life. Look at your life as a CEO, and assess how you are living your life.
  3. Get Your Big Rocks In First. What are the big rocks in your life? Are they in place?

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 you that the happiness and quality of life you will find on this path will be significantly greater than if you were to live out your life as a drone. I guarantee you that you will find more fulfillment on this path compared to anything you ever did.

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 Jan 9, 2009: We appeared on the front page on Digg on January 6! The listing has thrown everything off the record, link backs sprang up from Delicious popular page, different forums, and social networking sites, among other sites. So far, we have over 23,000 new readers coming in and counting – this surpasses the visitor target I had set for the month of January. :) Thanks to everyone who dugg the article, and welcome to all new visitors :) Please check out the articles section 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