Make A Wish List

Man contemplating the clouds

Make a wish list

In which Mike learns how to make all his wishes come true

“How’s it going?” asked John “What other changes have you begun to notice since you started these exercises?”

“Well” said Mike, smiling at the fast start, “You’re right, I’ve been using both questions with myself and I find that second one ‘What do you want instead’ really annoying”.

John interrupted “I know what you mean but explain more.”

“Well I can’t moan anymore! I used to enjoy a good whinge and whine to myself, in fact I enjoyed it more than I’d care to admit but now what happens is I have a little voice that pops up in my head and asks me ‘what do you want instead?’ and that ruins my bad mood. I even tried it with my teenage daughter the other night and only just managed to stop myself laughing when it ruined her bad mood as well – it’s very powerful and I was surprised how easy it was.”

“As I thought,” said John “you’re becoming a driver. Many people who live like a passenger use their moods as a way of excusing themselves from taking action and one of the downsides of learning to be a driver is letting go of a lot of this. I’m not guaranteeing no more bad moods but I can guarantee a way out if you want to take it. What else?”

“And the other thing is, I tried a reverse brainstorm with my team which really made me laugh in the end. We were talking about the new appraisal process and instead of going through the process I started the meeting by standing at the flip chart and asking them for ideas on how to do a really bad appraisal. I’ve got to say, my heart was in my mouth, and they took a while to get it, which made me really nervous but I hung on and eventually I couldn’t stop them. It was loads of fun, they saw the point straightaway and it made the introduction of a new process much easier than usual.”

“OK, that’s really good. Let’s move on. So far we have looked at small wins, using small achievements to practice deciding what you want, taking action and noticing that you’ve got it. The we looked at reversing your whole approach and putting your focus firmly on what you don’t want as a way of using your existing ‘away from’ skills.”

“Now we’re going to look at your daydreams for clues about what you really want for your life. If I could show you a way to make your dreams come true would you be interested?”

“Sure” said Mike, dubious.

“I warn you, you might not like the answer.” said John “Let me tell you about one of my dreams…”

“For years I had this fantasy of learning to ride a motorbike. Me, on a Harley, with a ponytail, bandana, shades and a leather jacket with tassels. All I ever managed to get was the Harley belly. But I loved to talk about it, especially with friends who did ride bikes. This went on for ages until one day, one of them asked me ‘Why don’t you just go and do it?’ And then it struck me, I didn’t have a good reason not to.”

“What do you wish for? If I had a magic wand and could grant you unlimited wishes then what? You can have anything you like in your daydreams. What takes your fancy? Anything. Anything from a distant, wistful thought or something you regularly fantasise about. I’ll give you a minute to think about it but don’t tell me what they are yet.”

John fell silent as he watched Mike drift off for a while into a daydream. When he saw him refocus again he continued.

“So, those things you just been thinking about, how long have you been carrying these around in your head without doing anything about it?”

Mike shook his head “Quite a long time; years, some of them”.

“Is there anything you talk about, even to yourself, but have never done anything about? You see, I’d never done anything about my bike fantasy because it seemed overwhelming. The time for the lessons, buying a bike – how was I going to afford that? Then the business of passing a test. We’d just had a baby and I had my hands full. In fact I had a lot of really handy excuses.”

“Nothing happened until I gave serious attention to what I would actually have to do. Once I worked out the main steps and put them in some kind of order I began to see that I could break it down into fairly small actions and take them one at a time.”

“Most wishes remain as wishes because they never get connected to any real steps and then never developed into easy, straightforward actions. It’s like that old proverb – How do you eat an elephant? You can only do it one mouthful at a time. In actual fact before you could get to mouthfuls you’d have to kill it, then saw it into large chunks and divide those chunks into smaller chunks until you had a mouth sized portion.”

He looked across at Mike “What are your elephants? Your big, unobtainable wishes that are going nowhere?”

“Mike thought for a moment and then let out a big sigh. Well…”

  • I’ve always wanted a boat, one that the family could use. I’d like to teach my children about boats.
  • I like music and always fancied learning the piano or something else.
  • And New Zealand, there’s a country I’d like to tour but I cannot see us ever having time for that.

“Alright, that’s good. Now this week what I want you to do is have a serious go at connecting these wishes to the steps needed to make them come true.”

“First you need to sketch out the big steps you’d need to take to turn that wish into reality. Next you need to take each step and break it down into tiny, single step actions that are easy to take.”

Mike frowned. “What’s a single step action?”

“A single step action is something like ‘open drawer’, ‘turn on television’, ‘print document’. In other words its a small enough action that if I wrote it on a card and gave it to someone they could go and do it. There’s an example on the worksheet”

“OK” said Mike “but why am I thinking about wishes that don’t stand a chance of coming true?”

John drew a cloud on the flip chart and printed ‘FANTASY’ inside it. “Look, these wishes, your desire to own a boat for instance are fantasies. They float around in your head and you take them out every so often to polish them and then consign them to the back of your mind with a wistful look while you get back to reality, true?”

Mike nodded. John printed the word ‘STEPS’ on the flip-chart, drew a circle round it and then joined it to the cloud with a line. He then drew an arrow down from ‘STEPS’ and printed ‘ACTIONS’ at the bottom of the sheet. “This process is your chance to challenge what you are doing by linking these fantasies to the major steps that would make them real and then breaking down those steps in to a number of easy action steps. When you do this I’m willing to bet that two things will happen.”

  • You will get really excited because a fantasy suddenly looks to be within your grasp
  • Or once you appreciate the commitment required to make it happen you will decide that it is not for you

“Either way, it will no longer be a fantasy taking up space in your head. Dealing with it either by dismissing it for good or making a real plan will free up space to focus on other things that you want.”

“He handed the worksheet across. Here’s the example I promised. See how you get on with it.”

Example: Wish into Actions

“Most wishes remain as wishes because they never get connected to any steps and the steps never get connected to any actions. And without having bite size actions to do, you are never going to do anything are you? To discover the reality of what you want you’ll have to bring your wishes down to the action level and then you will really know whether your wish is a deep hidden desire that will fulfil you if you get it or just one of those cosy fantasies that you take out and play with every so often.”

“So, go ahead an pick something that you wish for. Pick anything. Even really silly things that you think you have no chance of making real. In fact, this works better with outrageous wishes.”

Mike thought for a moment “OK, here’s one. I wish that I would win the lottery”.


“Yes, really. If this process is what you claim then it should be able to get me a lottery win”

John put his hands up in a gesture of surrender “OK, you asked for it. Let’s leave aside for a moment that this is probably covering up a true wish for other things like, say, more freedom and control, and go with the lottery thing.”

“First, lets dump a list of steps that might get you a lottery win. No analysis, just an unrestrained brain dump.” He picked up a marker and stood by the whiteboard “Fire away…”

Initial Steps

Mike grinned. “OK, I could:

  1. Buy every single ticket for this draw
  2. Break into the TV studio and tamper with the balls
  3. Build a replica machine and smuggle it into the studio
  4. Bribe a cameraman to cut to a piece of stock footage while I am the only one to see the true draw
  5. Marry a millionaire who could afford to buy me all the draw tickets

“Good, let’s stop there for the moment”

“Hold on” said Mike “This is getting very silly”.

“It might seem silly but do you agree that all of these are possible steps to a lottery win?”

“I suppose so.”

“And if we had more time we’d keep going until we had every possible step. For now though let’s use one example and break it down into actions”.

Breaking each step into single actions

John rubbed out all the others, leaving the third one. “Let’s assume for a moment that you were going to build a replica machine and smuggle it into the studio. What would you have to do first?”

“I dunno” said Mike “What about getting hold of the plans for an existing one?”

“And to do that?”

“Perhaps I could bribe an employee where they make them” suggested Mike getting into the swing of it.

“But you don’t know where they are made, do you?” pointed out John “So what is the smallest step before that”

Mike paused “I suppose…, what about…, I know, it’s to navigate to the Google home page to start a search”

Fantasy linked to Steps linked to Actions

“Do you see what we’ve done here?” John asked “We have taken a vague wish, brainstormed the steps and then broken down one step to the point where we have a tiny action to take, in this example, open a browser and find the Google home page.”

“What you need to do now is take each step and break it down into bite-sized actions until you can answer the question ‘What’s the very next action?’. Then you’ll have a 1,000 step action plan to win the lottery and if you do every step you could win it. Suddenly, it is no longer a fantasy. You have a plan.”

“Hang on” said Mike “That’s loads of work, I don’t want to do all of that and I’m not sure that half of it would work anyway”.

John looked at him.

“Oh, I see. I’ve answered my own question haven’t I?”

“Yep,” said John. “You’ve discovered that although, like many people, you have a lottery fantasy, confronted with all the work required to make it happen you’ve lost your appetite for it. What you need to do now is pick another fantasy to work with or ask yourself what your desire for a lottery win was covering up.”

“Here’s the worksheet for the Third Way. Pick another fantasy, perhaps that boat idea or the New Zealand tour and do it again”

He left as Mike began to see pictures of boats floating through his mind ‘I wonder whether it could be possible after all?’

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