If you are trapped in the nightmare you will probably be more strongly motivated to awaken than someone who is just caught in the ups and downs of an ordinary dream.Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now
The quote above rings true. Why do we will ourselves to wake up during a nightmare, while we remain blissfully ignorant during regular or pleasant dreams?
Tony Robbins describes in his book Awaken the Giant Within the following scenario:
I believe that life is like a river, and that most people jump on the river of life without ever really deciding where they want to end up. So, in a short period of time, they get caught up in the current: current events, current fears, current challenges.
When they come to forks in the river, they don’t consciously decide where they want to go, or which is the right direction for them. They merely ‘go with the flow’. They become a part of the mass of people who are directed by the environment instead of by their own values. As a result, they feel out of control.
They remain in this unconscious state until one day the sound of the raging water awakens them, and they discover that they’re five feet from Niagara Falls in a boat with no oars. At this point, they say, ‘Oh shoot!’.Tony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within
This scenario is similar to the nightmare scenario is that we only really awaken when we realize that catastrophe is looming. We can no longer ignore the pain we are experiencing and are forced into action.
One of the biggest human motivators is the avoidance of pain, even more than pursuing pleasure. It’s been shown in experiments that humans refuse to gamble on a coin toss until the ratio of the reward is twice as much as their initial stake they could lose. This is explained by Daniel Kahneman’s Nobel Prize-winning theory of loss aversion – people hate losing more than they enjoy winning.
So how do we avoid noticing that life is going sour before it’s too late? One way is to increase our reference points in our lives. This is the same as raising our standards, or turning up a metaphorical thermostat. This applies to our finances, health, relationships, and any other area of our life. If we have higher standards, we will feel ‘pain’ even when other people may not, which we can use as motivation to get where we deem is acceptable.
Therefore, pursuing a goal means you must be willing to sacrifice. To get something “better” you will have to give up something – be it energy, time, even sense of current identity. Having a higher level of reference will mean that you have to be ready to meet the challenge of living life at a higher level – taking more responsibility and using up more effort.