How to journal perchance to dream and dream perchance to live

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

In Psycho-Cybernetics Maxwell Maltz talks about using your inner servo-mechanism to provide the idea, information, or solution you need for any particular purpose. Whilst I found the mechanistic language and some of the metaphors off-putting, the notion of an inner steers-person was more appealing.

Maltz discusses how too much conscious effort to solve problems or to get into creative flow can be counterproductive, destroying spontaneity. Instead he envisions his quest, commits to the steers-person and lets it happen, using the power of the subconscious. This chimed with Edison’s dictum to

Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.

Giving the subconscious a chance

So, I began leaving questions for my subconscious in my journal last thing at night. And although normally I only remember dreams when I’m going through a difficult period, I began having much more vivid and memorable dreams almost ‘on demand’.

In one dream I was with a group, travelling, but we had to stop in a particular place. The accommodation was one room filled with furniture. The pieces were designer, once-beautiful items, but all were old and shabby and enormous. There was hardly room to walk between the pieces of furniture and as the dream went on more and more of it appeared, bringing a feeling of stress. There were several other dreams that involved ‘baggage’, in which what I was carrying weighed me down.

At the same time as having these dreams I was doing a lot of reading, thinking and journalling about my vision for the future. And that included a lot of thinking about activities I was spending time on that needed to go.

I’d read Greg McKeown’s Essentialism and noted several quotes:

The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage.

… only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter

And here were my dreams telling me: Get rid of stuff. Some of that stuff was physical. I cleared out my wardrobe and unused cookery books and some kitchen cupboards. But the much more important baggage that needed to go included:

  • work I’d taken on that was achieving nothing of benefit, but was reactive and appeasing.
  • overwork in general
  • overthinking — I’m far too adept at taking on the worries of everyone and everything, crowding heart and mind in ways that don’t help.
  • overeating — food is my comfort zone and it was creeping up.

Minimalism for the soul

Photo by Niilo Isotalo on Unsplash

I needed to declutter not just wardrobes, but my life. I needed to go back to my touchstone from Henry David Thoreau:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation … I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…

I decided to get more focussed. McKeown points out:

The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities.

I journalled at length about ‘the essentials’.

What’s the one way I relax in the morning?


What’s the one way I relax before sleep?

A hot bath.

What’s the one activity I’m more passionate about than anything else?


What in the world do I care about most?


What’s the one thing I most need to be there for those I care about and to have the energy for my passion?


They are not extraordinary answers, but they are simple, focussed and clear. And they are precisely the concerns that get pushed off the agenda when life is over-packed with non-essentials. This is McKeown again:

You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.

Finding clarity

With all of this running around my head, I took a weekend in solitude with my journal to look at all the ways I was using my time. I made lists and charts and calculations for everything imaginable; both for work with Cinnamon Press and outside of work. And I looked hard at tasks that were taking huge amounts of time for little or not return (sometimes financial, but, importantly, emotional and intellectual). And I told myself that everything was up for grabs.

I spent the first day prevaricating, making excuses for keeping a literary competition that made no money, ate huge amounts of time, but was ‘liked’, for example. Then I woke up the next morning with the clear understanding that if I was going to keep making deals with myself to be a people pleaser, then I should stop having passions and quests in life.

This was the breakthrough I needed. I knew that some things I felt should go from Cinnamon or from wider life were bringing in some income, but were unfulfilling and distracting in other ways. To let go of these would take courage. And it would take imagination because I still had a mortgage to pay and food to buy…

But when you start to know what matters to you. When you are on a quest. Then you find the way.

Being unreasonable

Photo by léa b on Unsplash

And then I read an excellent article by John Mashni, which came at exactly right the time. He began with a quote from George Bernard Shaw:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

John took a huge risk to change his life and to change himself. His way of life looked reasonable and right to most on the outside — doing his duty, working hard, putting others dreams before his own or his family, always saying yes to demands.

He decided to leave a highly-paid job, retrain and start again. It was risky and unreasonable, so he sent himself an email:

This is a reminder. Be unreasonable. There is no time for compromise. Protect your time. Everyone around you wants to waste it and push you away from your dreams. You need to focus on you and your goals and not let other people steal your time and money and love for free.

Don’t forget.

Watch out for exceptional mediocrity.

All progress depends on the unreasonable man.

Dream perchance to live

When we get clear about what matters, the conscious and unconscious start to work together to nudge us along the path we need to take.

  • Recruit your subconscious.
  • Journal relentlessly about what matters most to you, what is essential.
  • Declutter your life of activities that distract you from the person you want to become
  • Be unreasonable

As McKeown asks;

What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?

And a final insight Anne Lamott:

No is a complete sentence.

Becoming a Different Story

Thank you for reading becoming a different story — if you want to learn more about working on creativity and the writing life, sign up to my email list and I’ll send you a free PDF on writing and the writing life. You can also find out about my forthcoming writing courses at or email me @ Or just feel free to continue the conversation here on Medium.

Editor, author, feminist & part-time nomad. Helping others develop their writing life and practice. Blog @