Student Life

Make Your [Day] Dreams Come True

By Maria Andersen, George Mason

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

A recent study shows that if you daydream about a goal you desire to achieve, you’re empirically less likely to achieve it.

Fascinating! A friend at work stumbled upon this and I thought, “Finally! I’ve been wondering for MONTHS why I’m not yet  going to my dream grad school in NYC.” Now I know that my daydreams (of studying development alongside my favorite economists, living in a Friends style apartment and affording as much clothes as Carrie Bradshaw) is only a toll on my ambitions.

Kappes and Oettingen of NYU‘s results were like a breath of fresh air. They explained that fantasies “allow people to mentally indulge in a desired future”.

Let me relate 2 of their experiments to situations I’d imagine most of us can relate to:

1) Acing the GRE

They conducted an experiment where individuals were asked to fantasize about winning an essay contest. Kappes and Oettingen reported:

“participants asked to fantasise positively about winning an essay contest subsequently reported feeling less energised than did participants asked to fantasise more negatively about their prospects.”

In line with their scientific proposal, this would mean that the more you (unintentionally) direct your energy towards acing the GREs instead of just allocating all your energy to simply studying, the worse you’ll do on them.

2) You’re determined to make your 1 week of vacation count

Next, a positive fantasy about the coming week led participants to feel less energised, and when surveyed a week later, they’d achieved fewer of their week’s goals, than had control participants who’d originally been asked to day-dream freely about the coming week.

Our last week of college, my best friend and I wanted to make the week count. I had gotten off from work, we were done with exams, and we had planned a list of fun activities. We had high positive expectations for our last week at college, but reality wouldn’t hear it.

Our beach trip to DE was rained out, our wine tasting tour was threatened by dark clouds, most of our friends were still caught up in exams and couldn’t go out, and we got Potomac cruise tickets at the very last minute. Looking back, I think we were so determined to have fun that things worked out. We took things as they came and made last minute plans. When plans were ruined, we kept trying to find ways to make things happen and we did! Lots of Plan Bs are better than just a single achieved Plan A.

I think it’s important to have dreams. If you don’t have something concrete to work for, you risk plateauing where you’re currently at and never advancing. It’s crucial to advance (as economics tells us,remaining innovative always makes you better off!). Be content with what you have, but don’t ever stop working towards something better, even if these are small changes. Even if you think you have it all, there’s always something to work towards, both professionally and privately.

When I first stumbled upon this post, I was thrilled. Finally two professionals who have proof that we should go after our dreams instead of just having them! I love it. I’ve tried to make a habit of opting for critical approaches to my actions, instead of just yearning for desired outcomes and hoping things will work out. I figured it makes sense – if you focus on each step of a process,  instead of just the end, you should have a higher probability of reaching your goals than if you run aimlessly towards the finish line.

However, an important variable is left out of all of this, and I’m sheepish to admit it…but I have to.What about passion? If you really want something, and it’s coming down to the wire, it’s the passion and adrenaline that drive you. Even if you have low energy levels, if you care passionately enough about something, it’ll happen. Hm…I’m still too much of a skeptic to agree with that last sentence. You can’t move mountains with your passions. But passions do tip you over the edge at times when you were ready to give up. And they push you to go for those crazy dreams you don’t think would ever be possible.

Lesson learned: don’t force any decisions just cause you think they logically make more sense than your seemingly irrational dreams.

In practice I’ve found: Dreams and passions emerge naturally and spontaneously – and you should embrace these opportunies, not try to plan your life according to steps that “in theory” make *more* sense. DON’T give up on your dreams but DO think of how you can realistically achieve them. DO fantasize because daydreams are inspirational and motivational. DONT halt things you want simply because they seem unlikely to work out. DO have your guard up but DON’T be risk adverse. At the end of the day, none of us have perfect information and you can’t centrally plan your life, so why try.

So friends,

Dare to dream freely, but within the realm of reason.

Originally published at On The Flipside (

All photo credits go to Maria Andersen



The New Student Union is an online magazine run by and for college students covering the issues we care about. Self-starters with great communication skills and a passion for writing should email to get involved. Official site will launch in late 2011.


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