How To Dream Specifically

There’s a concept in sailing called velocity made good, or VMG for short. Because a sailboat cannot point directly into the wind and make any forward progress, you have to sail at an angle to the wind. So VMG is the speed that you’re actually making toward your destination.

For instance, as part of a round the world sailing trip I took with my family, we wanted to sail from Panama to the Galapagos. Our speed looked great on the surface, but there were forces holding us back. The most obvious was that the wind was coming directly from where we wanted to go. To make any forward progress, we had to sail at a forty-degree angle to the wind (called tacking), so we were doing a massive zigzag toward our destination. That quickly turns a six hundred-mile passage into a twelve-hundred-mile passage. The wind was also unseasonably light, so we just weren’t sailing fast enough.

However, perhaps the most disheartening force working against us was the one we couldn’t see. There were strong currents under the surface of the sea that were literally pushing us back. So while the boat felt as though she was moving forward across the surface of the ocean, we were actually making very little progress.

The same thing has a tendency to occur in our day-to-day lives: Our VMG just isn’t good enough. We have our eyes on a goal, or a dream, and yet there are forces—both seen and unseen—working against our realizing those dreams.

A key question to ask yourself to begin counteracting those forces is this: Do I really know where I am heading, and where I want to go? Said another way—how am I dreaming?

If you are like most folks—you have a dream. In fact, you have lots of dreams, and yet, the chances are that they are not specific at all. Almost by default, your VMG toward them will be poor.

Dreams, like wanting to be successful in business, wanting to retire rich or early, wanting to be happier, or wanting to have a strong marriage are all vague. Each is lacking specific detail about not only how you’ll arrive at that goal but also what the dream specifically means. What does it mean to you to be happy? How much do you require in your savings account to fund a comfortable retirement? “I want to have a successful career” is a dream that almost everyone has, but people who are specific about defining what success means to them, how they will get there, and by when are far more likely to achieve the dream.

Without specifics, all these dreams lack “teeth”; they are vague. Because they are vague, they open the door for you to focus on the obstacles, fears, and dreads. Ultimately, these negatives get so overwhelming that they paralyze you and prevent you from ever achieving your dream. Your VMG toward that dream will stall altogether, and the likelihood is high that you won’t achieve it. That’s what I mean when I say you’ll die full of potential. You could have achieved something that was important to you during the course of your lifetime, but you didn’t.

Back to the theory of VMG. You are not always sailing against a current when you set sail, and you do not always have to tack back and forth because the wind is coming directly from your destination. Sometimes, the wind is on your beam, (coming across the side of the boat). This typically enables your boat to sail along nice and fast. And sometimes, the current is actually accelerating your progress toward your destination. Your boat’s instruments indicate you are sailing along at seven knots, but your VMG—because of the current—is actually twelve. That doesn’t sound like much of a difference—but in a sailboat, it is massive, cutting the time to your destination almost in half—a really big deal! It’s the difference between taking eighteen days to cross the Atlantic and taking ten and a half days. Metaphorically, this is precisely what happens when you change the way you dream. Instead of dreaming in a way that enables all your specific fears, dreads, and obstacles to paralyze you, you need to dream specifically. With this approach, you will be much better equipped to simply deal with all the fears, dreads, and obstacles—one at a time as they arise.

This changes the conversation entirely. One of the positive side effects of this approach is that it places you much more firmly in the driver’s seat. You have made a specific choice, and you are taking the necessary steps to make it happen. You are no longer a victim of circumstance. All of the more difficult decisions will be easier because they have context—they are all enablers for you to achieve your specific dream.


Jeremy Cage is President of The Cage Group, which focuses on unleashing the full potential of businesses and people.  He has held senior management positions at Procter and Gamble and PepsiCo; has lived and worked in Sweden, England, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil and the United States; and took sixteen months to sail around the world with his family.  Cage is also co-founder of several start-up companies in the areas of healthy foods and nutrition. You can learn more at: www.thecagegroup.org.