There are three kinds of waking dreams: the nightmare, the daydream, and the sacred dream. Of these, only the sacred dream can help you fulfill your mission here on Earth. To live within a sacred dream requires that you understand that daydreams can feel pleasant but will turn into nightmares as the circumstances of your life change. As for the nightmares we all wish to avoid, they always begin as daydreams, but have since reached their expiration date and gone bad, like cheese left in the refrigerator for too long.

The daydream that turns into a nightmare can be the relationship or job that was so seductive but that now has become a dark hole you cannot get out of or change. The nightmare does not offer you much hope for things to be different. When you are trapped in it, you come to believe that the poor health you are experiencing is just part of getting old and you may as well get used to it, or that the boredom and frustration of your job or marriage is the price you have to pay for security. Or you might believe there is nothing you can do to change the divisive political climate or the violence happening in the world. The nightmare keeps you paralyzed.

If we are trapped inside a toxic relationship, we begin to fantasize about what it could be like if things were different, and we start to use all our powers of concentration to create a new reality. We imagine someone light and cheery coming into our lives, another chance to live the life we have missed out on. Then one day we run away with our new love, only to discover that this new daydream also has a sell-by date.

A daydream keeps you looking for something outside of yourself to make you feel complete—your true soul mate, a new guru, a new diet, a new health regime—and wondering if there may be something out there in the world you are missing out on.

The daydream may seem benign or even quite pleasant but is almost always a formula for disaster. And while daydreams sometimes do not turn into nightmares, they can keep us comfortable but not growing—and soon our lives feel stale and purposeless. Sometimes daydreams fool us, mimicking yet forestalling the courageous dreams that are most rewarding. We think we are leading a life of meaning, and then one day we realize it doesn’t seem that way at all.

How do you recognize when you are living under the spell of a daydream? Daydreams always contain a contract or agreement you make with life that goes like this: “When . . . then.”

“When I have more money . . . then I won’t be anxious.” “When I am happy . . . then I will be grateful.” “When we have new leadership . . . then we will be able to have a truthful conversation.” Or perhaps, “When I find my true love, or my true calling in life, or the perfect house, or job . . . then I will ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_____________.”

The following exercise will help you break out of the “When . . . then” equation and stop wrestling with a daydream that is slowly turning into a nightmare. You do this by flipping the contract you have made with yourself that stipulates when you will be happy or healthy or at peace. What you wish for should not be conditional on anything.

Write this exercise three times so you can discover three core agreements that you have made with yourself and that need to be broken today:

When I­­­­­­___________________________________, then I will_______________________.

Be sure to repeat this on two more lines.

Look at the three agreements you have made. Were you conscious of them?

Now, cross off the beginning of each sentence so that it starts with “I will”:

I will_______________________________________.

You have three new goals now—ones that you can achieve in this moment. When I did this exercise, I discovered my goals were:

I will be grateful.

I will dedicate my life to service.

I will speak truthfully.

Unlike other goals, these do not require you to plan how you will bring them about. Instead, you commit to them and take advantage of every opportunity to make them true today. You practice gratitude. You dedicate your life to service. You speak truthfully—and so on. Your excuses for delaying the life you wish to lead are to be left behind now.