Struggling To Define Your Goals? Try Your Unconscious

Jan 31, 2017 / Photography / carl jung / goal setting / how to be creative

If you are still struggling with setting some goals for this year, because you can’t think of any, why not try your Unconscious?

Your Unconscious already knows what you want to be. You just need to find a bridge between the two realms: the Conscious and the Unconscious.

Until you make the unconscious conscious it will rule your life and you will call it fate.

C.G. Jung

Robert Johnson’s book Inner Work is a great guide to finding this bridge. It is based on the works of Carl Jung who identified two paths to your unconscious: dreams and imagination.

Dream Is the First Pathway To Your Goals

The first way is to interpret your dreams. It’s a four step process according to Carl Jung:

  1. Making the Associations
  2. Connecting The Dream Images To What’s Happening Inside of You
  3. Interpreting
  4. Doing A Ritual to Concretize a Dream

The language of dreams is symbolic. For example, if you were to dream about a coworker at work, and in this dream, you owed him money for apartment rent, it doesn’t really mean that. The “coworker” and the “money for apartment rent” are symbols that your Unconscious is using to represent something.

How do you then make sense of a dream?

You make associations, which is the first step.

Dreams are a series of images, and within those images are symbols. You job is to theorize what they may mean. Write down any personal associations that come to mind in relation to the dream images. In the example above, ask yourself “Who is the part of me that is represented by the coworker?” As already mentioned, it’s really not about the coworker, it’s about you, being represented as a coworker by your Unconscious.

In the second step, you connect the dream images to what’s happening in your life. Could this one thing in the dream represent what’s happening in your work life, love life, family life, artist life? Write it all down.

In the third step, you then combine what you had in step 1 and step 2 and interpret the dream as a whole. Robert Johnson recommends that you choose the interpretation that feels right. There is no right or wrong answer.

In the fourth step, you do a physical ritual that brings the dream into the physical world (instead of just rattling in your head). Concretizing a dream simply means to do something physical to acknowledge the dream. Take a walk in honor of your dream. Light a candle. Write down the meaning of the dream and state them as goals. Robert Johnson gives an example of a man who did something like this. The man wrote himself a letter.

“He sat down and wrote a long letter addressed to the part of himself that needed to grow up, make some decisions, and be an adult. He wrote several pages. He explained everything he had learned about taking responsibility, making choice and sacrifices, sticking to a schedule—everything that his inner “roommate” needed to know.

He put the letter in an envelope, addressed the envelope to himself, then went to the post office and made a formal ceremony of posting it. The next day the letter arrived in the mail. It was as though the voice of the unconscious, coming from far away, was speaking to him through the letter. For weeks after that, he wrote a letter to himself every few days and mailed it to himself. With each letter that he received, the message and the implications of his dream burned themselves more deeply into his consciousness. It permanently altered his view of his life.” (Location 1917, kindle)

I became fascinated by this ritual when I read Inner Work by Robert Johnson. Reading this passage again a year later, I’m still fascinated by it. Write yourself a letter and actually mail it. That’s a good ritual.

Imagination Is the Second Pathway

The other pathway to the Unconscious is Active Imagination. But a word of warning from Robert Johnson: “Before starting Active Imagination be sure that there is someone available for you to go to or call in case you become overwhelmed by the imagination and can’t cut it off.”

Active imagination is is a way of conversing with the different parts of your Unconscious. It involves four steps:

  1. Invite the unconscious
  2. Dialogue and experience
  3. Add the ethical element of values
  4. Make it concrete with physical ritual (as in the dream approach above)

In an active imagination session, you invite your unconscious to appear. Robert Johnson had a number of suggestions on how to do this. My favourite is to visit a symbolic place in your imagination, and just start exploring whom you meet there.

When you meet someone in that symbolic place (a beach for example), you start talking to him. One thing that is important is that you have to relinquish control. Your conscious mind should not “direct” the flow of the conversation or events. Give yourself over to the imagination and just let it flow.

Creative Activity As A Form of Active Imagination

I’ve often wondered whether any creative activity is a form of active imagination. Take for example photographing. If you photograph beyond the sunsets, beyond the breakfast that you ate, beyond documenting events that happens in your life, beyond all those types of pictures, what is left?

Look at those pictures. What is common in those photographs? You then ask yourself why.

Why am I photographing this? Are these photographs telling you something. Could you use the steps described above in analyzing the dream or experiencing active imagination to uncover your goals?

Not Into Photographing? Then Replace It With This

You can replace the word photograph with whatever endeavor you’re interested in….writing, painting, creating an app, running a business that calls your name, volunteering, blogging. The verbs are endless.


There you have it. An interesting idea to help define your goals. What do you think? Is this just mumbo -jumbo stuff or will you try it?

January is New Year’s Resolution month at A Million Suns blog. During January, I’ll be writing about interesting things I found on the web and how I’m incorporating them in my life at work and in the studio. Stay tuned. Better yet, why not subscribe to my newsletter where you’ll get a monthly summary of the blog posts as well as notes about new artwork, titling events, sneak peak at new shows, inspirational quotes, VIP sale events, and more! Sign up on the form below. Your contact details will never be shared and you can unsubscribed at any time.

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