Many people—including yours truly—often use the words “dreams” and “goals” interchangeably. And, depending upon the context in which they’re used, that might be okay in certain instances. However, to truly understand our own motivations and why we do what we do when we’re trying to achieve something, we need to realize that dreams and goals aren’t actually the same things.
Goals help us realize our dreams. Dreams motivate us to achieve our goals.
See the difference? No? Let me explain. It’s all about what, how, and why. Or, to put them in the proper order, why, what, and how.
Goals are the “what” that we’re trying to achieve. The “how” is the action we take to achieve that goal. Dreams, ah dreams…they are the “why.” Dreams are the reasons we want to achieve a particular goal. And dreams always happen first. Even if you think you came up with your goal first, you actually had a dream before that which needed a goal.
Let me give you an example using one of my own goals. The goal, or the “what,” is to have a six-figure income. The actions I’m taking to try to reach that goal—writing books, blogging, trying to come up with ideas for a business or product—are the “how” of the process. But the dream, the “why,” came long before either of those. That dream—my “why”— is to be able to relax a bit and enjoy my life without living paycheck to paycheck; to be able to take care of my family the way I want to and hopefully be able to leave my children something more than debt; to be able to help others instead of always feeling like I need someone to help me.
That dream, of having the ability to do those things, came first. That’s the “why” that keeps me going. After that, I realized what my goal, my “what,” would need to be to help me realize my dream. And finally, after the dream and after the goal, I started working on the “how” of it, the actions I need to take to achieve my goal and realize my dream.
Why. What. How.
Not yet convinced dreams come before goals? Or that they’re two different things? Think about any goal you may have. It may be having a certain income, achieving a certain body weight or shape, landing the perfect job, or any number of other things. Now ask yourself, why do you have that goal? Is it to have a lifestyle better than the one you have now? Is it to be able to walk into your high school reunion or out on the beach and turn heads? Is it to have a career that commands admiration and respect? That, my friend, is the dream. That is the mental picture you had when you set your goal. In order to realize ‘x’ (dream), I must achieve ‘y’ (goal). The dream always comes first when it comes to the things we hope to achieve. There is always a reason, a “why,” first.
So why is that important? Well, to use another analogy, if you’re going on a trip, the destination would be the goal, or the “what.” The car you’re in would be the “how.” And the dream, the “why,” would be the gasoline in the car. The higher the grade of gasoline you put in your car, the better it will run. Without gasoline, the car doesn’t run, and your trip is over before it starts. With bad gasoline, the car may run, but it will be a rough ride and will probably take longer to get to your destination, assuming you don’t give up and turn around before you ever get there because of how rough the ride is.
It’s the same with our dreams. When you dream about the things you want for your future, make the mental image as detailed as possible. Make it as encompassing as you can. Imagine yourself in that situation so vividly that you can almost close your eyes and believe you’re there already. The more detailed your dream is, the better your “gasoline” will be, and the harder you’ll work to achieve the goal necessary to allow you to realize that dream. And the stronger your dream, the easier it will be to get up if life decides to knock you down while you’re working on the “how.” If you find the ride getting a little rough, embrace your dream. Remember why you started this journey in the first place. Take a breath, close your eyes and live in your dream world for a bit, and then shake off the dust and get back up and keep going.
A final note: Although dreams are vitally important to the journey we’re on, by themselves they’re not enough. You must also have a goal, and you must also take action. Having a dream without taking action means you’ll never achieve your goal, never reach your destination. You never put your car in gear. If you take action without having a dream, you may find it’s a lot harder to get up when you fall down trying to achieve your goal, maybe so hard you decide to give up. The car’s out of gas. And acting on a dream without having set a goal to realize your dream is like setting out driving with no idea where you need to go. Eventually, you may end up lost in the middle of nowhere asking yourself why you ever started this trip in the first place.
But put a clear dream, a solid goal, and decisive action together? Woo boy! Nothing better try to stand in your way!
So, go ahead. Dream a little big dream!
Here are a few books on chasing, and achieving, your dreams: