Goals vs Dreams


Guide for Goal Setters and Dreamers

Before delving into the differences between dreams and goals, I need to start with a couple of definitions. What are goals? They are our plans or intentions for the future. They represent what we are trying to achieve and are conscious decisions we make. Our goals can be long or short term, and examples include plans to go to college after graduating high school (long term goal) or to go shopping this afternoon (short term goal).

What about dreams? Well, I’m not referring to the experiences we have during our sleep. Rather, I’m talking about our wishes, hopes, and desires for the future. Unlike goals that are plans which include the dates they are to be completed, dreams are what we claim we want to do, be, or have ‘someday.’ Why do I say dreams are what we claim we want? Well, if we really wanted them, wouldn’t they be goals? Wouldn’t they be plans that included deadlines?

Goals show commitment; dreams do not. Dreams are what we would like to have without doing any work. Would you like to be rich? Of course you would, everyone would. That’s why so many people play the lottery; they have a dream of striking it rich ‘someday.’

Yet, when seen in a different light, dreams can be very positive, for they can be our aspiration or burning desire to achieve something. For example, when a young boy, Tiger Woods had an aspiration to be a great golfer, so he practiced every day. It is with this sense, aspiration, that I’m referring to when I use the word “dream” in the remainder of this article.

Returning to goals for a moment, they are very helpful because they provide a roadmap, clarify our thinking, help us prepare for obstacles before they occur, generate enthusiasm and give us a sense of purpose. But goals have their weaknesses, too. Did you make New Year’s resolutions this year? If so, how many did you carry out? What went wrong? You see, plans (goals) are not enough if they fizzle out; they cannot help us if we don’t follow through.

But if our goals are what we want, why do they sometimes turn to dust. Well, here’s the problem. No matter how carefully we consciously plan, it is our subconscious that determines where we are headed. Imagine taking a taxi and instructing the driver to take you to a certain area downtown. The driver takes you to a different area, stops the cab and says, “Here you are; you can get out now!” And you say, “But I don’t want to be here. Why did you take me here?” The driver answers, “I decided the other area isn’t safe enough for you, so please get out here.”

The passenger in the cab is our conscious mind and the taxi driver is our subconscious. Our subconscious isn’t guided by our goals or conscious instructions; rather, it is guided by its beliefs. For example, if it believes wealth is harmful for you or you don’t deserve it, no matter how many goals you set for wealth, they will all end in failure.

The beliefs held by our subconscious were formed by childhood experiences and remain in place until they are replaced by experiences that lead to new beliefs. For example, if a child was constantly belittled, mocked, and scorned, its subconscious would believe that it was unworthy. If later in life many people were to encourage, inspire, and praise the child, the new experiences could overwrite the previously held beliefs.

The key to solving our problem of unwanted subconscious beliefs lies in that our subconscious cannot distinguish the difference between real or imaginary experiences. Let’s look at an example to see how we can apply this principle.

Tom is a high school student afraid to speak in public. Embedded in his subconscious is a negative belief that is responsible for his lack of confidence. He doesn’t have to uncover or understand the original childhood experiences that cause his problem. All he has to do is set aside ten minutes a day to imagine being a successful public speaker. By repeating this daily, his subconscious will interpret these imaginary experiences as real ones, and start to change its belief about being a poor speaker to that of being a great speaker. Once this new belief is in place, Tom will easily be able to speak in public. Perhaps haltingly at first because of lack of real experience, but he will be able to speak, and will grow more skillful with each attempt.

Our imagination is powerful, and always more powerful than rational thought or will power. It can become our greatest ally or worst enemy. Mary imagines that everyone in class will laugh at her when she speaks. No amount of logic will be able to dispel her fear. Notice the difference between Tom and Mary. Mary’s imagination is unplanned, undirected, and uncontrolled. It is in charge, ruling over Mary. But Tom’s imagination is now directed and controlled by him. He sets aside ten minutes a day to harness its power.

Willfully directing our imagination is called visualization, imagery, or dream setting. We can also call it day dreaming. But there are two forms of daydreaming: conscious and unconscious. Unconscious daydreaming is unintentional; it is not planned; we unwittingly drift into it. This is the most common form of daydreaming. It is also dangerous because we may be daydreaming about negative experiences, such as people laughing at us. And our subconscious will interpret these imaginary experiences as real ones, reinforcing our negative beliefs, and keeping us in a rut. It is clear, then, that we need to be aware of our daydreams and use them constructively.

Since the success of goal-setting depends on our subconscious beliefs, we need to pay more attention to dream-setting (the practice of visualization to reinforce our goals, change our beliefs, and reach our dreams). Because of its importance in reaching our goals, let’s explore how to visualize:

How to Practice Visualization

(Imagery, Directed or Conscious Daydreaming, or Dream-Setting)

1. Pick a time and place where you can spend ten minutes uninterrupted.

2. Choose one goal or dream to work with (for example, “I want to be able to speak with confidence before audiences of 500 or more people”).

3. Relax, breathe slowly, close your eyes.

4. Practice seeing yourself in your mind’s eye with your goal already accomplished.

5. To help you imagine future success and how you will feel, ask yourself the following questions: “What would it be like if I were to achieve my dream? What would be different? What would I be doing? How would I feel? What would I see, hear, taste, feel, smell? Why would I be happy and excited? After imagining your success for five or six minutes, ask yourself, “How could I make this even better?” Now for the remaining four or five minutes, imagine even greater success.

6. Do this daily (ideally, at the same time each day), until you achieve success.

After a few weeks of practice, you should start experiencing spontaneous change. That is, without any planning on your part, you will start to make changes that will bring you closer to your dreams. This is a sign that your sub-conscious has accepted your visualization sessions as real experience and brought its beliefs in alignment with your goal or dream.

While goal-setting uses our conscious, rational mind, dream-setting uses our heart. What I mean by that is in dream-setting, we ‘think and plan’ with our imagination, feelings, intuition, and creativity. In dream-setting, unlike goal-setting, we do not need to know how to reach our dream, for once your subconscious has learned what you want from your visualization sessions, it will figure out how to get and deliver it.

Remember, today’s subject is goal-setting and dream-setting. So, I’m not suggesting that we abandon one in favor of the other. But what I am suggesting is that dream-setting is the more important of the two, and for best results we should work with both methods simultaneously.

Why It Is Important to Nurture Our Dreams

1. Making our dreams come true makes life interesting and exciting.

2. Our dreams add meaning and purpose to our life.

3. When you stop dreaming, you are dead. When you hold on to your dreams, you are holding on to life.

4. We are always daydreaming and our daydreams create our future. But if our daydreams are unconscious and undirected, we may be creating a future nightmare. And when we carefully choreograph our daydreams through the process of visualization, we create a dreamy, magical future.

5. Dreams spice up life, adding exciting prospects to even the dullest of days.

6. If we don’t dream about the future, how will we know where we are going?

7. When we build our dreams, our dreams build us. The more we can dream, the more we can do.

The Magic of Dreams

1. Look at the miracles that surround you, iPhones, iPads, 3D Television; they all started as dreams! Our dreams are beacons that reveal possibilities and allow us to transform life.

2. Glory, victory, and honor only come to those who dare to dream.

3. The achievement of your dreams will end your problems, and success comes to those who follow their dreams.

4. No dreamer is ever too small and no dream is ever too big.

5. It is never too early or too late to have, follow, and reach our dreams. For as Shel Silverstein wrote, “Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”

6. Anything that you can imagine, you can achieve; anything that you can dream signifies you have the power to accomplish it.

7. For those who stick with it, the progression of an impossible dream is as follows: impossible, improbable, inevitable.

8. When we dream, we enter the realm of timelessness and infinite possibilities. Arming ourselves with the wisdom of sages, we become mages, capable of anything.

9. As someone else once wrote, “Dreams are like stars...you may never touch them, but if you follow them they will lead you to your destiny.”

How Shall We Dream?

1. Treat your dream as you would sacred scripture. Revere it. Follow it. Return to it for inspiration and guidance.

2. Dream with passion, far better to lose yourself in passion than to lose your passion.

3. Have BIG dreams; small ones cannot ignite the flames of enthusiasm, excitement, and passion.

4. When you are dreaming, you are doing so in the safety of your imagination, so don’t be afraid to do the impossible. How can you reach the impossible dream until you first have one?

5. Be willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, for dreams and dedication make a powerful combination. “Commitment unlocks the doors of imagination, allows vision, and gives us the ‘right stuff’ to turn our dreams into reality.” (James Womack

6. Live with hope; it is not a dream but a way of making dreams come true.

7. James Dean‘s suggestion is a good one, “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.” 

8. Karen Ravn shares her wisdom in verse, “Only as high as I reach can I grow, only as far as I seek can I go, only as deep as I look can I see, only as much as I dream can I be.”

9. Another wise woman, Anais Nin, has this to offer, “Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”

Final Suggestions

1. Before your dreams can come true, you have to have them.

2. If the embers of your passion go out, rekindle the flames of your dream, for as Woodrow Wilson said, “We grow great by dreams. All big men are dreamers. They see things in the soft haze of a spring day or in the red fire of a long winter’s evening. Some of us let these great dreams die, but others nourish and protect them; nurse them through bad days till they bring them to the sunshine and light which comes always to those who sincerely hope that their dreams will come true.”

3. Don’t let your dreams remain dreams; do something while you’re waiting for your subconscious to deliver. Return to goal-setting and take the next step that will bring you closer to your goal. Otherwise you will become like the people described by Erma Bombeck, “There are people who put their dreams in a little box and say, ‘Yes, I’ve got dreams, of course I’ve got dreams.’ Then they put the box away and bring it out once in a while to look in it, and yep, they’re still there.”

4. If you’re not living your dream, who will? And if you don’t live your dream, you’ll be living someone else’s.

5. Cultivate courage, for dreams will guide you to faraway places and unfamiliar territory. But the adventure that awaits you is worth many times over the fear you will have to face.

6. Heed this advice from H. Jackson Brown, Jr., “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

7. As mortal beings, we don’t have forever to reach our dreams, so start working on them today.

8. If your dreams turn to dust, vacuum the rug and start again, for those who persist will be victorious.

9. Don’t be pushed around by your problems, but be uplifted by your dreams.

10. If you want to reach your dreams, help others reach theirs.

11. Also consider the words of Tom Clancy, “Nothing is as real as a dream. The world can change around you, but your dream will not. Responsibilities need not erase it. Duties need not obscure it. Because the dream is within you, no one can take it away.”

Imagine how many dreams were cast aside because of the opinions of others. Don’t fall prey to the doubts and fears of others, for each time you kill a dream, a little part of you dies too.

There are three kinds of people: those who live in a dream world, those who face reality, and those who turn one into the other. Which one do you choose to be? Put your future in good hands — your own.

Now you understand the differences between goals and dreams, but “This bridge will only take you halfway there, to those mysterious lands you long to see. Through gypsy camps and swirling Arab fair, and moonlit woods where unicorns run free. So come and walk awhile with me and share the twisting trails and wondrous worlds I’ve known. But this bridge will only take you halfway there. The last few steps you have to take alone.” (Shel Silverstein)

Additional Help

Do you have many dreams that you hope to accomplish ‘someday’ and would like to start on, if only you knew where to begin? Would you like to be gently guided each step of the way down the path to your dreams? Would you like your instruction to be easy to understand and follow? Would you like to be able to reach your dreams in easy to take ten-minute steps? If so, this strongly recommended guidebook/workbook is for you:

TAKE 10! How to Achieve Your ‘Someday Dreams’ in 10 Minutes a Day by Rory Cohen, Cornelia M Flannery, and Kristin Biorn

Additional References

BOOKS