Goals vs Dreams – The Differences You Need to Know

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What is the difference between goals and dreams? If you aren’t sure, you may be setting your self up for failure on one or the other. 


“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough” – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Odds are, you have heard that quote, or seen it on a bumper sticker or plastered all over Pinterest at some point in your life. It is an awesome quote and it has inspired many people to dream bigger dreams and go after things that they normally wouldn’t have had the courage to chase.

But this quote often gets tied up with an area that I believe is unhelpful. I think we often confuse our dreams with our goals. And that can lead to a lot of frustration as we set goals that may be causing us to actually abandon our dreams.


Are you making this goal setting mistake?

Let me start by saying that I am all about having larger than life dreams. I have a dream that I will write a book that is read by thousands of women and leaves them inspired to chase after their passions in a way that matches their spiritual gifts. I have a dream that I will be a speaker who is invited to speak at conferences for women all across the country. I have a dream that one day my home will have no boxes left to unpack or clutter stored in that one closet that I am too afraid to look in.

Those are my big dreams (yup even that last one). But those are definitely not goals that I would set for myself.


For starters, those dreams are just too big to be turned into actionable goals. When we think of goals, we typically place some sort of time constraint around it, whereas dreams tend to have a very ambiguous timeline.

If I tried to take one of my dreams and write it down as a goal as is there are two things that could happen.

  1. I would get so overwhelmed at the enormity of my goal and I wouldn’t know where to start and would likely stop making any attempts at tackling it.
  2. I would be faced with disappointment as I faced setbacks and would have to fight the feeling of failure each time I looked at my goal and realized I hadn’t achieved it.


But this doesn’t mean that we throw in the towel on our dreams! This just means that we need a way to turn our great dreams into good goals.


Breaking your dreams down into goals

Work Backward

The first step to breaking your dreams down into goals is to work backward. This means to take a look at your dream and write down what needs to happen just before you get to the end. And then follow that process until you get to a starting point.

For example, if your dream was to feel confident and amazing rocking a two-piece swimsuit (get it girl!), then your first step backward might be “fit back into my pre-pregnancy clothes”. And just by getting to that point, you have a little more clarity as to how you need to tackle this goal!

You would then take steps backward that might include losing a certain amount of lbs., following a certain meal plan. And you keep going till you get to a starting point -which might be “go grocery shopping for the whole 30” or “schedule time at the gym”.


Set Checkpoints

One of the biggest mistakes that we do when planning our goals is that we don’t follow a realistic timeline. And a goal without a timeline is just a dream.

But in our confusion about goals and dreams, we try to squeeze a really big goal into a timeframe that isn’t realistic. And then when we fail to meet our own unrealistic timeline, we get disappointed and start to believe that we may not be capable of achieving that goal.

Going back to our weight loss example, let’s say that you wanted to lose 15 lbs in 90 days in order to fit into a killer dress for a wedding. But that timeline is pretty aggressive. So at the end of 90 days, you may have lost 10 lbs. Instead of being thrilled and celebrating the success of being down 10 lbs, most people will look at that as a failure and it will cause them to be disappointed in themselves and will actually demotivate them from continuing on with another 90 days of their weight loss plan.

But if you had set the same goal (lose 15 lbs) but increased the timeline a bit (maybe to 5 months), then you would likely have hit that goal, and maybe even exceeded it. And with that feeling of success, you would be much more likely to keep going on your fitness journey.

My advice for this is to break your goals down into small checkpoints. So instead of losing 15 lbs in 90 days, start with losing 2 lbs in 3 weeks. As you start to find what works for your diet and fitness, plan, you can adjust your goals. But you will find that you are much more successful when you can look back at all of the smaller milestones that you were able to check off and they will help you build momentum along your journey!


Create Built-In Rewards

When you are going after big dreams, motivation can come in short supply at times. It will be really helpful to set up rewards as you hit milestones during that process.

As you make more and more progress towards your overall dream, increase the size of your rewards. This will keep you motivated and give you something to work towards even when things get hard!

You do not have to plan out all your milestone rewards right at the start. Odds are, what motivates you now might not be the most motivating thing to you as you get farther into your journey. For example, on our weight loss example, a cheat meal might be really enticing at the very start. But as you move farther along, you might be more motivated by a few pair of work out shoes or a piece of equipment for your home gym.

So feel free to jot down all of your motivational rewards ideas now, but give yourself the flexibility to adjust those as you keep hitting those checkpoints!


So how are you going to change the way you look at your goals and dreams? I hope this gives you a better road map to make those dreams a reality!



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