What’s the difference between goals and dreams? Maybe you think that goals are more concrete and achievable, while dreams are more abstract, and therefore not a reliable benchmark. How will you know when you’ve achieved your dreams? It can be hard to tell.
I’m here to tell you that the crucial difference between goals and dreams is probably not what you think.
Goals may be more specific, but they often lack the compelling emotional component of dreams. Goals give us a sense of accomplishment when completed, but they aren’t always motivating.
Before you can establish a goal, you must want it, and you must know why you want it. You need a degree of emotional intensity, and dreams will give you that intensity. If your goal is simply another thing that you need to accomplish today, you probably won’t feel strongly motivated toward it. If it stems from your dream, you will feel a constant drive pushing you toward it.
This is why I encourage people to understand their dreams before they determine their goals.
When your dream connects with something that’s meaningful to you, it creates intrinsic motivation that drives you toward your goals. The trick is to give yourself permission to dream big.
Some people deny themselves this permission. They fear disappointment, so they try not to dream too big. Instead, they stay within the realms of what they believe to be possible. I believe that the size of our dreams determines what we believe we can have, do, and be, so we must dare to dream big. Think about some of the great achievements that have changed the world. They all seemed like crazy ideas at the time.
Monumental feats don’t start with a clear roadmap and game plan of how they can be achieved. Every breakthrough starts as a dream that someone believes in, no matter how big or impossible it seems.
What’s Your Biggest Dream?
Recently, I had a conversation with a young woman about dreaming big. I asked her to tell me her biggest dream. Her answer was very precise. She wanted $237,000. Curious, I asked her why she chose that specific amount.
“I want to help my mother,” she replied. “My mother has $37,000 worth of debt that I want to help pay off. Also, she has always wanted to buy a house but could never afford one. It will be about $200,000 for the down payment and other expenses. If I could get that much money, I would be able to help my mom own a home and live debt free.”
“OK,” I wondered. “What if you could have more?”
After some encouragement, she said, “You know what? I want a million dollars. It makes me uncomfortable to say it, but I think with that much, my mom would be taken care of and I’d have a nice place for myself. I would be able to take care of another family member who’s been struggling. Plus, I could take my family on vacation and even put a good amount in savings.”
“How would you feel if your dreams came true?” I asked.
Her eyes lit up. “It would completely change my life. It would help me take care of my mom, who has done so much for me in my life. It would enable me to support my relatives, who helped me get through school. It would allow me to pursue what I love instead of trading my life for a paycheck doing something I hate.”
The bigger dream of a million dollars had an emotional power that the goal of $237,000 couldn’t match. It enabled this young woman to imagine a different future, one that inspired her and felt exciting. Interestingly, the $237,000 target felt unachievable, but the million-dollar dream instantly sparked numerous business ideas. Her desire was so strong that it overcame her objections, enabling her to come up with goals that matched her dreams.
Dreams Before Goals
This young woman’s story perfectly illustrates the motivating power of dreams. At the end of the day, the number isn’t what matters. The reasons behind that number are what matter. She wanted to help her mother and maybe provide a little bit for herself as well. That’s what motivated and fulfilled her. Once she got excited about that idea, her creativity was unleashed, and she was able to truly dream. She began to see a whole new picture of what was possible.
My dream was to become a change agent who helps many people unlock their potential. Then I took a step back and found a bigger dream. I decided I wanted to help a million people unlock their potential. Then I pushed myself to make the dream even bigger. I finally settled on a goal of reaching a billion people.
What’s your biggest dream? How would your life change if that dream came true? Tap into your own emotional intensity. Allow yourself to feel excited and let that feeling spur you on. Every dream that I’ve documented in my journal seemed far-fetched and unachievable in the beginning.
But each one allowed me to identify what I want and why it’s important to me, so I can feel the excitement I need to get motivated. It unlocks the creativity that helps me make these impossible dreams possible.
It’s important to note that dreaming big doesn’t mean you don’t need to take action. Many books will tell you that if you just imagine your dream coming true, it will magically happen. That’s not what I’m saying. Instead, I’m encouraging you to give yourself permission to dream big.
When you do that, and when you’re very clear about why it’s important to you, you create the motivation you need to take the right actions to make that dream possible. When your goals align with your dreams, you know why they matter, and you’re thrilled to have the opportunity to make them into reality. That’s why you should prioritize your dreams, not your goals.