The end of the year is quickly approaching and with it, New Year's Resolutions. Studies say only 8% of people achieve their resolutions, mostly because we set unrealistic or unspecific goals. I believe part of that could be solved by recognizing the difference between a dream and a goal.
Practical goals are concrete, with tangible steps on a timeline. Dreams are aspirational. With a dream there is likely no timeline – we may not pursue a dream at all. But dreams give us hope. They are the futures we fantasize about. The issue is when we mix the two up.
We look at our desires differently depending on whether we see them as a goal or a dream. If we consider our desire a goal, we make a plan to achieve it. We have our checklist and our timeline. We see an end in sight.
If we consider it a dream, we believe it’s more far-fetched or possibly even out of reach. We think about it often, but we may be less likely to actually do something about it. We tell ourselves it’s just a crazy idea, something we’d do years from now, maybe not even possible. We build this narrative around a thing and soon we believe it. It’s a dream, and sometimes dreams don’t come true.
Perhaps if we defined goals vs. dreams from the start, we would be more likely to accomplish our goals — and even turn our dreams into tangible results.
About eight years ago I moved from Austria to New York. It started as a seemingly far-fetched dream. I mean, the visa process alone was so daunting, it felt safer to think about it that way. But the more I dreamed about it, I realized this could be a realistic goal I could actually achieve.
It started with just a little research. The research turned into some emails. The emails eventually lead to a job, which got me a visa sponsorship. From there, I had a whole new list of goals to work toward. Each brought me one step closer what I originally thought was a dream. (Of course, it was much more complicated than that. I wrote a lot more about it in my book, Let’s Go to NYC.)
For others, moving to New York is still a dream. Uncertain and with no immediate timeline, just floating hazily in the back of their mind. My Big List, which guides my decisions for my personal life and career, has many such dreams. When reviewing this list, I ask myself: Are these dreams really just dreams? Or should they be goals? If yes, how can I accomplish these goals? How can I break them down into smaller, achievable steps that take me one step closer to what I want to do?
In most cases, our “unrealistic goals” aren’t necessarily unrealistic. They are just goals disguised as dreams.
For more of my personal thoughts on New Year’s resolutions, read about my anti-resolutions.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the author of this blog, nice to meet you!