The serenity to set life goals, the courage to follow your dreams, and the stupidity of not knowing the difference.
There is an awful lot of talk out there about following your dreams, finding your passion (or why you shouldn’t), and how you should do what you love. Setting life goals seems to get lost in the noise. Often no more than a footnote. Oh yeah. Goals, you should get some of those too.
So what are your goals? To get rich? To land the perfect job? To earn enough to leave the rat-race and retire to a life of simplicity, tranquility, and a pet goat? Awesome!
Actually, no. The vast majority of people who peddle simplistic ideas of how to get what you want are leaving out a very important part of the picture: the distinction between goals and dreams.
Focusing on the dream instead of the goal can only lead to disappointment. What are the differences? I’m glad you asked…
Imagine A Game Of Soccer
The goal is not the end of the game, it’s what a team consistently works toward. When you score one goal, you immediately move on to trying to score another.
Sometimes you miss so you try again.
Sometimes your team screws up and someone scores a goal at your expense.
Sometimes your team scores an own goal, ugh. But the game keeps going.
Imagine yourself as the goalkeeper and you are holding the ball. Obviously, you want that ball to go into the net at the other end of the field. Is that a goal? No. Wanting the ball to go into the net is not the goal; for now it’s the dream.
Here’s the thing, setting a goal requires a certain level of practicability.
As the goalkeeper, It’s completely unrealistic to think that you’ll kick the ball into the net from the other end of the field. It happens and it’s awesome when it does. But it’s about as likely as winning the lottery. There are obstacles between you and the net that are beyond your influence.
What you can influence, though, is where the ball goes next. You can influence, with strategy, which side of the field the play is concentrated on, the pace of the play, etc… These are goals because it’s what you do next that will determine whether or not they happen.
Soccer? I’m Here Because I’m F***ing Broke
Think about some of your life goals. Write them down and look at them. If they involve lots of variables or seem vague, then they’re probably dreams. Here are some examples of life goals I’ve heard people say they’re working toward:
I want to land a job in a top architecture firm.
I want to travel more.
I want to learn to play the bassoon.
I want to be a named partner at my office.
While all of these sound like goals, pretty much all of them are dreams (except playing the bassoon, that’s just… I don’t know…).
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Attach Life Goals To Your Dreams
With these dreams in mind, plan some goals to reach them.
I want to retire early. In order to do that I need to save $700,000. That means I need to save 30% of my salary for the next twenty years.
I want to land a job in a top architecture firm. I need to be specialized in an area that is useful to these firms. I will take on projects that train me in these specialized areas.
I want to travel more. I need flexibility in my job and some extra cash. I will discuss working remotely with my boss. I will put aside a percentage of my salary to fund my travels.
And To Reach These Goals?
Now that you can clearly see what steps need to be taken to achieve your life goals, it can be as simple as building or modifying a habit. There is so much information out there about forming habits as well as resources and apps to make it easier. LMM has done a few episodes on this topic.
Once you have established a habit, it will just be a matter of time until you start reaching the life goals that will support your dreams.
What’s My Motivation?
Keeping yourself on the straight and narrow through the whole process will require some motivation and discipline.
Remember why you set the goal in the first place. If you set out to start a blog, for no other reason than to start a blog, odds are it won’t fare very well. It’s too general.
However, if you start a blog about bee-keeping because you have a burning desire to be an apiarist, and this blog documents your journey from the very beginning to your sideline business selling honey at local fairs, it’s easier to chart your path stay focused.
Why? Because you will have regular rewards. You’ll see the progress you make as you’re making it, and that will give you a feeling of accomplishment. This feeling of watching your project grow and take shape is like the old saying, “Hard work is its own reward”.
Likewise with a financial goal. If you set out just to save money, you might have a rough time of it. Deciding one day to save money, without a particular goal attached to it, may result in saving for a while but then falling back into old habits of unnecessary spending.
But let’s say you have a dream to own a home. One of your first goals would be to save for your down payment, meaning you’d need to form the habit of saving a certain amount extra each week, month, year. Watching that amount grow closer to what you need for a down payment will help spur you on.
Physical rewards are great as well. Going out for a fancy meal with a loved one, a new suit for getting that big job, or something as small as a new coffee mug to reward yourself for finally kicking a nail-biting habit.
Tread carefully though. Make sure that your reward is suitably matched to the goal you’ve just reached. If your goal was to lose five pounds, a tray of donuts might not be the best reward!
One final thing to be careful of: achieving your life goals is, in and of itself, rewarding. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the opposite – that the reward is the goal. Whenever you’re working toward achieving goals, always keep the dream in mind. This will keep you focused, and able to accept the smaller rewards on the longer path.
Habits are the vehicle, goals are the route you take, dreams are why you’re driving.