Are Goals The Same As Dreams? The 8 Core Differences

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We’ve all been told to “DREAM BIG.”  Whether it’s that great job, big house, perfect spouse or whatever, we all know we should “go big or go home.”  But does dreaming about those things really accomplish anything? Is a dream as good as a goal?  How are “goals” and “dreams” different?  What does each offer us in terms of our future?  Let’s look deeper into how goals and dreams are different.

Are goals the same as dreams? Goals and dreams are different. Goals have a cost. They require action, effort and focus. Goals are anchored in reality and, when achieved, the results of goals are the catalyst of change. Dreams are none of these. However, goals cannot exist without first having the dream.

There are different types of people in the world. There are the WANTERS. Those people want something different than what they have and expect someone to provide it to them, with no effort on their part.

Then there are the DOERS. Those are the people who willingly take action and make something happen. They see a need or opportunity, make a plan, and invest their time, knowledge and energy into it. These are the people who want a better life. They believe they are in charge of their own destiny.

The first group are dreamers and the second are goal-setters.  Look around you and I bet, just with this little information, you can identify who are dreamers and who are goal-setters in your life. Which are you? More importantly, which do you want to be?

What is a Dream?

There are multiple definitions of the word “dream.”  My friends over at Merriam-Webster offered the best in this context.  They defined dream as “a cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal.”  So, basically a “dream” is something we really, really want. It’s an idealized concept or vision for our life.

Whether it’s being thin, being rich, having a big house or having your perfect job, a dream is a deeply held desire for something in your life.  Something you currently don’t have.

When we have a dream in our life, we tend to daydream about it a lot.  A daydream is a mental fantasy that focuses on the object of our dream. That sounds like psychology, and so it is.

However, that daydream, and the dreams behind it, can actually interfere with your life.

One study found that individuals who “daydream” about strangers, rather than their partner or someone close by, were less happy in their overall lives and less content in their love life.

That makes perfect sense if you think about it.  If you’re dreaming of a passionate love affair with this great guy, it makes the real people in your life seem inadequate.

No one can compete with a dream.

A dream is also the fantasy, minus any action.  I can dream until I’m purple about being a size 3, but without the proper diet or some exercise, I will never drop below a size 10.

Without action, a dream is just something to think about and wish. It will never come true.

There is an old joke about the man who prayed to win the lottery.  Every night he asked to be the big winner and every day he was disappointed.  Finally, he cried out in frustration, asking why he had been forsaken.  God responded, “cut me some slack, buy a ticket.” This is the underlying difference between dreams and goals.

Are Goals the same as dreams

What is a Goal?

Back to my friends at Merriam-Webster.  Again, there are multiple definitions of what a goal is, but the most appropriate in this discussion is “the end toward which effort is directed.”

I LOVE this definition!  It is clear and succinct.

It also focuses on the one key ingredient that defines goals vs dreams.

That’s the word effort.

Having a goal is a conscious decision.  Reaching that goal is a matter of effort and focus. In order to set and reach goals, there is a well-known acronym to get you started.  It is S.M.A.R.T.


You’ve probably seen this a thousand times, but it is good enough to share again.  The S.M.A.R.T. system for setting goals is a system that makes the reaching of those goals much easier and much more likely.

S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based.  Let’s look at each step individually.


A good goal is very specific in nature.  Not “I want to be rich”, but rather “I will make $1,000,000 by the age of 30.” I have clearly determined a set figure that is very specific and concrete.

Nebulous or vague goals are subjective. You want a nice, firm, objective goal that is unambiguous in nature.


The very concrete nature of my goal makes it measurable.  The measurement is a cool million dollars.  I can break this into smaller steps, if I choose to make sure I stay on track.

Perhaps I will earn $250,000 by the time I’m 23.  Then, $500,000 by the time I’m 25 and so forth. By having measurable goals, I can see if I am on track or if I need to adjust my plan in order to meet my specific goal.


It is absurd to set an unattainable goal.  If I am a size 10 now, there is no way I’ll be a size 3 in 2 weeks. To set this goal, whether it’s specific and measurable or not, is simply an exercise in futility and frustration.

If you’re more comfortable with the financial example, to set a goal of making $1,000,000 by the time I’m 30 and I’m already 28 working at McDonald’s probably isn’t attainable. True, you could hit the lottery, but that really isn’t a “goal-setting” concept.  That one belongs back in the “dream” portion of this conversation!

Even so, you’ll increase your chances of hitting this incredible goal in only 2 years if you chunk down your goal in smaller ones.

Wherever you start, you can decide to set an attainable goal for next month. Maybe it’s just to save $100, or $1000. Or you want to start a side-hustle that could go BIG and just figure out which are the first 2-3 steps you could take over the next 30 days.

Just keep one thing in mind. As Vishen Lakhiani, founder of Mindvalley, often says… “we tend to overestimate what we can do in 1 year but UNDERESTIMATE what we can achieve in 3 years”.

So, if you want to set ambitious goals, DO IT! Just try to keep the timeframe to 3 years+ if your goals sound unattainable at first. And then break them down to attainable goals for the short-term.


Part of being relevant means being in tune with the times, social conditions and current events.

Back to the weight loss analogy… focusing on my goal of reducing to a size 3 just heading into the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays may not be in my interest. I can do it, but the chances of failure are vastly increased due to the social conditions and current events I am immediately facing.

Again, using the financial example (for you dollar die-hards out there), opening a new pet-walking business may not be prudent in an area of 2500 people, with 3 pet-walking businesses already available and winter fast approaching.

The key to this aspect is it can save you from a LOT OF FRUSTRATION and LOST EFFORT to stick to relevant goals. With the years, I’ve learned to favour swimming with the current instead of against it.

For instance, in early 2019 I was involved in starting a business around data privacy and blockchain. These two concepts probably sound mostly obscure to many of you. And well, they did to many people back then as well. A few months in, I started wondering whether it was the best strategy to try and force it into a market that probably wasn’t really there yet.

My partner and I decided to focus on other businesses we were starting, and just keep slowly working on that other business until the opportunities would flourish.

I believe this approach saved us from a lot of hassle and desperation, as we were really NEEDING to make a $ from our businesses to cover our living expenses…


This is where you define the timeframe involved in your goal.  I will be a size 3 by June 2020. I will make a million dollars by age 30.

There is a stated time limit for your goal.

Will you die if it takes until July?  No, you won’t.

However, having that time limitation on your goal gives you a better measuring stick for your achievements and a higher sense of urgency than having no set time frame.

What is the Difference Between Dreams and Goals?

Are goals the same as dreams?

Ok, we’ve discussed this a little bit already, but there are key differences between dreams and goals.  Here are a few of them.

1. Action

Basically, you think about dreams and you act on goals.

Dreams are effortless.  You can think about them at any time, in any place, sometimes even subconsciously. Goals require effort, intent and action. I will never be size 3 just thinking about it (I wish!).

Even the act of setting the goal requires effort. Please note the word “setting.” To set means to take an intentional step toward something. It requires an effort on your part, even if you never write it down.

2. Deadlines

As we discussed, goal setting involves the determination of a specific timeframe or deadline.  You can dream about something indefinitely. There is no specific time involved in the completion of the dream.

However, when you have a goal, there is a time component involved. This goal adds urgency to the task, it gives you motivation and focus. It also allows you to identify your momentum toward your goal.

Deadlines are crucial in achieving a goal, nonexistent in “achieving” a dream.

3. Cost

Dreams are totally “free”.  There is no investment of any type to have a dream.

Goals aren’t free.  The cost may be in effort, time, focus or dollars, but to have a goal and work toward the achievement of that goal, requires some form of investment on your part.

The higher the investment, the more satisfying the goal when it’s achieved. Goals are the best example of “you get what you earn.”

4. Results

There are no “results” from a dream. A dream can’t make you rich, it can’t make you thin and it can’t change your life.

Only goals can achieve results. Because of the effort you put in, change can be made in your life and you can see the results you “dreamed” about previously.

Results must be earned. They are not free, and they are not the by-product of a dream.

Germany Kent stated, “No plan and no action will lead to no results.” She must have been talking about dreams because that certainly does not describe goals.

5. Reality

Dreams are based on fantasy or desire. They are not “real”. You can dream about flying or dream about being a supermodel or dream about anything your little heart desires.  That does not mean it will happen.

Goals, on the other hand, are based on reality. Even if your goal is a big one, the steps you take toward it are real steps in the real world. This reality is what makes them accomplishable. You may still never be a supermodel, but if you take steps in that direction, your probability is much higher than if you just sit and dream about it.

Please pay attention to the fact that CRAZY DREAMS CAN BECOME REALITY. Otherwise, nobody would have made it to the moon and there would be no planes flying around the planet.

Those amazing achievements all started with unrealistic DREAMS. But more than dreams, they became the obsession of a couple of men who were able to transform their FANTASY into smaller goals and steps.

But more on this nuance between dreams and goals later…

6. Focus

Dreams have no real focus.  They can change day to day, moment to moment.  You can dream about being a supermodel one day and President of the United States the next. They are fluid and ephemeral, often lacking in substance.

Goals require focus. The act of setting a goal (see that nice action/effort word) requires focus all on its own. You must intentionally think about it, then intentionally provide the effort necessary to work toward and ultimately achieve it. All this intention requires focus on your part.

7. Work

Yep, I used a nasty 4-letter word. Dreams require no work or effort on your part.  They are pleasant and enjoyable. You can (and do) dream anywhere, anytime about anything.

Goals, on the other hand, require a great deal of work. That work is what gets the results necessary to achieve the goal.

The loftier the goal, the harder the work or effort necessary to achieve it.  Also, the more satisfying those results are when you get there.

Veronica Purcell worded it nicely. She said “If achieving a desired goal was easy why would anyone bother. There’d be no fun.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

8. Change

Dreams create no change.  Martin Luther King famously stated, “I have a dream…”, yet it was the actions taken to achieve his goal that ultimately led to the success of the Civil Right Movement.  Had he just had a dream and shared it with no one, that fundamental change in society may never have occurred.

Change is the ultimate purpose behind goals. A goal is set because you have a desire to change something in your life or circumstances. Change is the true foundation of a goal. Once the goal is achieved and the change accomplished, there is a fundamental difference in your life or circumstances.

How Do Dreams and Goals Benefit Me?

In spite of their lack of substance, dreams DO have a benefit. They are a beginning point.  You will never set a goal and achieve any form of change in your life without FIRST HAVING A DREAM.

The dream is step one. It is a necessary, crucial step in the long-term goal of change and improvement. Yet, without action, you will go no further.

By moving from the dream to the goal, you begin on a path toward whatever it is you are wanting in your life. You are taking control of your life and circumstances. When the goal is realized, the dream becomes reality and your life is better.

Amy Leigh Mercree may have summed it up best when she said, “GOALS ARE DREAMS BROUGHT TO LIFE.”

However, a DREAM can also have a negative impact on your life.

I may be wrong, but I feel like most of the time, people who have ONLY DREAMS but don’t translate them into proper GOALS are those who COMPLAIN MOST.

Complaining is a quite negative and passive attitude, that will highly impact your life, causing frustration, dissatisfaction and also social tensions.

But it’s happened to the best of us. Sometimes, we feel trapped. We imagine the DREAM LIFE we want to have. Then we compare it with reality. And it’s NOTHING LIKE IT. We are THOUSANDS OF MILES AWAY from or dream.

And we complain…

When this happens, to me or to my friends, I love to say:

“You’re allowed to complain. BUT ONLY IF YOU ALSO take concrete steps to improve your situation”.

I think it’s a fair deal. Because you can ALWAYS improve your situation. Either by setting proper goals or by changing your mindset and practising more self-care.

Are your dreams having a negative impact on your life? Are you complaining a lot about it?

Do yourself and your close ones a favour. Start thinking about concrete steps to feel happy about your situation again.

HABITS are to goals what goals are to dreams.

Despite all their positive aspects, goals can also have a negative impact on your life.

Many people feel like they cannot be HAPPY, or REST and enjoy life BEFORE they achieve their goals. This puts an incredible pressure on them. Either they SUCCEED or they will remain unhappy for the rest of their lives…

Besides, most of us tend to create new goals before we’ve even achieved current ones. That makes it all the more difficult to simply be in the NOW, be happy and enjoy the beautiful process of life.

The NEXT STEP to DREAMS AND GOALS are HABITS. They are the automatic mechanism, processes and routines that will help you achieve the craziest goals and dreams. But instead of anxiously focusing on unrealistic dreams or difficult goals, they will bring you back into ACTING and DOING WHAT REALLY MATTERS NOW.

All great SUCCESSES really are linked to a personalized set of optimized habits.

If you’re interested to read more about this, here are a few articles I wrote about the topic:

Final Thoughts

So, to summarize….dreams are ephemeral and intangible. They cost nothing in terms of effort or personal investment. They achieve nothing in terms of change or results.

However, when coupled with action, effort and focus, dreams become goals and goals are the catalyst of change in your life and the lives of those around you.

Goals, particularly when using the S.M.A.R.T. system and following it faithfully, provide purpose in your life. They give you a sense of well-being, accomplishment and increased self-esteem.

Bottom line… a dream is like fluff.  It feels and looks good, but you get nothing out of it.  Add effort and focus to the dream and you get the meat and potatoes of a goal.  Now that’s a meal worth investing in!  Darn it…. now I’m hungry again. How long do I have until I need to be a size 3?

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