Dreams are a big deal. They give us hope, give us meaning, purpose and direction. For many of us, dreams are just that – dreams. I’m not talking about the type of dreams you experience between states of consciousness, more the dreams that paint a picture of your ideal life, the one we aspire to one day live.
Having dreams is part of the human condition, it’s what separates us from the machines. At least for now.
Why then do we not see everyone out there in the real world living their best lives? Sure, some do, but for a majority of people turning dreaming into doing is an unfulfilled promise at the bottom of a pile of post-it notes or a footnote on a to-do list. There are many reasons that dreamers stop dreaming; self-doubt, insufficient resources, fear of rejection or a lack of clear goal setting. All of these are manageable, and can be overcome, but let’s focus on that last one, as mastering the ability to set realistic, measurable goals that you can be held accountable for will help with the other anti-dream factors.
Dreams are powered by goals and vice versa.
Goals Are Dream Fuel
Dreams are powered by goals and vice versa. The more you dream the more goals you will have, and the more goals you set the more ambitious your dreaming will become. But that relationship is contingent upon success. Get it right, and a very rewarding feedback loop will occur. But getting it wrong doesn’t exclusively condemn you to the land of the dreamless, unless of course you choose to decide to adopt that mindset instead of accepting the incoming learning experience and adjusting your strategy. Getting it right means planning your goals, listing the correct ingredients to make sure your meal tastes fantastic, if not at least palatable. Think about it – when you are planning your next meal, will you perform a blindfolded lucky dip into the pantry, or do you have a rough idea of what you will make, what you are hungry for, and what you have on hand that could turn your food-dream into food-reality?
Remove your blindfolds, it’s time to see what’s in the pantry.
Step 1: Set Realistic Goals
One of the most common hang-ups when it comes to goal setting is where to even begin. This can also manifest as overcomplicating the goal setting process, as without a clear direction or intended outcome, a creeping goal-scope may make the entire idea of achieving one’s dreams too difficult a task. Ok, so let’s keep things simple, realistic. What’s one thing that you would love to do, are passionate about, and could achieve with a bit of effort? Better yet, do you know someone who has achieved this thing? Great news, you are either a pioneer (and fame awaits) or have the luxury of standing on the shoulders of giants who came before you. And if you feel this goal in mind is too big, widdle it down to size. Take a chunk out of it and focus on that aspect. Want to complete in a charity bike riding event but never learned how to ride a bicycle? Take that first step and go to a bike store. Ask some questions. Talk to someone who can ride a bike, find out how they learned. See where you can attend a class or ask that friend for some time for a lesson and then return the favour later on. Once you have taken then small step toward your goal, take the next one, and so one. That’s the key – instead of shooting for the finish line right out of the gate, why not see how you can make that first mile a reality.
How do you know if you are progressing, if there is no way to judge your progress?
Step 2: Set Measurable Goals
Great, so you have your goal set and yet a few month pass without any progress. Or, there was some progress, but you are unsure of how much progress you achieved. Wait a sec… how do you know if you are progressing, if there is no way to judge your progress? The second phase of goal setting is to ensure you have set a goal that you can measure. It will keep you on track by providing you insights into how you are performing relative to the goal. So, you want to read a short fantasy novel over a month, but one week in and you find yourself still stuck at the foreword. So what’s happening? By taking a measured approach, you might set that goal in conjunction with an amount of time you will reserve each day or week in which you will dedicate yourself to reading. You might also check the page length of the book and divide that amount by however many days or weeks you will set aside to read. However granular an approach you chose to read the book, if you tell yourself that you will read for thirty minutes a night, yet six days have passed and you haven’t picked up the novel once, then your time-based measured approach is simply surfacing the results. That measurement gives you the ability to make an adjustment. Perhaps it shines a light on the fact that you were spending more time watching TV than reading this week, or maybe the novel isn’t as interesting as you thought. This is feedback will help you with your current goal and inform your future aspirations. For example, by planning your reading sessions and duration, you gain more insight into your reading speed and what fits your schedule. Next time you might choose a lighter read, readjust your schedule or dive into a Tom Clancy epic accordingly.
Step 3: Make Yourself Publicly Accountable
Holding yourself to account is critical. It’s one thing to utter to yourself I will do this thing, and an entirely different thing to speak those words to an audience. By making yourself publicly accountable for the goals you set, you are creating a social investment, a contract. This final phase will do two things.
First, people will inevitably ask you for updates on your progress, and that will light a fire under you. For this reason, and your own sanity, pick your audience, as they will be both your supporters and are also who you are accountable to. Start small – tell your friends, family or just a single other person, rather than share your ambitions with your entire workplace. As you make steps toward your goal people tend to join in and will support you on your journey, which can keep you motivated. You may also inspire others through your own actions, in turn enriching their lives as they take up their own challenges.
Secondly, public accountability serves as an added magnifier of self-confidence, both along the journey and at its end. If you can show that you do what you say you will or even attempt it, you not only show the world that you are willing and capable, but that you are up to the task and in a growth mindset. This process will also foster positive self-talk and solidify the narrative that you are ambitious, purposeful and driven while also giving you the confidence to seek out new challenges.
Now get after those goals, dreamers.