Quit the Dreaming and Start the Effective Goal Setting

Dreams can be inspiring.

But they are imaginary. A dream exists only in your mind. Dreams actually don’t come true: goals do.

If you have an issue you are trying to address in your community or your own life, you may dream of a different reality. For example, you may dream that you have more help, or that there was more money available, or that someone (always an unnamed “someone”) will fix legislation or change policy or free up more resources. It becomes problematic when that dream becomes the cornerstone of a plan or call to action because it won’t come to fruition. It will be just another document that sits on a shelf (even though people may have busted their butts to research and consult and have community meetings to create it in the first place)

Let’s say $1 Million is required to put the necessary program in place in your community to address a well defined problem. A plan may identify that the $1 Million is required and why. But that is just a dream unless you can identify HOW the $1 Million will be secured (it won’t drop from the sky, and government doesn’t just drop that kind of coin out of nowhere). You need a goal of outlining how the money will be secured, by whom, and how it will be allocated.

Let’s say 500 units of housing are required to address the current volume of chronic homelessness in your community. A plan may well identify that the 500 units are needed and even articulate subsections of the chronic homeless population that would benefit (families, veteran’s, persons leaving incarceration, etc.). But this is just a dream unless you can identify HOW the 500 units will be secured (no developer is just going to hand over keys to 500 units, and government has not been investing in housing development at this scale for quite some time in most jurisdictions). You need a goal of outlining how the housing will be developed or secured, by whom, and how it will be provided to the 500 households identified as needing it.

People get confused and think plans are a wish-list or an advocacy document. They are not. A plan outlines a sequence of actions that will get the desired result(s) for the desired purpose(s). When a plan doesn’t work and people start point fingers at others because of lack of investment or such, I say shame on the plan creators. Clearly the plan lacked effective goals. It lacked a clear pathway from point A to point B (or whatever point it needed to get to).

Some people get confused thinking that if they have a plan that identifies an issue then others will feel the heed to take action. This is false on a couple of fronts. First of all, the purpose of plan is not to simply shine a light on an issue. It has to have a realistic set of steps that can be taken to actually solve the problem. Secondly, if the only way the issue gets fixed is “someone” else doing “something” then it isn’t a plan. There are no goals identified to put the change into place. The so-called plan is just a dream of what people wish. There is nothing realistic.

Look at the change you want to see in your life or in your broader community or your workplace. If you want to succeed in making the change you need to know the difference between goals and dreams, and you need to make sure you are focusing on goals. Ask yourself these questions:

1. Do I have a deadline?

Goals are time limited. Dreams can last a lifetime without ever being achieved. If a goal cannot be reached within a specified time it is time to either change the actions so that doing so becomes possible. Or it becomes necessary to recalibrate the goal.

2. Am I investing time, money, and effort to achieve the desired results?

If so, you have a goal. Dreams are free. It costs nothing to fantasize about a desired future. Goals require investment.

3. Is what I am doing grounded in reality?

Goals can be big. They can be audacious. They can be challenging. But they most definitely need to be grounded in the reality of circumstances. If something relies upon non-existent money, human resources or materials to be successful, chances are you have a dream, not a goal.

4. Do I have a clear focus of what needs to be achieved and how to do it?

If so, that is a goal. If not, you likely have a dream. Dreams are fluid. Dreams can perpetually change. Goals may get refined, but if it is the right goal, it doesn’t change.

5. Am I doing or am I thinking?

Goals require ACTION. Dreams can happen without ever actually doing anything (or only writing something on paper and then doing nothing more).

6. Do I control or influence the resources necessary to make this happen?

Whenever somebody or a plan says “the government must do x” or “the business community must do y” or “everyone else in this industry must do z” it is in the realm of dreams not goals. If you do not control or have influence over the resources, then getting the end result is going to be darn near impossible and probably lands you in dream land. (Unless, of course, your goal is to achieve results through advocacy or policy change, but even then you have to have clear metrics of measuring this achievement, not a blind dream of others changing.)

7. Am I producing tangible results?

Goals produce results. Dreams wish results happened or blame others for results not happening. If results are happening, then chances are you have a realistic, producing goal.

About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.

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