Dreams vs Goals: 7 Differences (With Examples)

Ever dreamed of peacefully relaxing on the beachside? Or perhaps you want to pursue your passion in life.

Countless people dream of a perfect life where they don’t need to shoulder any responsibilities. They ignore the current reality by letting passing thoughts or ideas overcome them.

But we all know that dreams are ambiguous and appear far out of reach for millions out there. Meanwhile, goals are accompanied by concrete plans and actions to meet them.

It’s important to realize the differences between dreams and goals. That may give you the knowledge to turn your dreams into reality one day.

What Are Dreams?

A dream is a fleeting desire, sometimes disappearing as quickly as it came. It tends to be far out of reach—something we may never put into action. But it can be a source of hope and inspiration.

Dreams are a way to escape the harsh reality of our lives. To imagine a better future, no matter how unlikely.

Although it may never come true, dreams let us envision an ideal future that satisfies our fantasies, requiring no hard work.

After all, anybody can say “I want,” but only successful goal-setters know it takes more than an imaginary mind to turn dreams into reality.

What Are Goals?

A goal is the desired result we want to achieve and has actionable steps to reach it. It is something we proactively set out to accomplish.

Goals inspire us to be our best selves. They remind us what we are striving for and why it matters. Without them, it’s easy to feel adrift as the days fly by.

But unlike dreams, goals require perseverance and focus. The ability to stay the course while suffering setbacks is key to success.

Hence, attaining goals isn’t a trivial matter, but the wonderous sense of accomplishment makes it all worthwhile.

7 Differences Between Dreams and Goals

It is important to identify the differences between dreams and goals. Here is what you should know:

1. Goals Require Sacrifice

In almost every case, goals cost you time and energy. They don’t come free. So you can bet that working toward goals will be demanding.

You will likely have to give up a few luxuries in your life when pursuing goals. It may mean spending less time on hobbies you enjoy. Or it can mean waking up early to do work and sleeping later at night.

On the other hand, dreams don’t require any sacrifice. They are fantasies that take little effort on your part. The lack of willpower or focus wouldn’t even be an issue. After all, anybody can easily wish for a picture-perfect future for themselves.

Example:

  • Dream: I want to get into shape.
  • Goal: I will work out at the gym twice each week.

2. Dreams Don’t Need Action

Dreams are made up of fleeting thoughts and ideas. They are simply a manifestation of our inner desires that are unable to be brought into reality.

Dreaming doesn’t necessitate action whatsoever—you don’t even need to lift a single finger. Meanwhile, your goals are all about taking practical steps toward your objectives.

You would have to continue on a journey filled with obstacles. Each step, no matter how big or small, brings you closer to your ultimate destination.

Example:

  • Dream: I want to become a millionaire.
  • Goal: I will start a business that generates $100,000 in yearly income.

3. Goals Have an End Date

Goals, especially ones that follow the SMART framework, generally have an expected end date. It’s a way to create a feeling of urgency that drives you to make progress. Without it, goals may slowly be forgotten or neglected.

Thus, it’s crucial to know that end dates let us know when we have truly achieved our goals. Dreams, on the other hand, will never be realized unless you take action on them. So there is no need to establish a deadline in the first place.

Example:

  • Dream: I want to buy a dream home.
  • Goal: I will purchase a four-bedroom house within 6 months.
set deadlines

4. Goals Can Be Tracked

Goals can be broken down into smaller milestones. This is to help better focus on a task and make things less daunting. It’s much easier to gauge progress when aiming toward an overall goal one step at a time.

However, dreams don’t need to be tracked because progress isn’t relevant here. Regardless of the type of dream, it is all in your head. Thinking about becoming an astronaut?

Unfortunately, it’s only a snippet of your hopes and desires, far from being real (unless you start setting effective goals).

Example:

  • Dream: I want to retire early in Hawaii.
  • Goal: By the end of the year, I will save $50,000.

5. Dreams Are Fleeting

Our desires can constantly change. That means our dreams may always be on the move. One day, we deeply desire a life of luxury in a waterfront mansion. The next year we could dream of a happy, simple life with our loved ones.

The point is that dreams come and go, changing as you gather more life experiences. But there is not too much leeway for goals because there is an expected outcome within a timeframe.

While you can adjust your objective, frequently doing so can waste valuable time and effort, which isn’t ideal.

Example:

  • Dream: I want to become a licensed pilot.
  • Goal: I will enroll in pilot school and receive my license in two years.

6. Goals Are Specific

Many goal-setting frameworks like SMART have a common element of being specific. 

According to Locke and Latham, specific and challenging goals lead to higher performance. That’s to say, clearly defining goals is key to achieving success.

This makes sense because goals should be something we can reasonably achieve with our limited resources. Narrowing down would focus our effort and save mental bandwidth on what matters.

But dreams are often seen as the furthest away from goals because they are fanciful and ambiguous. It’s extremely arduous to put dreams into action since knowing where to start is a big enough obstacle as it is.

Example:

  • Dream: I want to be happy.
  • Goal: I will spend 30 minutes each day on a hobby I enjoy.

7. Goals Require Planning

Any goal-setter will tell you that achieving goals doesn’t happen by accident. It takes careful planning and can sap a lot of your brain power.

Without a well-thought-out plan, you risk making costly mistakes that can discourage you from tackling challenging goals.

In contrast, plenty of people love dreaming because it’s easy and there’s no entry bar. You don’t need to think or brainstorm ideas. And you surely don’t need to write any plans down.

Example:

  • Dream: I want to be an entrepreneur.
  • Goal: I will create a step-by-step blueprint for my business plan.

Can You Turn Dreams into Reality?

Dreamers may think, “Can my dreams come true?” The answer is: Yes, your dreams can absolutely be real. But it takes more than just fantastical thoughts to live your best life.

Accomplishing your desires starts with setting effective goals. It would be best if you approached your dreams with a step-by-step blueprint to succeed. Here are a few practical tips for both dreamers and goal-setters.

dream big

1. Use the SMART Framework

One of the most effective ways to set goals is to use the SMART criteria. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. To be successful, a goal needs to meet these 5 criteria:

  • Specific: Well-defined and easy to understand
  • Measurable: Able to track progress
  • Attainable: Realistically within reach
  • Relevant: Aligns with your overall objective
  • Time-based: Clear deadline for completion

By using the SMART approach, you can set yourself up for success and ensure your desires are realistic.

2. Visualize Your Dream

To make dreams come true, visualization is a powerful tool. See yourself attaining your goals and living the ideal life you want. Picture yourself taking the steps necessary to make your dreams real.

What does success look like to you? What does it feel like?

One Stanford study shows that visualizing yourself doing well at an activity can boost your chances of success. Hence, when you take the time to visualize the ins and outs of your dream, you are more likely to achieve it.

So go ahead and close your eyes and picture your dreams coming true. Assuming it is realistic, it just might be the key to making them a reality.

3. Keep Moving Forward

Reaching big dreams requires focused effort. You can’t simply laze around and wait for results to happen; you must go out and make them happen. That means taking a step forward every day of the week.

It may not seem like much, but if you keep at it, those tiny steps will eventually add to something big. And before you realize it, you will be well on your way to attaining your dreams.

So don’t give up, and do not let anything stop you from trekking forward. Continue onward, one day at a time, and you’ll eventually reach your destination.

Final Thoughts

A goal without a plan is just a dream. But that’s not to say that dreaming is a bad thing. In truth, dreaming is essential to goal setting.

Dreams can be a source of inspiration and motivation. They can help us see the world in unique ways and be a powerful force for good in our lives.

The next time you have a dream, don’t try to push it away. Embrace it and let it encourage you to do something great with your life.

Since dreams are the seedlings from which goals grow, it is okay to have your mind wander about endless possibilities for your future. Only by dreaming will you ever hope to touch them.

Photo of author

Rei Shen

Rei is the founder of Success in Depth. Based in Washington, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. He brings years of experience in goal setting to empower readers to reach their aspirations.