Goals, visions, dreams, and plans: How they're different, and why it matters

Goal-setting and visioning, dreaming and planning. These are all great tools we might use to help us craft our lives into more of what we want them to be, but they’re all slightly different. Today I want to discuss a little bit about how they’re different, why it’s important to understand the difference, and how we can use them all to set ourselves up for more awesome.   

Let me start with an example: I vision my life and see myself surrounded by the children I want to have, in a place I feel alive, doing things in the world that bring me joy and challenge me on a daily basis. I dream about changing the world and the way we talk to and about ourselves and our bodies—I want every person to see that their hating themselves or their physical selves cannot possibly serve them. I plan for these things by putting myself into situations that move me in the direction of those things—getting trained as a life coach, taking a job as a personal trainer, going to teacher’s college in hopes of impacting younger generations. I set goals around those actions: I want to write x number of blog posts each month or want to graduate from my program by a certain date.

Each of these processes invites us to draw on our desires to decide what we want for ourselves, and then some of them require us to ask, how am I going to make that happen? Starting with the foundation, let’s explore each...


“Dreams are extremely important. You can’t do it unless you imagine it.” – George Lucas

Dreams, I believe, are where we can access our deepest desires and longings. The things we dream about are not silly, even if they seem out of reach. Dreams ought to be so big that we are almost scared to share them with other people. They don’t have to make sense, they just have to excite us. What did you want to do when you were a kid? What would you do with your time if money were no object?


“Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe.” – Oprah Winfrey

Visioning involves thinking about what you really want your life to look like in the future. What would your best case scenario look like? Who would you be in the world if things were exactly as you wished them to be? Where would you be? What would your life and the world around you look like? How would you feel in it? These are all questions that help us get clear on what we want for ourselves in slightly more practical terms.


“Set a goal so big that you can’t achieve it until you grow into the person who can.” – Unknown

I firmly believe that while most of us think goals are the be-all end-all of changing our lives or our health, a goal is only as good as the vision it supports. We must not get caught up in setting the perfect goals at the expense of taking into consideration our dreams and our vision, which are the levels at which we are free to imagine what could be and to get out of our own way when it comes to imagining things as better than they currently are for ourselves. Our gremlins will try to tell us that we can’t possibly achieve our dreams, but we can use goals that are challenging enough to stretch us to prove those limiting thoughts wrong. Goals make visions more tangible by creating concrete to-dos to make our lives a little more in line with our visions, using our dreams as motivation.


“Happy people plan actions, they don’t plan results.” – Denis Waitley

Goals are often set in a way that I believe allows people to let themselves off the hook. If I say that my goal is to lose 20lbs and I fail, there is any list of reasons why I might not have achieved my goal. However, if I choose an action-oriented goal, such as committing to exercising for 30 minutes every day in a way that makes me feel good, then at the end of the day, I can only say that I have—or have not—achieved my goal. This is where the idea of planning helps, I believe. While life has a way of taking our best-laid plans, having a road map to get you from where you are to where you want to be is absolutely essential.

In a way, we must work backwards from our dreams to decide what we want to do with our lives.

Dream --> Vision --> Goal --> Plan

I think too many people not only set goals that don’t serve them in the best way possible, but they also get overly focused on one level at the expense of considering the others. Our best bet, and what I encourage my clients to do, is to think about what they want on all of these levels. If you’re caught up in one of the levels, and frustrated with where you are, I suggest you consider some of the questions and ideas I’ve shared. Knowing what you want for yourself and figuring out the nuts and bolts of how to realize it in your life is the essence of coaching--and of living successfully, I believe. Happy dreaming, visioning, goal-setting, and planning, friends! 

Remember, if you want to try this out in a coaching setting, I offer a free sample session and would love to set up a time to work on you and crafting your best life. Visit my Services page for more information