From Desire to Reality: Why Setting Goals Is Critical for Success

Goals, Plans and StrategyThis is a guest post from Dr. Alessandra Wall.

As someone whose business it is to help others create change there is something magical about the New Year; it is so full of hope and motivation. It is a time to evaluate growth and direction, and to dream. Over the next month or so millions of people will share resolutions to get fitter, healthier, and more financially responsible. People will dream of the life they want and declare their desire to make the changes necessary to achieve it. Unfortunately, a great deal of them will remain dreamers; their resolutions, unmet, will nag at them and then be forgotten until next year. The sad part about this whole thing is that their failure is not due to lack of ability, or laziness, or unrealistic aspirations, it’s most likely due to lack of planning.

“A goal without a plan is but a dream” – Helen Thayer (Explorer, age 76)

I agree whole-heartedly with Helen Thayer, which is why her quote resonates so much with me – the difference between a dream and a goal is planning. It’s also the difference between a resolution and a goal. A dream, a resolution or a desire is something we would like to achieve, whereas a goal is something we are working to achieve; it’s the distinction between passive and active engagement. This doesn’t mean that dreaming isn’t valuable. Actually, it should be the starting point of your plan, but on it’s own it will not take you very far. So, how does one go about shifting from dreams to reality? Create a goal and make a plan!

From desire to reality, a five-step approach:

  1. Dream away! I am serious, the best way to stay motivated with your goals is to create ones that are based on values, needs and desires that are current and relevant to you. So dreaming about what you would like your life to look like is an excellent way to get started with your goals.
  2. Define the dream (creating objectives): Once you have an idea of what you desire, take the time to define it in real terms. For example, you might dream of being healthier, but what does that mean? It probably means eating healthier, moving more, reducing your stress, and maybe even eradicating any current health problems you have. By creating a definition of your dream you have your objectives and the starting point for setting goals.

Let’s pause here for a second. Step 2 is where most people stop, because what they defined feels like a plan, but it is very important you understand that these are just starting goals, and not even great ones at that because they are vague, so there is a bit more work to do.

  1. Describe your outcome (creating specific goals): In research they speak of operationalizing goals, which means concretely describing what one expects to happen. Going back to the example above, one of the definitions of being healthier was “moving more.” In order to operationalize that goal the question you would want to ask is “what does moving more look like to me?” It might mean working out three times a week, getting up from your desk and moving for 15 minutes or more at lunch, giving in to your best-friend’s insistent requests to join her for yoga once a week. With these concrete elements not only do you know what your outcome is going to look like, but you can also create a plan of action that will specifically address your needs.
  2. Plan, plan and plan: With step 3 you are WAY ahead of the pack. You have a vision of what you want based on current desires, you have a larger objective and you have specific goals that will allow you to reach that objective. Now all that is left is to plan your journey. Plans need to be realistic, achievable and structured.
    • First things first you have to decide which objectives or goals you will be focusing on. Don’t try to work on more than two or three goals at a time. You can do this by either focusing on goals that belong to a same objective, or selecting introductory goals from different objectives.
    • Examine each goal and identify what you need to put the new behavior in place – these can be concrete things like gym clothes, the right kinds of foods, a resource like the Primal Blueprint book, or more abstract things such as a friend to go to the gym with, moral support, a shift in your evening schedule to allow time for the gym, etc.
    • Put it in the books: Set a specific date and time when you are going to start implementing your plan. Also, make sure you carve out time to actively carry out your plan.
  3. Anticipate roadblocks: Another mistake people often make is failing to anticipate barriers to change. Barriers can be:
    • situational: a party with a whole bunch of your trigger foods, a meeting that runs over into your gym time, getting sick
    • cognitive: any assumption you have that will make it harder for you to carry out your plan
    • emotional: fear is the biggest emotional barrier most people face.

Whatever your barriers, you have to know them so you can recognize and outsmart them.

If you take the time to cover these five steps you will make the transition from desire to reality. There is, however, a caveat – you might not get it right the very first time you try, but that is no reason to give up. Think of any change you are attempting as a skill you are building. You would never expect to just pick up a new skill the first time you tried it. You would understand that sometimes you can be a natural, and other times you require practice. The more you practice, the more certain things become second nature, the more you understand about yourself and the goals you are trying to reach, and the more you are able to succeed.

fcade2_2b113d61326d43bbb35f94b509778a39.jpg_srz_p_200_198_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzBio: Alessandra Wall, Ph.D. is a specialist in change. She is psychologist and a life and nutrition coach in private practice in San Diego, California, as well as the Executive Director and Lifestyle and Nutrition Coach at CrossFit Elysium. Her background is in anxiety, stress management and eating disorders. She specializes in helping people create lasting and significant life change, by providing practical insights into the cognitive and emotional factors that typically hold them back. Alessandra has been a featured speaker on topics such as the psychology of change and stress management at several PrimalCon events and Health Unplugged 2014, the UK’s first Paleo/Primal conference. Check out Alessandra’s Change of Heart program to learn how to create and achieve your life goals.

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15 thoughts on “From Desire to Reality: Why Setting Goals Is Critical for Success”

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  1. I definitely think the emotional barriers can be the most powerful in making change difficult. Working through different fears can make the other components run much more smoothly!

    1. I completely agree with you, and with that in mind stay posted because there is more to come on that specific topic of emotional and cognitive barriers. Thank you for taking the time to read and post.

  2. I love Alessandra! She always does such an excellent job of helping me get my head straight when it comes to goals and what I want most out of life 🙂

  3. Great timing, I really needed this! I’ve been doing some journaling this year and it’s helped a lot.

  4. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a workshop with Alessandra, glad to see her on the blog! Good stuff!

  5. I couldn’t agree more with this post. When I think of all my proudest accomplishments, they all started out as goals for which I created concrete plans of action to tackle.

    And I agree entirely with the suggestion that you should make a definite goal with a definite action plan–otherwise you’re only left with vague desires that you’ll never figure out how to meet!

  6. Very timely post. I am participating in the 21 Day challenge and am realizing that having those daily goals is helpful….I have been unsuccessful in losing weight, although I have tried for several years now. I need to figure out how to create a sustainable plan…perhaps daily and weekly actions, rather than just “lose 2 pounds a week”, etc. so I can reach that end goal of lost weight.

  7. one further to add to the closing quote:

    “A goal without a plan is a dream”

    “…But action without a plan is a nightmare”.

  8. The timing of this post could not have been better. My top goal right now is to finish the 21 day challenge!

  9. It is hard for me to stay motivated If I don’t see the progress right away. The greatest reward is to see the results but if it doesn’t happen quick enough I tend to fail with my original goals. I guess setting up daily goals would help and keep a journal of the progress.

  10. Thank you – just what I needed – a bit of New Year’s Resolution reinforcement..

  11. Thanks for the guest post! Goals help some people thrive who would normally not be able to make any progress.
    I know personally i never needed to make too many goals, but just strive for the best.