The Dreams vs Goals Debate

For years the topic of dreams versus goals has been a common debate.

As we enter a new year, the debate always intensifies with a reported 58% of the UK population making New Year’s resolution in 2023 – (28% of these will be relating to improved health related goals)

That’s 30 million people taking deliberate steps to better themselves as the year kicks off.

As we are now well into our new year habits, geared towards achieving our goals and dreams for the year ahead, it is important that we know the difference between a dream and a goal.

And which is better.

Author: Nicky Forster

As ‘The Goal Setting Coach’ you would be forgiven for thinking that my tendency will be leaning towards setting, pursuing and achieving goals . . . . . and you’d be quite right, but as far as possible I shall try and don the hat of non-bias for the duration of this article at least.

So, first let’s define what both these are:

(Source – Online Cambridge dictionary)



to experience events and images in your mind while you are sleeping



an aim or purpose, something that you want to achieve


According to the definitions, a dream only exists in your mind, while a goal starts in your mind, but is planned and has a defined deadline.


As laid out in the most famous of all goal setting frameworks, George Doran’s SMART goal setting framework, a major component of a goal is having a timeframe assigned to it.

As the saying goes, “a goal is a dream with a deadline”

So, is the timed restriction all that separates a goal from a dream? and if so

Is it ok to dream?

We all set goals, we all have targets we need to meet on a daily, weekly monthly basis to stop the quality of our life spiralling. We all have enforced deadlines that govern us, to be at work on time, to earn enough to pay our bills on time and to put the bins out each week.

These however, don’t inspire us, Eisenhower’s Matrix calls these ‘Urgent but not Important’ tasks, and these prevent you from achieving your goals.

Goal setting is an important part of achieving success in any area of life.

Setting goals focusses on the ‘Important but Not Urgent’ activities that help you achieve your personal and professional goals.

It is essential to have goals in order to focus your efforts and help motivate you to reach them. Goals provide direction, challenge you to perform better, and help you measure your progress.

Dreams assist in emotional healing and help us store memories of the things we’ve learned, on the face of the facts so far, these learnings point towards setting goals rather than dreaming.


Ok, so goals are better than dreams, its settled.


One issue with goals is that the ‘Dreamcrusher’s’ – as fellow ex professional footballer, Michael Duberry calls them, are often quick to point out the reasons why they are not relevant for us.

Many of us are taught to believe that things like being a professional footballer, entrepreneur, musician, actor or entertainer were mainly dreams and not practical career choices, had I listened to that advice I wouldn’t be writing this today.

Creating this level of disbelief and self-doubt in anything that was seemingly only for the lucky or “great” people among us strengthens the ideology in our minds that we would have a better chance at winning the lottery than achieve those “dreams.”

So, were better off not setting audacious goals and just stick to dreaming?

But dreaming instead of setting goals can be dangerous because it can lead to complacency. A never-ending habit loop of “I will do it tomorrow” which of course we all know never happens. Without clear objectives and the plan, it can be easy to become stuck in a cycle of dreaming without taking any action.

Additionally, when people just dream, they often don’t think about the resources and skills they need to achieve their goals, which can lead to unrealistic expectations, as well as a lack of self-confidence and a feeling of failure.

So where does that leave us now?

Is there definitive answer as to which is best?

Well, the answer lies in the definition, an aim or purpose.


Many of my clients come to me for a specific type of coaching, life coaching, to find direction in their life that leads him not towards happiness, but towards a life of purpose and meaning.

In order to have any positive meaning in your life you have to identify the goal and you have to be working towards it.

 When we’re proceeding towards a goal that we value, we engage the dopaminergic incentive reward system which gives us the sense of being actively engaged in something worthwhile which tends to result in positive emotions.

Consummatory reward is the reward we get when we’re hungry, we eat and that destroys the framework, because we are no longer hungry as the feeling of being satiated takes its place.

The incentive reward is different as it constantly keeps you moving forward towards the thing that you value, the chosen goal.

It’s a powerful motivator, and resistance to distractions. it even acts as a natural analgesic. If you’re working towards a goal and it’s engaging, you are going to feel less pain, I’ve see this happening many times, especially with goalkeepers who break or dislocate their fingers during a game and they’ll keep playing, obviously sometime afterwards they’re suffering in pain but the fact that they are so filled with goal directed enthusiasm means that the pain systems was turned off or at least turned down during that intense period of goal directed behaviour.

Having said that most goalkeepers are quite mad!!!

So, goals are more than just pursuit and achievement of something we deem to be worthwhile, they are a purpose. They give us direction not only in the moment, but in life.

This is where ‘enjoying the journey’ or ‘the process’ comes from, if we can find purpose and meaning in the daily pursuit of our goals then we find life more rewarding.

If we are to dream and not take actions towards those dreams, we get a sense that we are drifting or falling, this invariably results in us not feeling satisfied without current direction.

Dreaming has the power to motivate and inspire us, but dreams are intangible aspirations that we have that may or may not be attainable.

Goals, on the other hand, are more tangible and actionable objectives that we set for ourselves to work towards.

Goals are typically shorter-term, while dreams are often long-term. Dreams provide inspiration, while goals provide direction and focus.

Ultimately, it’s important to have a balance of both and use them to your advantage.

So, dream, yes

But set goals . . . . . definitely!


Article by Nicky Forster



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