This famous quote attributed to Napoleon Hill (the author of Think and Grow Rich) makes us reflect on the importance of setting clear goals, as well as taking action to make them come true.

“A goal is a dream with a deadline” means that to increase the chances of achieving a dream you need to assign a deadline to it. You also need to get clear on what your dream looks like, so you can turn it into a goal, and then develop a specific plan for that goal.

The difference between goals and dreams

As I have written in this article, the meaning of the two words is essentially the same, however when we use the word goal we usually refer to productivity and anything that yields tangible results, whereas the word dream usually refers to a desire which may or may not come true, and over which we have less control.

You could say that our unconscious mind creates dreams, while the rational mind creates goals. For example, when you are about to fall asleep and your mind is calm, you may receive a powerful intuition, and turn that intuition into a dream.

Then, the following day, when you are fully awake, your rational mind can think of all the necessary steps you need to take in order to achieve your dream: what you should and shouldn’t do, how long it will take, how difficult the whole process will be, and so on. And that’s going to be your goal.

A goal is a dream with a deadline

If you are the kind of person who is ambitious and isn’t afraid to dream big — congratulations! You belong to the tiny percentage of people that have a vision, and that vision may actually come true one day.

However, to increase the chances of success (whatever it means to you), or even guarantee it, having a dream may not be enough. You want to take action, and develop a plan that is going to guide you toward the results you want to achieve. If you can’t figure out the plan yet, you can still research or talk to those who have a similar goal.

A goal is a dream with a deadline because those who have big dreams, but fail to act on them within a reasonable amount of time, usually end up waiting too long, and their dream never comes true; not because of bad luck, but because there was never a clear enough plan.

On the other hand, the few people who aren’t afraid to dream big, but also and most importantly get crystal clear on what it is that they want to accomplish, and develop a specific course of action — those are the ones who are very likely to achieve their dreams.

When it comes to goals, clarity is power. Once you understand what your end goal is, once you are able to visualize the process that’s going to get you there, and all the details, you become unstoppable. Once your dream turns into a clear vision, that vision can and will be acted upon.

It’s important to have a deadline (for example, a date by which you want to accomplish your goal, or a sub-goal) so you can visualize yourself taking action within a specific period of time, but you should also consider all the other factors; for example, the amount of money you need to spend or make, the people you need to work with, the things you will need to sacrifice, and so on.

Remember: the more clarity you have, the more likely you are to succeed. This applies to your personal life, career, health, and anything else. Once you get really specific about your goal and assign a deadline to it, the likelihood of achieving that goal will increase significantly.

What kind of person do you need to become?

Here is a key question all full-time dreamers should ask themselves before trying to achieve their goals, especially big ones: what kind of person do I need to become?

The truth is that you’ll never be able to accomplish a goal until you turn into the kind of person who is aligned to such goal. Perhaps you need to become more disciplined, have more confidence in yourself, stop being a perfectionist, or get rid of some of your current habits.

Too many want to change the external world without changing themselves, and unfortunately that’s the kind of approach that rarely leads to results. So if you have big goals and dreams, I encourage you to focus on yourself first, and take the time to think of who you need to become.

As an analogy, you can visualize your action plan as the road you need to travel on; your goal as your destination; and yourself as the vehicle. It’s vital to figure out the exact destination as well as the best route to get there, but the vehicle is probably the most important factor.

Are deadlines necessary to achieve goals?

Ultimately, this depends on the kind of dream you have. Usually, it makes all the sense in the world to have a deadline to hold yourself accountable, and to better visualize your journey.

However, there are situations where your goal may be very long term, or perhaps the outcome of your goal partly depends on external circumstances that you cannot control or predict. If that’s the case, then a deadline may not be necessary, however you still have to be as clear as possible on what it is that you want to achieve or experience. 

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