Dream Big, Plan Small

Let me start off with a simple equation:

  • Dream = Something desired, but seemingly unattainable
  • Goal = Something desired, and attainable with effort
  • If “Dream” = “Goal”, then the “Dream” becomes attainable with effort

We all have dreams, but all too often fail to pursue them because we are stuck on the first part of the equation above. We fail to go through the practice of transforming our dreams into goals. To tie these equations together, it takes some planning and effort, but when that happens, our “dreams” begin to fall within our reach.

So how do we turn our dreams into goals? As with everything, we must plan.

The Destination

The first important step is to lay out the destination. This is the seemingly unattainable dream that you want to one day achieve. Right now, this looks impossible. But it’s important to write down this dream. This is the fun part, because you can let your imagination run wild! Additionally, your brain will be firing on all cylinders telling you “No way!”, or “That’s impossible!”, and the worst four letter word of them all “I CAN’T!”. These are necessary birth pains for our goals, but it’s important to get through this exercise.

The Starting Point

Next, it’s time to be honest with ourselves about where we are now. Identifying our baseline is a key component of identifying a series of goals that will gradually lead us to the destination. Discipline, grit, and focus are what it will take to propel us through the process. But first things first. Take a mental inventory of our present state. Is the journey we are about to embark upon physical? Mental? Spiritual? A combination of all three? It’s time to start listing out your present feelings, your present physical state, your motivation. For what purpose are you undertaking this challenge? It is vital in this process to be clear on what is driving you toward the dream. Maintaining focus on this motivation will be a critical element of staying on the path.

The Path

So now we have a starting point, and a destination, so our path looks essentially like this:

This simple diagram was stolen from another of my posts, “Change is Never Easy…

Now it is time to define what we do in the “desert” section. I call this “the desert” because this is where the Hebrews spent 40 years wandering while waiting to enter the promised land. While we may not be on nearly that extraordinary of a journey, it still helps to demonstrate value of the exercise. The desert represents a barren wasteland, and nothing will get us through it unless we take action. If you would like to read more on this, go to my previous post, Change is Never Easy…

I mentioned in the previous section that the journey takes discipline, grit, and focus to propel us through. Without these elements, we simply remain isolated in limbo, left to ponder what could have been had we only…

The dream at this point still seems unattainable, but the creation of a path to that goal is simple through the process of assigning mini goals on the way to the dream. These mini goals in relation to the dream are easily achievable. And we achieve each mini goal, we get closer to the dream. The dream then begins to come into view as an achievable goal. Our view of that dream is no longer far fetched. Instead, it is a realistic goal which can be achieved through action. Action is the critical step which will leapfrog us from one miniature goal to another.

Dream Big, Plan Small

As an example, when I began thinking about doing an Ironman, I went through this process. As a reminder, at that time I was only one year sober, had just quit smoking a month earlier, and I was an avid “breaditarian” – meaning that most, if not all, of my food needed to be breaded and fried.

My dream became “To qualify for the Hawaii Ironman World Championship”. This was an absolutely ridiculous idea because a) I had never done an Ironman, let alone one fast enough to qualify for Kona, b) I had never done a triathlon and did not know how to swim, and c) as mentioned above, was only one year into sobriety, one month free from smoking, and completely unhealthy. I had no business thinking I could qualify for the Ironman World Championships. I could barely watch them on TV without getting winded.

But, a plan came together, and even though my dream was big, I was planning small. I was setting goals which would progress me toward my dream. Here is an example of how my goal hierarchy looked:

  1. Get my butt off the couch
  2. Begin practicing healthy habits, including consuming a healthy diet. (Read more on that here)
  3. Research and learn about Ironman triathlon and how to train.
  4. Learn how to train (you can read my post on how I started training here)
    1. Bike 10 miles without stopping
    2. Swim 100 yards without stopping
  5. Run a 5k
  6. Run a 10k
  7. Run a half marathon (race report here)
  8. Swim 1k in the open water (open water fears reported here)
  9. Complete a sprint triathlon (race report here)
  10. Complete an Olympic distance triathlon (race report here)
  11. Swim 2.4 miles in the open water
  12. Complete a half Ironman (race report here)
  13. Complete a full Ironman (race report here and here)
  14. Complete an Ironman in under 12 hours
  15. Qualify for Ironman Hawaii World Championships
  16. Podium in an Ironman as an age grouper
  17. Win my age group in an Ironman
  18. Win an Ironman overall as an age grouper
  19. Win the Ironman World Championships as an age grouper
Thus far I have achieved the mini goals through #14, and will be seeking #’s 15 and 16 in 2015. Looking back at when I was at #1 (just getting my butt off the couch), #15 (qualifying for the Ironman World Championships) was a pipe dream. Now it is absolutely achievable, and I have the ability to do so. Now my dream has become to win an Ironman. A few more achieved goals, and that one will become realistic as well!
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the entire process is easy. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Again, it takes discipline, grit, and focus. The goals get much harder and the returns are diminishing as we progress through them. However, the key is that we are better equipped to meet the increasing demand as we continue to achieve our goals. We get stronger with resistance.
Think about it like a role playing video game. Zelda is one of my favorites. Every time you beat a boss, the next level gets harder. But additionally you get stronger. It’s harder to beat the bosses at the end of each level, but there is no doubt that we are capable of doing so. What once was an impossible task at the beginning of the game now becomes absolutely possible. 
What dreams are you putting on hold because you think they are too far out of reach? How many times have you told yourself that “it’s too hard”, or “I’ll never be able to do that?” Perhaps it’s time to create that path to your dreams, and start setting goals to get there. For me it started by just getting off the couch. What is your first step?
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