How to Define the Dreams You Want to Achieve


When I was a child, I had a lot of dreams about what I wanted to be when I grew up. From a truck-driver, airline pilot to the generic “rich guy.”

I’m currently none of these!

My problem was that I didn’t really define what my dreams were, what really drove me or what I really wanted to achieve. As a kid, that’s not a problem. Kids change their minds all the time, but as we get older, at some point – and hopefully early in the process – you need to define the dreams you want to achieve.

Why do I make such a bold statement as “need”? Simply put, its because if we don’t define what we want, we probably won’t achieve it. Oh, sure, some people seem to have a knack for following their heart and a very purpose driven life. Most people don’t.

You hear a lot about how topics such as how to achieve goals, the meaning of life, finding your passion and so forth. These are all esoteric concepts but they have real manifestations in our daily life.

For example, when I had to declare a major in college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career. I simply chose business because it was “marketable”. Trust me when I say that’s a terrible way to choose! For many years after that I struggled, not understanding what drove me, what motivated me or what would give me a sense of accomplishment.

As time went on, I became unhappier, I made bad job choices, had my share of failures both at work and personally and generally lived life adrift.

Growing older and hopefully wiser, I learned a lot of things about life and about myself. The major lesson I learned is that happiness, gratitude, a feeling of success are all mental states. They aren’t a goal or a milestone, but are a result of thought processes.

We are conditioned to think and feel by the people we are exposed to, what lessons are taught to us and our experiences, among other factors. As we are conditioned by these factors, new data is filtered through our knowledge and it contributes to that conditioning. Our conditioning can be “bad” or “good”, depending on your (conditioned) values.

Scratching your forehead? Sound confusing or like mumbo-jumbo?

I’ll put it like this: If you aren’t satisfied with where you are in life and have unrealized dreams you aren’t actively pursuing, it is because of the thought processes you have. Period.

I’ll give you another example from my life. I have lived the better part of my life as a fearful person. No I don’t mean I’m always looking over my shoulder (wait, what’s that?!). Just kidding. What I mean is that I became cynical (a mental poison), skeptical and pessimistic. I didn’t go into situations, such as a job, with the expectation I would like it or be successful at it.

I expected I would be dissatisfied, and you know what? I was! I didn’t define it as such, but believing I chose the wrong profession, that I couldn’t follow my dreams, I was held back by fear and insecurity. This leads to lack of motivation, a lack of interest, poor performance and ultimately failure. Failure is a huge contributor to negative mental conditioning.

See what can happen when you don’t “know thyself”, know what drives and motivates you and don’t know the dreams you want to achieve? Its real, its personal and it makes an enormous difference in whether we are successful or not.

To summarize this concept: if you don’t define your dreams, you will have a hard time accomplishing them. Where you focus your mind, so goes your life. If it isn’t clear, is negative, is poorly conditioned, so will the results in your life be mediocre or poor.

The unexamined life is not worth living.

How to Define the Dreams You Want to Achieve

Whether you think in terms of “the meaning of life” or discovering the “purpose of life”, the concept doesn’t need to be so heady. Keep it basic. There isn’t anything magical about those terms themselves.

The steps below can help you clarify what it is you really want to achieve. This can be a quick process, but don’t rush it. You’ve spent an entire lifetime up until today becoming who you are. Change is a process you can incorporate into your daily life. Over time, you will become more proficient with the steps below:

Step 1:  Understand that your dreams as well as whatever is holding you back is a mental process.

I discuss this above, but think long and hard about this. You are defined by your thoughts and your thoughts determine your actions. The good news, the simple truth is, that you can control your thoughts and train yourself to think in a more positive way.

Step 2:  Be aware of your thoughts.

Don’t just go blindly through your day, be aware of what thoughts you are having. What mood are you in? Are you irritated or are you happy? Are you mad at someone, or were you inspired? Why do you like going to the gym, or your favorite restaurant? What are your assumptions about where your job is heading and whether it is a good situation or a negative one?

You don’t need to judge your thoughts, just be aware when they drift through your mind.

Step 3:  Analyze your thoughts.

After you become more aware of your thoughts, spend some time asking “where” they are coming from?” Try to determine the origin of the thoughts you have. What are the assumptions that are being made?

For example, if you have a negative thought about someone, such as “they are irritating”, think about why you have that thought. Why does that persons behavior impact you the way it does? If they are cocky, could it be that they are overbearing, or is it because they exude confidence?

If you resent or are envious of people that have money, is it because growing up you were poor, or some salesman took advantage of you? Could it be that how you perceive them is not about them, but about what is going on in your mind?

This step will help give a context to the thoughts we have, so we can take action to change them if they need to be changed, or to support them if they are positive.

Step 4:  Be open to change.

If I can reiterate, if you aren’t actively pursuing your dreams, it is likely that there is a negative thought process holding you back. The first three steps are both a state of mind and a mental skill. They illustrate an understanding of thought process and being aware of what thoughts we have.

Being open to change is important if you really do want to change whatever negative thinking you have. Again, don’t be judgemental, simply understand that you are learning how to make your life better and set yourself up for positive changes.

These next steps will help define the process in more detail, but for now, understand that it is possible to change how we think.

Step 5:  Define what it is that is holding you back.

Try to ask yourself why you aren’t pursuing your dreams. Are you afraid of failure? Of success? Do you believe you don’t have enough time, or enough money or enough education? If you can imagine action and what it looks like, what would it take for you to take action?

This is a very important step, because it gets to the root of why we have the thoughts we have. If you are conditioned to not be successful or to not be motivated to follow your dreams, what is it that is standing in your way?

Be honest with yourself. Brainstorm or do a mind-map. Put it down on paper so you don’t just think it, but you can see it and sense it through the act of writing. Confront those barriers!

Step 6:  Define what is important to you.

Ask yourself “What?” What values do you have? Is it important to have a lot of money, or is it more important to live the life you have now, just more comfortably? Do you want to start your own business, or do you want the security of a full time job, but with a promotion?

Going deeper, ask yourself “Who” is important to you. Do you want to change your life because you want more time to spend with your children? Do you want to provide for your family more comfortably? Do you have something to prove to yourself?

Step 7:  Define the dreams you want to achieve.

Now that you are becoming aware of your thoughts, where your thoughts come and how those thoughts impact your life, we can ask this question from a different perspective from where we started.

Based on your values, what is important to you, what you would do if you really weren’t held back, what would that life look like?

Imagine being confident, not having to account to anyone you didn’t choose to. If all options were open to you and you had all the knowledge you needed to do it, what would that life look like?

Do you want an achievement like becoming President of the United States, or would it be to have enough money to be a stay-at-home parent?

The only parameter I would put on you is to Dream Big! The sky’s the limit. Remember, our thoughts can define us, so don’t limit your possibilities.

Write it down, either on paper or on the computer. By taking this step, we add other actions to the thought, we materialize it. It becomes a “thing” when we move our hands to put it on paper, and see it. Hearing the keyboard or the scratch of the pen makes the process more real, and implants it more fully in your mind.

Step 8:  The Why exercise.

In Step 3 we began to analyze our thoughts to take an analytical approach to them.

In this step, we go much, much deeper. I’ve covered this concept in the post Ask “Why”: Understanding Limiting Beliefs. This is a powerful technique that can be used in both Steps 6 and 7 above.

The process is simply to ask why multiple times for each thought. For example, taking Step 6 above, if you said it was important to get a promotion, ask “Why?” Why is it important to you to move up the ladder? Maybe its because you want to be a supervisor. Then ask again, why is it important for you to be a supervisor? Is it because perhaps you never rose above being a “worker bee” and that sense of accomplishment is important to you? Why would that sense of accomplishment be important to you?

You could keep asking Why all day. It may take you down different paths, but keep asking until you are clear in your mind about why you have that thought, whatever it is. You can’t hide from yourself by doing this. It will expose your deeper motivations.

Step 9:  Repeat Steps 2-8

Now that you have gone through the entire process go back up to Step 2 now that you have more insight into your thoughts. Go through the process again and see if your explanation for what is holding you back is still the same. Maybe you have a new insight and what you thought was holding you back is really something else.

Step 10:  Practice, Practice, Practice

This exercise is a tool you can use over and over. I suggest doing it a couple of times a year. Once you do get started towards pursuing your dreams, you’ll find you learn a great deal of things you didn’t know before. This will change you for the better. By going through this process, you can use it as a reference to judge whether you are on the right track, or need to shift course.

Moving Forward

These two words represent movement and direction. It is always better to move forward, than slide back. There is a third state of being which is standing still. You don’t want to do that either.

Now that you have better control over your thoughts, you have defined what is holding you back, and have defined your dreams, now is the time to take action. Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. This concept applies to achieving your dreams. Once you take action, it will be much easier to sustain it.

Hopefully you have also gained a great deal of motivation. If you know what you want and why it is important, that should give you fuel to move forward.

Again, remember that thoughts define you, but you are not necessarily your thoughts. You can choose what thoughts to have and control them rather than the other way around. There is nothing real about what is holding you back other than the mental state you allow yourself to be in.

I can attest to the power of this process. I lived in fear for a long time, but only through sheer desperation did I go through these steps. When I did, this “process” wasn’t a “thing”. It was only by stumbling around, going to seminars, reading books etc., did I find ways to learn, grow and finally take action. If it can work for me, it can work for you.

Final Thoughts

1. You deserve to have the life you want.
2. Nobody can define your thoughts or your dreams other than yourself.
3. You will be happier, more centered and more grateful if you take action.
4. The world will stand beside you once you do take action. Believe me, there are people out there that want to help and see you succeed.

I would love to get feedback on your experience with this process. Please comment or contact me through the Contact Form. Also, if you find this helpful and want more information, connect with me through the twitter link and join the newsletter.


I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.


Image Courtesy of Steve Jurvetson.

Helpful Links:

Ask “Why”: Understanding Limiting Beliefs

Take Imperfect Action

Passion: How to Take the First Step

If you want to learn more about thoughts and how to condition yourself for success, I suggest the book Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, by T. Harv Eker

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