10 steps to turn your dreams into actual goals

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It's time to get cracking on that big life goal, but before you make any giant leaps toward turning your dreams into reality, make sure you're on the right track. Here's a list of 10 steps to help get you started.

Step 1: Get out of your head

“The one path that never works is the most common one: doing nothing at all.” – Seth Godin Consider for a moment how long you’ve actually been thinking about this particular dream. How many days, weeks, months or years have you spent imagining how absolutely wonderful it would be to run your own business, work for x company, relocate to your favorite city or whatever it is you’ve been yearning? If you’re anything like the rest of mankind, the simple answer is this: Too. Long. A dream can never manifest into anything tangible when all we do is fantasize about it. So, before you fall any further down the dark, dangerous pit of daydreaming, get out of your own head for a bit. Write your dream down, share it with close friends and family, and start thinking about how you can make it reality.

Step 2: Give it a name

"If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there." - Cheshire Cat, Alice in Wonderland Before setting your heart and your head on your app becoming Facebook's next big acquisition, decide exactly what it is you want. Here are some examples of specific goals:
  • I want to be in a management role within the next year.
  • I want to relocate to San Francisco by the summer of 2016.
  • I want to start my own consulting business within the next six months.
Allow yourself some flexibility with your dates, so that you don’t get discouraged if your timing is slightly off. Having a rough timeline will help keep you on track, and giving your dream a name will turn it into something you can actually work toward. This also makes it easier to research the specific steps you’ll need to start moving forward. Read, learn and listen to everything you can possibly get your hands on that’s related to your goal. Talk to people who have had similar experiences, and never stop asking questions.

Step 3: Break it down

“Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.” – Winston Churchill Big goals are overwhelming. They can make us want to quit before we’ve barely begun. In order to avoid this kind of paralysis, it’s essential that you break your goal into smaller tasks. This will give your brain a break from fixating on something that feels so far away and will instead motivate you to work through a list of items that can easily be accomplished. In the book “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard,” authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath sum it up nicely, “People find it more motivating to be partly finished with a longer journey than to be at the starting gate of a shorter one.”

Step 4: Prepare to make sacrifices

“Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough. You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.” ― J.M. Barrie So, this is probably the least fun part about turning your dreams into reality. Thankfully, the payoff is tenfold. No matter how big or small your goal, you will have to make sacrifices. This could mean giving up your weekends to work on checking off some of your smaller tasks, it could mean kicking certain vices to the curb or eliminating distractions, it may mean getting up earlier or reworking your personal budget. Whatever it is, figure it out before you get started and it’ll prevent you from hitting a roadblock along the way.

Step 5: Get aggressive

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” - John Wayne You’ve been told your whole life that working hard will pay off, but somewhere along the line you got a little too comfortable in your career. While we all deserve a moment or two to sit back and relax, this lackadaisical attitude should never become the norm. We all find energy in different places, whether it’s hitting the gym, attending (or streaming) a really great TED talk or having an inspirational conversation with a close friend, get to it. Seriously, like as in right now.

Step 6: Know your weaknesses

“If you believe you can or if you believe you can’t … you’re right.” - Henry Ford You’ve likely got a sturdy grip on your strengths at this point, but are you using them to overcome your weaknesses? It’s time to get real with yourself and pinpoint areas that need improvement. Of course, seeing our own shortcomings isn’t always the easiest task, so it can help to ask others. Seek out the people in your life who you know will be honest with you. Ask specific questions, which will help you better understand exactly how you can improve.

Step 7: Don’t be a jerk

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." - Dalai Lama Focusing on your goal is smart, admirable and will likely payoff in the end, but be careful not to get so engrossed in it that you neglect the people around you. Here are two big things that your work life and your home life have in common: Someone in each of these places can always use your help. And when you’re eager to help, most often the favor will be returned. This doesn’t mean sacrificing your own projects to lend a hand; finish what needs to be done and offer up any extra time in your schedule to assist elsewhere. You’ll be happy that you did when you’re the one feeling swamped and you suddenly have plenty of people in your corner who want to help.

Step 8: Ignore the haters

“If not enough people doubt you, you’re not making a difference.” –Seth Godin People will doubt you. They’ll tell you why whatever you’re trying to accomplish is a terrible idea. Some of them will have detailed explanations for why it’ll never work. They’ll instill fear. They’ll make you second-guess yourself. And if you let them, they’ll crush your confidence to the point that you’re ready to throw in the towel. Seth Godin makes another good point in his book, “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us” when he says, “We choose not to be remarkable because we’re worried about criticism. We hesitate to create innovative movies, launch new human resource initiatives, design a menu that makes diners take notice, or give an audacious sermon because we’re worried, deep down, that someone will hate it and call us on it.” When you stop worrying about what everyone else thinks, you give yourself the freedom and space to create something amazing. Remember, you know what’s best for you. And as long as your goal is in line with your beliefs and  values, there’s no reason to let outside opinions hold you back.

Step 9: Stop trying to do it all on your own

“We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” –Benjamin Franklin Look, I’m really glad that you’re taking that advice about getting aggressive with your goals, but let’s just tone it down a notch, yeah? We all know that real goals aren’t achieved overnight, no matter how hard we’re hitting it. But you will get there a heck of a lot faster if you ask for help (believe me, I get that this isn’t always the easiest, especially when that whole pride thing gets in the way). Yes, there will be certain things you must tackle solo, but make it a point to let others assist you on your journey whenever possible. Heck, this can be as simple as letting someone else cook dinner after a long day of working, planning and goal-stretching.

Step 10: Recognize that failure isn’t the end

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill When we set out to achieve something really big and life-changing, the sky-rocketing high odds of failure are enough to scare us into never even getting started. But this kind of attitude is downright silly and will leave you with nothing more than a gigantic, looming “What-if?” Think about it like this: If you never try, you’ve already failed. Instead, why not at least give yourself the opportunity to fall flat on your face for something you believe in? Go ahead and ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could really happen if I fail?” You’ll often find that the answer is far less scarier than never taking the leap. Not only that, but there’s a slew of evidence suggesting that failure might just be exactly what you need to truly succeed.

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Stacy Warden

Stacy is a contributing editor of the Pluralsight blog and has worked in publishing since the dawn of the iPhone. Currently, Stacy deals in tech and education--a combination that she finds absolutely fascinating. You can find her on Twitter @sterrsi.