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The Difference Between a Wish and a Goal

The Difference Between a Wish and a Goal

The Difference Between a Wish and a Goal

I often speak to people about their future goals. I ask, "What are your goals for the future?" When they answer, I am shocked. I am shocked because their answer to me, is incomprehensible. Their answer seems to be a wish, not a goal.

For example, I was in conversation with a gentleman, and I asked him my usual question, "What is your goal for the future?" He replied, "To win the national lottery!"

I thought, "That is not a goal, that is a wish!"

Why is "Winning the national lottery" a wish, not a goal?

Because winning the national lottery is not something that depends on your daily performance. It is a pure chance event. The chances of you winning the National Lottery is approximately 1 in 14 million.

So, we can safely assume that the lottery win is not a goal, but a wish.

Here is another example of a confusion between a wish and a goal.

I asked a lady at work my usual question, "What are your goals for the future?" She replied, "My goal is to be happy and successful".

Now, this reply sounds better than the lottery reply, but there is still something wrong with it. What is wrong with the statement, "My goal is to be happy and successful"?

It is too vague. It is ill-defined. The statement is non-specific. We don't know what would make her happy and we don't know what would have to happen for her, before she could define herself as being "successful". Maybe, she does not know herself, how she defines happiness and how she defines success.

Certainly, it is true that many people struggle to define these terms. Many people have big problems answering the question, "What does it mean to say that someone is happy?" and "What does it mean to say someone is successful?"

In relation to the lady who said her goal was to be happy and successful, we still don't know anything about her ambitions. The fact is that everyone wants to be happy and successful. The question is, what would make you feel happy and successful. Or to put it another way, "What goals, if you achieved them, would cause you to think that you were successful and would therefore make you feel happy?" or in other words, what are your goals?

Saying that your goal is to be happy and successful does not answer the question. It merely begs the same question.

Let us define our terms and state the definition of a goal and contrast it to a wish.

A goal (or purpose) is a specific statement of intent. Goals name the objective that our actions are intended to achieve. Goals may be tangible or intangible.

Tangible goals are those that consist of material things, such as a nicer house, or car, or a gold medal at the next competition, or a pass mark in the next exam; or a certain amount of money, or a different body weight.

Intangible goals are those things that are immaterial, such as more confidence, or more harmonious relationships with a loved one; or the goal may be gaining new skills and abilities, or they may be to have a specific experience, such as visiting a particular place, or doing a certain activity such as a skydive.

Goals are great.

Goals are powerful tools for change. Goals give you something to aim for and therefore something around which to gather your forces.

Goals are a call to action. Goals give you hope for the future, they give you focus, motivation; something to plan for. Goals are to be taken seriously. They provide you with forward momentum. They provide you with meaning, and they map out the route for a better future. They give you a personal identity. You are defined by your goals, because, you become whatever you think about. Goals give you something interesting to think about when you are alone, and something interesting to talk about when you are with others. You should talk about your goals and ask others about their goals.

Wishes are not goals.

On the other hand, wishes are not goals. Wishes are idle fantasies, detached from reality. They may be figments of the imagination. They can be pleasant diversions and may give temporary relief from the demands of the real world. But wishes are not calls to action, since the person doing the wishing, knows she is dreaming and that the dream is not to be taken seriously. Anyone can wish anything. And many people do.

"I wish I could lose weight. I wish I didn't have to go to work. I wish I had the answers for the next exam. I wish I had a better memory. I wish I were a millionaire. I wish I could go back in time and do it differently. I wish I had more confidence."

But these are not goals, unless the person translates them into the form of a goal.

  1. Goals are powerful tools for change. Goals are clear, specific and constructive.
  2. Wishes are weak-willed fantasies. Wishes are vague, ambiguous and not very constructive.

Don't set wishy, washy wishes - set goals.

Motivation : The Difference Between a Wish and a Goal

Setting Goals

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About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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