I found myself on a sales call recently where the salesman was asking me what my dreams and goals were. He caught me saying what goals were realistic and unrealistic and said I shouldn’t hold myself back. I should dream as high as possible. Because it is possible. I can achieve it.
While this seems like common personal development advice with no harm, he started to lose me there.
Maybe when I was only a couple years into self-help, I would’ve just agreed. But now that I’m thinking deeper about this concept. Is it always healthy and productive to set this unrealistic, over-arching, audacious dream?
That could really kill your motivation when you’re not progressing as expected. What if you set a goal of losing 100 pounds in 2 weeks? What about becoming a multi-millionaire in 15 days from nothing? Some dreams or goals cross the line to unrealistic and lazy, especially when one sets the time limit to something very short, thinking that it won’t take long.
Some goals may just be so audacious that you could really stress yourself out, build resentment/anger/worry/frustration when you’re not seeing progress. I get it, dude, almost everyone wants to have 10 million subscribers, a Lamborghini, and their pick of dozens of the highest-quality high-status people in their city as partners – That doesn’t mean you should aim for it and expect to achieve it without putting in the work and a lot of time.
It’s common to hear or see advice about dreaming big in random inspirational social media posts, by influencers, by speakers, or even in books like the 10x Rule or Magic of Thinking Big (affiliate link). That book has a lot of good tips for having a positive mindset and using thinking big in the right way; here’s a good book summary.
I’ve also had someone tell me to think “I will” instead of “I may or may not, if I don’t, I’ll still be happy.” Their thought was that this confidence will push me forward.
I believe the issue with thinking too big is when you tie your happiness or depression to your progress of the goal. I think this process may work for some people because they stay positive throughout the ups and downs. Ambitious goals take a long time to even have a chance of succeeding, and you don’t want to be miserable, beating yourself up the whole decade or two it takes to get there. In the Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu has a few chapters on anxiety, frustration, anger, and resentment. They bring up how a good deal of it is caused by western culture influencing people to set these unrealistic goals for themselves and then, these people get all these negative emotions when they’re not progressing or accomplishing them. The book argues that you need to set lower expectations and standards for yourself. People are often setting too ambitious of a goals and stressing themselves out. And the Internet has made it worse because every ad has a course to sell you on how you can “easily” become this multi-millionaire lady’s man rockstar.
So what’s the solution? My best bet for now is to continue to set good goals and some ambitious goals, while setting expectations on not achieving them. Whether or not I achieve them or progress as fast as I want, I won’t let it affect how unhappy I get. My focus should be on putting in the work expected, consistently, in a sustainable way without compromising my mind or health. Without goal setting and some reaching towards higher goals, how would everyone accomplish things we thought to be impossible, different, or more amazing? It’s okay to dream and think “what if that was possible?.” It’s not healthy to tie your emotions to those goals, especially if they’re too crazy.