Vision VS Goals: 5 Important Differences

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There's a secret to making dreams come true – we need a vision and we need to set goals. People get confused about vision vs goals; sometimes assuming they're the same thing. But they have some important differences, and both are vital to helping us become who we want to be

There's nothing better than letting yourself imagine something you really want, even if it seems impossible, then working toward goal after goal until it becomes tangible…and then pulling it off! This process of envisioning something and working towards it rings true for anything in life – from rearranging your closet, to building a stadium!

What is Vision?

Vision is seeing something in your imagination that you want to exist. Our capacity to conjure pictures, sounds and feelings is vital to getting what you want from life. If you can't imagine something, you certainly can't make it happen.

The clearer our vision, the more exciting it will be to fulfill it. The more it will motivate us to do what it takes to turn it into a reality. If you're having trouble with developing vision for your life, you can check out our article on the benefits of the growth mindset.

Here are three examples of visions:

  1. Your vision is to turn your backyard into a sanctuary where your family can swim, enjoy nature, and relax in privacy. In your head, you can see the fences, the pool, the deck full of lounge chairs with bright pillows, and the yard full of trees and flowers with a stone path winding through them.
  2. Your vision is to start a business creating neighborhood tours in attractive areas in your city. You can see yourself addressing crowds of tourists as you pour out your rich store of historical knowledge and fascinating stories that make each place more meaningful. You see restaurants and bars packed with the people you drew in. You see your bank balance climbing higher.
  3. Your vision is to be lean and muscled, running with little effort past other gasping people to win a marathon. You can hear the crowd cheering, you can see the finish line a few yards ahead, and you can feel how light and fast your movements have become.

The Bible says that without vision, people perish. It's true. We need to know why we're living and what we want to happen with our lives, or we'll end up drifting, letting other people decide for us. 

What are Goals?

Goals are the actions we take to make our visions come to life. All the work a vision takes can be broken into chunks, and each chunk can be further broken down until they're small enough to handle.

Some goals have to happen at the same time, others build on each other. Some you need help with; others you can do alone. You need to be able to measure them, so make them specific. For example, “Eat no more than 2000 calories a day,” is a specific goal. “Eat less,” is not a measurable goal.

Let's take our marathon running vision and see one set of possible goals that could make it happen:

  • Read three good sources on how to prepare for and run a marathon.
  • Pick a training schedule, and plot it on your calendar.
  • Sign up for a marathon you have time to train for.
  • Find a person or people to train with since anything hard needs the encouragement and support of others.
  • Buy good running shoes.
  • Check off each training goal as you reach it.

Vision VS Goals – 5 Important Differences

Visions and goals need one another. They can co-exist… but they are not the same. Here are some of the key differences.

Difference #1: Vision is Imagined and Felt; Goals are Thought and Done

A parent who decides to homeschool his firstborn has a vision of the little boy happily reading books on his own, fully understanding them, and accurately repeating back what he learns. What the dad may not know, being new to the whole teaching gig, is that this vision will take a year, or two, or five, to bring to life. 

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Vision is seeing something in your imagination that you want to exist.

You can develop a vision like that sitting in a recliner, and feel all kinds of positive emotions as you picture it. However, if you're a more visual person, you might enjoy making a vision board.

Now, to turn that daydream into real life, plans need to be formed, and stuff needs to be done. The dad will realize that no reading will happen until the child recognizes letters and knows their sounds. So that becomes the first goal and will have to be broken down into smaller goals, such as:

  • Read to him for half an hour each morning so he hears good reading and learns to enjoy books.
  • Also make an alphabet book, finding pictures in old magazines of things that start with each letter. 
  • When the book is done, play letter recognition games.

Depending on the child, that could take the whole year, or he may be ready to start combining letters to make words, memorizing common words, and reading some very simple books. That will lead to a whole new set of goals!

Difference #2: Vision is the Better World You See; Goals are the Steps to Get You There

Entrepreneur and author Evan Carmichael, a guru of vision and goal-setting, calls vision “The better world that you see.” It is fun to imagine improvement – whether it's a kitchen remodel or a new career. The enjoyment of the attractive picture you see in your head (or maybe it's a movie!) gives you the motivation to work toward it.

Goals are the steps leading to it. Every time you accomplish one of those goals, your confidence increases, and the new reality is closer. Some people are good at visualizing a new reality, others need help.

Take the kitchen remodel, for instance. Someone might know they want new appliances and an updated look, but have no idea how to do it. That's when you ask for help, either scouring the internet for answers to questions or maybe paying an interior designer to help you come up with a plan.

When you've done your research and know your budget, you can order a list of the many goals you'll need to accomplish to get your new kitchen – everything from deciding on your colors to what material you want for your countertops, to whether you should get a new floor or keep the one you've got. 

Difference #3: Vision is the End; Goals are the Means

Let's say a woman retires and decides that she wants to use her new freedom to work on the problem of food deserts in her city. She thinks of the streets around her home and imagines the kitchens in all those houses and apartment buildings, and all of them are full of fresh, healthy foods.

Families sit around tables and have dinners together. Kids are alert in school because they didn't have to skip breakfast. It's a great vision, but overwhelming. How can one person pull that off all over the city?

So she breaks it into an achievable goal…make good food available to everyone in my zip code. Then she breaks it into smaller goals, such as: identify where in the neighborhood food is donated and how it's distributed. Centralize those efforts into one food pantry staffed by volunteers.

To fulfill the vision, she'll need many other goals, including a grocery store in the neighborhood, a system for identifying older people and disabled people who need deliveries, and a way to screen for malnutrition in children. And each of those goals will need to be further broken down into many separate steps.

Eventually, a plan emerges. Eventually, all the steps meet up and lead to a neighborhood without hunger. And that model can be scaled to other neighborhoods…all from one vision, several big goals, and many smaller goals.

Difference #4: Vision is your What and Why; Goals are your When, Where, and How

Take an area of your life you want to change. Let's say you want to be better educated. Now, start asking yourself the same questions reporters ask to get a story:

What – What kind of education do you want? Maybe it's to understand mental health. 

Why – Why do you want to be educated about mental health? Maybe it's to overcome depression and help others do the same. Bam – the what and the why got you to your vision. Keep going…

When – When do you want to start? You'll probably decide the sooner the better, but then realize you have some commitments this summer, so you set a goal to begin this fall.

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Goals are the actions we take to make our visions come to life.

Where – Where do you get that kind of education? You'll have to research the degrees related to mental health, such as counseling, social work, and psychology, and decide which one is right for you, then find a school you like and can afford. So now you have your first steps – to research degrees and choose a school.

How – How are you going to make it happen? Answering this leads to many smaller goals that will involve money, where you'll live, who you'll hang out with, what classes to choose, and so on. 

So now you have a vision and a set of goals to get you there. You got this!

Difference #5: Vision is Big Picture; Goals are Smaller Close-Ups

When we first met, my husband and I had conversations that went like this:

Me: Wouldn't it be awesome to… (Insert some vividly imagined dream, such as, “Have a waterfall in our back yard,” or “Spend a summer on a farm,” or “Write a book set in Australia?”

Him: (scrunching his face) How would you do that?

Me: (suppressing an eye-roll) I don't know honey, I was just thinking about it.

Him: (looking at me with eyes narrowed) When do you want this to happen?

And so we went on, utterly misunderstanding one another. I was the visionary, enjoying the dream that is the beginning of any new venture. He was the goal-setter, turning each vision into a Saturday to-do list, wondering how we would pull it off. 

The world needs both kinds of people, listening well to one another. Visions need time to become clear and focused before getting shot down, but eventually, reality needs to be faced and goals have to be set, or nothing gets done.

Final Thoughts on Vision VS Goals: Important Differences

Making dreams come true is not just for the rich or the lucky… it's for all of us. And it is within our reach.

We need to give ourselves time to dream about what we are most passionate about doing, and then break that vision down into specific and workable goals. This is often a two-step process that starts with breaking our bigger goals broken down into smaller chunks… ones that are clear and concise.

You can do this by implementing the SMART Goal setting process into your routine. You’ll soon see that you have the power to make wonderful things happen!

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