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  • Writer's pictureSarah Covey

Ask a Therapist: On Dream-Based Goals

Q: I read your most-recent column about shame-based goals and I’m curious to know more about dream-based goals - what is the difference between those motivations?

A: Dream-based goals, according to Matthias J. Barker, are goals that are sustained, visioned, and consistent. Unlike shame-based goals, which require that you keep connected to the shaming feelings to stay motivated, dream-based goals are connected to your values in a meaningful way that positively propels you forward towards achieving your goals.

Dream-based goals tend to run towards something as opposed to trying to escape something. If you are motivated by shame, the shame itself and getting away from that awful feeling is the fuel designed to help you accomplish your goal. But, once you run away from it, then you lose the motivation to continue in the goal. With dream-based goals you are not trying to escape something, you are moving towards a vision that you have for the future, towards an ideal that is aligned with your values. Working on physical fitness because you feel ashamed and judged by others is distinctly different from working on physical fitness because it allows you to enjoy your family in active and meaningful ways that being physically unwell would prevent.

Dream-based goals are not focused on a single outcome - lose 20 pounds, read a book a week, compete in a marathon, or the like - rather, they are founded on a vision for a life that is the result of the completion of those goals. To run a marathon is an achievement in and of itself but your commitment to do so might be more related to being part of a community of people training together and committed to healthy active lifestyles and as such connect with a value for belonging. Or it might be something that you are embarking on as a way to feel more connected to your body and the gift that movement brings to it. It might be more about being an inspiration to your children as a role-model for the perseverance and dedication that accomplishing that goal takes. You may embark on a particular goal trajectory where the point is about the character you are building in the process of working towards a goal rather than the actual accomplishment of that goal. It may be about the vitality and energy that you have in everyday life because you are committed to this goal and you have a vision for a life that is marked by those values. In any case, dream-based goals are motivating because they are connected to something that deeply matters to the goal setter.

Finally, dream-based goals allow you to access components of the motivation along the way to completing the goal and, even if the goal is not ultimately accomplished in the way you expected, you still experience the goodness of that process of moving towards it. To continue the marathon example, throughout the training you are experiencing the camaraderie of a group and you are increasing your energy and resilience incrementally and can sense that throughout the process - not just when you cross the finish line. You also may be working through some resistance along the way that is building the character that you are hoping to emulate for your kids. Dream-based goals help people to stay motivated in healthy ways because the journey is aligned with the ultimate reasons and values that matter to them, specifically.

Clearly, dream-based goals will be far more successful because they are created by considering the dreams and values in the core of a person. Goals that come from this place within will have the longevity that people are looking for to sustain change because they are authentic and aligned with things that really matter. If you are having trouble finding that dream-based motivation for your goals or if you feel that most of your motivation is still coming from shame, reach out to a counsellor today to help you create the vision and connections you need to move you forward and achieve those goals!

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