Everyone makes fun of the dreamers. “You are a dreamer,” Angela’s friend said. Angela knew it was an insult and that what he was saying is that a dreamer cannot achieve success. The dreamer, by all accounts, is incompetent to take care of herself she scoffed in her head.

“I have heard this from you before,” her friend continued when he heard Angela say that she was going to write a book. Defeated, Angela went to the gym and stepped up and down on the stepper to her thoughts and dreams to write a book until she forgot about the haters and could see herself as an author down the road.

Define Your Dream

Dreams are ideas floating in our heads, driving us mad, until we make them a reality. Dreams are abstract notions about where we want to be two, ten, twenty years down the road. They are goals and achievements that we wish to attain. It is certainly not hard to have dreams, but it is tough to realize them. To make any dream a reality requires a carefully crafted plan and commitment to earn it. Yes, typically dreams are earned, not granted, and very rarely achieved by pure luck.

The first step to laying out your life plan and your dream existence is to clearly state your dream in three to five words. If you could achieve anything in life, what would that be? Don’t over analyze it. Just say it, even if you say it in your head only. It is your starting point.

Recognize a Pipe Dream

“The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a thinker.”

When we talk about goal setting it is critical upfront to address the difference between long-term goals and pipe-dreams. We all know those people with tons of ideas that talk endlessly about possibilities and potential outcomes, but they rarely achieve anything. They are couch superheroes, your annoying friend playing video games all day, or even the guy who stays in school for 20 years. The reality is that it takes a plan and hard work to achieve your goals, but more important than working is setting goals that you can achieve. A pipe dream is a fantasy, whereas a goal is doable.

Be Prepared

First, you have to do an honest assessment of your potential to reach your goal. You have to look at your preparedness relative to your goal. Quite simply put, is the goal realistic and attainable for you? Literally, answering honestly if a goal is realistic and attainable for you are the first steps. Let’s look at the example of two law students.

Josh had a law degree from a highly regarded state law school and was studying an average four hours/day for the bar exam. Josh had every reason to believe he would pass the bar exam and have a successful law career. He was prepared. However, Jennie had a law degree from an unaccredited out-of-state school and had failed the state bar exam five times. All other factors aside, Jennie was not prepared. The law school she attended was not the right preparation for a law career in her residing state. She needed to reevaluate her chances to attain her goal based on her preparation. For all intents and purposes, Jenni was chasing a pipe dream.

Preparedness to reach goals also depends on your willingness to recognize a long-term goal as a series of short-term goals. Just like long term fitness goals like ‘lose 50 pounds’ don’t work long term education and professional goals don’t work well either. An incoming college freshman aspiring to earn a Ph.D. in Engineering will not handle well the thought of a 10-year goal alone. You have to shift your thinking to focus on one degree at a time; a bachelor’s in four years, a Master’s in two, and Ph.D. in four to six years. The goal is not so daunting when broken down. With any goal, breaking it down into smaller parts and rewarding yourself for small milestones along the way will help significantly to increase your chances of success.

The Right Work

Regardless of the nature and size of your dream, you cannot expect to fulfill it overnight or without a lot of work. Putting in the right work is critical. Malcolm Gladwell, author of the book Outliers, suggests that a person must spend 10,000 hours in focused practice in order to master any skill. If you expect to obtain a Bachelor’s degree from a four-year university, it will cost you 10,000 hours attending class and doing homework. You want to go on to earn an MBA from the Harvard Business School? Expect to spend 10,000 hours studying and thinking about business before you hang that diploma on your office wall.

Practice makes perfect. But from what we know in motor learning, perfect practice is necessary. You need to practice properly, making sure what you do is intentional, correct, well-structured, and aligns with your end goal. Even then, you will suffer setbacks. You may fail a final exam in calculus, you may not get accepted by Harvard, and after you earn that MBA, you may decide that you would rather become a florist than a Wall Street banker. The path from here to there never follows a perfectly straight line, and it takes a lot of hard and often painful work, and smart course corrections, before you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology reported the findings of researchers who had examined the proficiency of soccer players. They compared kick improvement in three practice groups: beginning, intermediate and advanced players. Which group improved its kick performance the most? The advanced players. Which group found it harder and more physically taxing to become better kickers? Again, the advanced players. What does this tell us about making significant changes in your life? If it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing it right.

The bottom line is this: dreams are doable when they are defined well and you are willing to put in the work, time, and right practice. Dream on, work right, and succeed!