The Difference Between Goals and Aspirations2 min read

Let’s clarify the differences between a goal and an aspiration. In the table below, we start with the goal, which is more specific, because that is usually what people are aware of. Then we cover an example aspiration that could be behind that goal, and some of the strategies (tactics) that can be used to accomplish it.

GoalAspirationPossible Strategies
Lose 40 poundsTo feel young, healthy, full of life; to have plenty of energy for the activities I care aboutDaily treadmill for 30 minutes and intermittent fasting on a low-carb diet
Double my businessTo feel that I have made it as an entrepreneur, and experience financial abundanceHire a marketing consultant, improve my systems, and launch a new product
Master cookingTo better express my feelings of love and nurture for those I cook for, so they feel how much I careFind a good cookbook, buy the ingredients and utensils, try a new recipe every day
Meditate dailyTo be less impulsive, and more centered; to explore the spiritual side of life; to master my mindPractice three minutes a day, and gradually increase; join a good program or community
Be more productiveTo feel that I am making good use of my skills; to keep challenging myself and show up as my bestUse better tools; “snooze” distracting thoughts; schedule time for uninterrupted work

The goal is the vehicle for your aspiration; the strategy is the vehicle for your goal. Two people with the same goal may have different aspirations; or they may have the same goal and aspiration but different strategies to achieve them.

The aspiration is the deeper why behind your why. Discovering it unleashes tremendous energy for your journey and leads to greater fulfillment. Don’t skip this important step.

If life is a boat journey, your strategy is the map, the destination is the end goal, and your aspiration is why you want to get there. If the destination is not clear, you may be tempted by an easier destination if the journey gets rough, and settle for distractions on the way (islands).

Self-discipline helps you reach whatever goal you may be pursuing. Yet there is a chance that you are pursuing the wrong goal, because your goal is not connected to your deeper aspirations. Such disconnect can happen when:

  • Your goal is borrowed from someone else (family, society, the media).
  • You are unaware of your aspiration, so you cannot choose a goal for it. 
  • You are aware of your aspiration but can’t fully embrace it. Perhaps it seems impractical, or you feel that you are “not good enough” for it.

When there’s a disconnect, achieving your goals will leave you feeling empty. You will have successfully climbed a ladder you didn’t really need to climb. 

Self-discipline empowers you to achieve your goals. Mindful self-discipline empowers you to fulfill your aspiration by achieving the goals that matter.

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.

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