What Helps Your Dreams Come True (and What Never Will)

This is a guest post by Wayne Stiles. He is an Executive Vice President at Insight for Living Ministries and author of several books, including Grow Strong. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter.

Not long ago, a man in front of me at the checkout line spent $100 on lottery tickets. “Hey,” I asked him, “do you ever break even on all that?”

What Helps Your Dreams Come True (and What Never Will)

Photo Courtesy of ©Shutterstock.com.com/Steve Snowden

He smiled and answered: “Yeah, sometimes.” In other words—no.

Later that day I wondered what is it about our human nature that wants something for nothing. Why do we look to luck or quick fixes in order to make dreams come true?

We all have ambitions and hopes. But I’ve discovered there is one thing—more than anything—that helps those goals and dreams come true. And there’s another thing that never will.

Nothing Comes from Nothing

Achieving our goals rarely occurs in a convenience store checkout line. It’s not immediate. It takes time, and it especially takes the wisdom to do something at the right time.

An ancient proverb clues us in to this reality:

The lazy man will not plow because of winter; He will beg during harvest and have nothing

–Proverbs 20:4 NKJV


In other words, a farmer knows and applies common sense to his goal:

  • There is a right season in which to plow. In ancient Israel, the best time to plant occurred during the rainy season. It took diligence to work hard in those tough conditions. Some simply weren’t willing, and they missed the opportunity.
  • There are steps required for success. Enjoying a good meal is the last step in a long process. Plowing and planting always come before harvesting.
  • The rewards of hard work require hard work. Rocket science, I know. But many people live as if this principle isn’t true. They want something for nothing. Instead, they get just nothing.

Some principles never change. We need to apply the same truths in order to enjoy the realization of our goals and dreams.

It’s Not Just the What—It’s the Why

Recently, I’ve taken up the challenge Michael Hyatt gives in his new video course, 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever. In this course, he makes an interesting statement:

I’ve seen it time and time again. People lose their way because they lose their why. One of the most important aspects of achieving the goals you set is to get deeply connected with your motivations for each one.

–Michael Hyatt

What I like about this course is not simply its challenge to have my best year ever. The principles also apply to my lifetime. After all, life is made up of a collection of single years.

The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard understood that life is best lived when we think about how we want it to end. He said it this way:

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

–Soren Kierkegaard

In other words, we need to think about what we want to be true of us when it’s all said and done. Once that picture is in mind, we retrace the steps that journey requires and live them forward. Then comes the hard part.

We have to stay on that path.

The Greatest Challenge to Dreams Coming True

There’s one thing that never will help us accomplish our goals. I call it “a good reason.” This coin has two sides:

  1. We can always find “a good reason” to put off what we need to do in order to achieve our goals. If we’re honest, it’s usually our excuse for laziness.
  2. Often our good reasons lead to nothing more than good intentions. No results.

Another proverb says it well:

The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.

–Proverbs 13:4 NKJV

The results of hard work aren’t immediate. That’s why we’re often tempted to give up. But another principle is also true: the results of laziness are not immediate either. But they always come.

I counter my “good reasons” by applying the wisdom of this proverb in two ways:

  1. Adding diligence to my desires means considering the steps to take and then committing to (i.e. scheduling) the hard work these steps require.
  2. Determining that accomplishing the goals will always be worth the hard work gives me a reason to stay on the path.

In the long run, diligence will pay us and laziness will cost us. Since we will spend most of our lives in the long run, it makes sense to make decisions based off of that fact.

The Next Step

Life is not a lottery of chance successes. There are no shortcuts to goals achieved or to dreams coming true. The shortest path to success is the correct path. Diligence is simply determining every day to take the next step.

Question: What is your next step? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • http://joeabrahamlive.com/ Joe Abraham

    Great post, Wayne Stiles. It’s common sense to know hard work pays (and pays well in the long run) but sometimes we consciously ignore it because of the ‘hard’ ‘work’ it takes :)

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      I agree with you, Joe. I think there is an element of “hard” with both options; it’s just that hard work up front brings lasting satisfaction and laziness gives lasting regret. Thanks.

  • Rainer Proksch

    Great post! Yes, its the hard work that pays in the long run. If your have the will power and confidence to achieve your dreams, you will surely put your efforts towards achieving it.

  • http://www.wisdomlearningltd.com/ Julia Papworth

    Hi Michael, I really enjoyed this post. I teach this to students although I use ‘focussed work’ as hard can imply difficulty and deflect trying. Plus ‘dilligence’ and ‘perseverance’ are great to understand that when things appear difficult there is always a way of moving through it towards something good. Thanks.

  • http://www.todayicanchange.com/ Robb Gorringe


    I love your Soren Kierkegaard quote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

    And along those lines— Most successful people that I know are so adamant about not wanting to experience that pain of regret, that it literally pulls them into their desired outcome. Others? …yep. They buy lotto tickets, or sit around wanting for Ed McMahon to come knocking on their door.


    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      For some of us, Robb, we’ve had to learn the hard way that Ed never comes. I like the way you put it: “it literally pulls them into their desired outcome.” Anticipating the potential fallout is huge. Thanks.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      I loved that quote as well, Robb.

  • http://changeyouremotions.com/ Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    Hi Wayne. I had to make a hard choice when my health was compromised at the end of 2013. I was pushing myself too hard and had to take a step back from my goals. But I was strategic about it. I didn’t stop what I was doing…I just took a short break until I felt better, and then moved forward without such a hard line in the sand about the date I had picked to complete my project. I was a little worried I would then start to procrastinate, but that hasn’t happened. I am still moving forward on this project day by day. I am just enjoying the process more because that self-imposed deadline is not looming over my head. I am giving myself at least one day a week as a Sabbath…which is how it should be anyway. Thanks, Wayne…gives us all something to think about!

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      I like what Michael says in this post, that the “calendar was made for man, and not man for the calendar.” Kind of goes along with your “sabbath” principle, you know? Like you, I had a health issue that forced me to change how I lived. I’m glad you’re enjoying the process now the goal is your goal and not the deadline. :-)

      • http://changeyouremotions.com/ Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg


    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      That’s wisdom, Linda! Way to go.

      • http://changeyouremotions.com/ Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

        Thanks, Michele! :o)

  • http://themarkcryan.com/ Mark Ryan

    It is blatantly obvious that hard work is required but the temptation comes from the overnight successes out there that get their 15 minutes just for being lucky. Right now I am working on a small fitness and weight loss goal. Lose 5 lbs (when I can stand to lose 30-40) and run 60km (38mi) in a month. I am working hard at building consistency into the fitness goals so that the other pounds I need to lose become easier and more fun to lose. This consistency with one thing will provide the correct mindset for consistency in my writing and blogging. Success breeds success.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Mark, Thanks for your comment. It’s crazy just how much our habits of the mind control our daily actions—the good, bad and ugly! I think your small step mind-hack sounds great! let us know if it works!

  • mcatlett

    The impulse to “take a chance” and buy a lottery ticket is one of those things that dried up in me as a result of regular meditation practice. :) Nicely written, sir!

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      Thanks, mcatlett. No doubt, clear thinking certainly goes along with the reality of unchanging principles.

  • http://personalsuccesstoday.com/ John Richardson

    Great post, Wayne. One thing I’ve found is that tough goals usually require outside help. A coach, team, or even a book or video course, can make the difference between success and failure. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of great motivators in my life. Many have come from Toastmasters, others have come from blogging (Michael is a great example), others from reading books. In my younger days it was my teachers who led the way. Finding someone who has your best interest in mind can make a huge difference between success and giving up.

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      I couldn’t agree more, John. Right now, my wife and I are (re)reading Pilgrim’s Progress, and I’ve been struck with how Bunyan’s main character Christian would have given up many times if not for those who came alongside.

      • http://personalsuccesstoday.com/ John Richardson

        That’s why family is so important. My greatest mentor has always been my dad. When he passed away in 2005, I lost a great source of motivation and guidance.

        • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

          I know what you mean, John. I lost my mom about that same time and her words are ingrained in my mind forever. What a blessing to have had a father like yours.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree, John. One of the first things I ask when I start on a goal is, “Who has already done this and can coach me?”

  • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

    Wayne—Great post.
    I would like to add that one of the motivations for people playing the lottery is the idea that money will solve all problems—hope. (false hope) I live in the Richest county in the US (Loudon County, VA) and one of my closest friends (who works very very hard at his job, family, friends, and serving his community) is an avid lottery player (he plays a lot) I think his motivation is that money will make everything easier and solve all problems—the truth is that money, the love of money (and especially large in large amounts in a short period of time) causes an entire different problem set. All of your quotes and comments stiil apply— i don’t think laziness is everyone’s motivation. I think he would continue to work if he won—and I thin he would be disappointed that money didn’t solve all his problems! Don’t get me wrong—money (wealth) is not a bad thing—until you try to make it do things it can’t! Well done, friend! Keep up the good work!

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      That’s a tremendous help, Barry. You’re right, a windfall that solves some problems only introduces a different set of temptations that reveal we really haven’t changed. Your words remind me that money is only a means and not the end itself. Thanks.

  • http://www.jondhawkins.com/ Jon D Hawkins

    “what is it about our human nature that wants something for nothing. ” I believe, it is our desire to control the outcome or our harvest. We can control how much we plant and plow, we even have control over when we plant and plow, but not the harvest.

    Some years ago, My father in-law explained to me how he was spending over $8k a year on lottery(his state didn’t even have a lottery) and then,he said “Man I realized I could be putting that money somewhere else”. So, he did, and became a successful Gospel Radio host in his small town. He put the same “Hard Work” into producing his show as he did playing lottery and reaped a better harvest because of it.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      thanks for sharing that story about your father! It really brought Wayne’s points home!

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      Wow, Jon . . . wow. What a great example from your father-in-law. Thanks for sharing that.

    • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

      Wow..$8k. Shows how powerful that draw can be. So glad he found the courage to do it the ‘hard’ way. Thanks for sharing this!

  • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

    Thank you, Wayne. I think I could read this post every day for a year and still need to read it some more. Simple…but nonetheless challenging in a fallen world. Two comments come to mind.

    * Romans 7:15-20. Paul makes it clear that doing what we should do and need to do to become who God wants us to be is a challenge…even for Paul. We simply can’t do it if we rely on ourselves.

    * Len Same, former Navy SEAL. I was talking with Len when he shared what he called a BHOW. He said BHOWs are more powerful than BHAGs. A Big Hairy Audacious Goal may be motivating, until people try to kill you. Then you need a Big Hilarious Outrageous Why.

    If what we want to achieve or become requires a change in our behavior, we need a big Why…for the going will eventually get rough. And, we need to remember not to attempt it alone. We need to seek God’s will, and we need some trusted, much-loved, much-respected accountability partners.

    Thanks again! -Travis

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      Travis, you’ve nailed it. I believe that the same person who inspired the goals in our hearts is the one essential to making them happen. Thanks for the additional insights here.

    • http://personalsuccesstoday.com/ John Richardson

      As Simon Sinek says in his great TED presentation, start with why!

      • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

        Indeed, link for quick reference. 14 million views!


        • http://personalsuccesstoday.com/ John Richardson

          Speaking of a lot of views, I just noticed that Michael Hyatt has two pull out references in this month’s Toastmaster magazine! Way to go, Mike!

          • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

            Thanks, John. I haven’t see it yet, but several have told me about them.

        • http://www.stridesapp.com/ Kyle Richey

          Thanks for sharing this! Awesome stuff.

          Such a good quote from Michael too: “People lose their way because they lose their why.”

          Excellent post Wayne, thank you!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      That is awesome, Travis. I am totally stealing that. Great stuff!

  • http://www.setongod.com/ Joshua Tolan

    Great post! I love the use of Proverbs, that is one of my favorite books of the Bible.

    The thing about hard work that always gets me, is that it is hard (obviously). But I always feel more rewarded by working harder than I do when I put in the minimal requirements.

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      That makes sense, Joshua. The satisfaction of going the extra mile is something the Bible speaks of elsewhere as well (Luke 19:11-26). Great insight; thanks.

  • http://juliesunne.com/ Julie Sunne

    My next step is to get my signup incentive live. It’s something I’ve had “great reasons” to put off for a couple months. I’m diligent, but I have to ask myself: is it toward the next right goal? Good encouragement. Thanks, Wayne.

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      Like you, Julie, I tend to come out of chute 90 miles an hour and think that I’ll break the tape in 100 meters. Turns out, the race is usually a mile long. Or further. I often have to reevaluate the deadline, not necessarily the goal. Your question to yourself is one I need to ask as well. Thanks.

  • Jim Judy

    Good post Wayne. But I’m still waiting for the hard work (80 to 100 hours a week I’ve put in since 1997 doing movie reviews for parents at http://www.screenit.com) to pay off.

  • http://tomwylie.org/ Tom Wylie

    Thank you Wayne! I was encouraged by your post. My next step is to finish remodeling an old kitchen cabinet, so the one it’s replacing can be used as our baby’s dresser/changing table. This is not a project I had been looking forward to jumping into, and it has taken a LOT of effort to complete thus far. But now it’s almost done! -And just in time: Our firstborn is due on Wednesday! : )

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      Tom, as a fellow woodworker, I know your pain! But you can do it.

      And congrats on the first baby! You have a wonderful journey ahead of you. :-)

      • http://tomwylie.org/ Tom Wylie

        Thanks Wayne. The last 4 weeks have been absolutely incredible. Some very intense times of my amazing wife and I pouring all we had into this new Blessing.

        But WOW, how rewarding when I look deep into the eyes of a brand new beautiful baby girl, and know that she’s mine! Oh, the fun that’s ahead for our little family. God is SO good!

        P.S. Although it got done after the birth, I just finished our new island cabinet, and it feels so good to get to use it!
        -And thanks for your encouragement. It meant a lot to me as we went through all of this for the first time. : )

        • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

          Tom, I am thrilled for you! What a wonderful and rewarding and challenging road you’re on. Such a bonding time for you three. Yes, God is SO good, while at the same time He exposes how so inadequate we are. Amazing combination. Enjoy that island! You’ll always link it with this great season.

  • Rose Joie

    It is an interesting observation to see some individuals working extremely hard in some areas of their lives but yet in other areas of their lives there is no growth. No movement. It is not simply laziness versus hard work for such persons. Hard work, yes, in most instances has rewards. But working hard with an understanding of who you are, where you want to go, why you want to go there is working hard with a plan. But, when you can not understand why you will not even try to move forward in areas that you need to, even when you can teach a course in motivation, having satiated your mind with so many courses, and yet, these individuals can not move. Therefore it is more than laziness at work here. Hard work is not new to these persons. But there are blockades which prevent action to radiate within them.

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      You make a good point, Rosie. I like Michael’s post about How to Coach Your Boss, because it has principles that apply beyond the workplace to any personal relationship. Of course, hard work has to be applied in balance of all priorities. No amount of success in the workplace makes up for failure at home. Thanks.

  • http://www.alexisrodrigo.com/ Lexi-Web Copywriter

    This reminds me of what someone said about how overnight successes are actually 10 years (or more) in the making. The results of hard work tend to snowball, so success seems to come quickly. But in retrospect, we realize it was built slowly over time. Thanks for the reminder that hard work is essential to achieving our dreams.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Great point, Lexi!

      We tend to dramatically overestimate what we can accomplish in a year and dramatically underestimate what we can accomplish in ten years.

      • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

        Well said, John.

      • http://www.alexisrodrigo.com/ Lexi-Web Copywriter

        Exactly! Adding this to my favorite quotes :)

  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    Three years ago I stopped coming up with “good reasons” to not chase my dream. It was a rough road but having true freedom now made all those bumps in the road worth it. The next step is helping those who are where I was.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Kimanzi, You’re a great example of employing your Why as fuel to consistently take your Next Step and achieve your dreams!

  • http://www.aterriblehusband.com/about/ ATerribleHusband

    Great post, Wayne. My next step is to write. Thinking about writing does nothing for my goal. I need my fingers to tap tap tap.

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      It kind of all boils down to that, doesn’t it? For me, only what get scheduled gets done. Thanks.

  • Joseph Dabon

    Absolutely entertaining and enlightening.

  • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

    Loved your last line, Wayne: “Diligence is simply determining every day to take the next step.” I often make the mistake of trying to wrap my mind around ALL the next steps rather than simply taking the action of the next single one.

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      Me too, Michele. Once I realize I can’t wrap my arms around the whole enchilada, it’s tough to take the first bite. :-)

      • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

        You just had to use an enchilada reference … and now I’m hungry. :)

  • Chris Aingworth

    Next step: Schedule the work required to get where I want to be

  • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

    Loved this, Wayne. I know for me, “laziness” is often born from procrastination. Getting started is half the battle.

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      I know what you mean, Lawrence. For some reason, the last minute is such a strong motivator. Somehow we need to generate that urgency up front. Doesn’t the good book talk about “boasting” in tomorrow? Thanks.

  • http://www.annemariegazzolo.com/ Anne Marie Gazzolo

    My next step is typing 2000 words a day in getting ready for my next book!

  • MILE Madinah

    Ann Landers once said, “Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don’t recognize them…”
    Focusing your dreams is what takes to focus upon your goals; otherwise, you shall remain idealist in the eyes of realistic, who’s opening his eyes in the morning only to pursue his dreams.

  • http://brianmittelstadt.wordpress.com/ Brian Mittelstadt

    Mr. Stiles is right on point. It’s unfortunate that this kind of message even needs to be stated, but it seems that more and more people are expecting something for nothing these days. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t guilty with some of the points in this post. I’ve always been a hard worker in my job, but I was complacent in just doing my job, then complaining about not having enough money for trips, toys, a better car, nicer clothes, etc. I wasn’t willing to get uncomfortable to do the work that was required to get me to where I want to be. It’s safe to say I’m uncomfortable now, I’m not where I want to be, but I know with these pains the rewards will come…eventually.

  • Successful Living

    This post brings to mind another verse. It’s from Hebrews 12:12-13 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

    Not one thing in the Bible or any other book of value speaks of “shortcuts”, “quick-fixes”, or “get rich quick” schemes. Rather it’s about putting in the sweat. Which sometimes means overcoming our angst and or fears. Doing the work sometimes brings ridicule and rejection. But a horn of plenty always awaits for the man or woman who prepares for rain. (See the movie “FacingThe Giants” for the preparing for rain reference.)

  • http://about.me/rishabh Rishabh R. Dassani

    Excellent post, Wayne. It reminded me of this quote — the best way to predict the future is to invent it. We can’t predict the future, but we can certainly define what we want and then pursue it with all our heart. Regardless of whether we achieve our goals or not, at least there won’t be a failure of effort and regret, which is infinitely better than resting on our laurels and not doing anything.

    As far as figuring out your “why,” Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why is an excellent read.

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      Thanks, Rishabh. I remember hearing Dr. Howard Hendricks say that he met a man who said he spent all his life climbing the ladder only to discover it was leaning against the wrong wall! Making sure our goals align with reality and our core values helps us avoid the regret, even if there is a failure of effort. Thanks for your comments.

  • giselaandzoe

    Excellent post! I was just discussing with my mom that God always continues to amaze and confirm that the Bible is the ultimate source on life, family, career, the list goes on and on. Those Proverbs are spot on, Solomon rocks!

    What spoke to me most is the “good reasons”, I’ve had plenty of those in my life time. Because of those “good reasons” I’ve let myself get stuck and I’ve definitely paid the consequences. The biggest consequence that I can think of and what also becomes a regret is wasted time. I’m thankful now though that I’ve seen the light and that I still have time to guide my kid and teach her from my mistakes. The next generation needs this advice as much as I do! Thank you!

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      You’re welcome, Gisela & Zoe. I love the saying, “It’s never too late to start doing what is right.” Your words are a great reminder of that truth.

  • Paweł Zieliński

    Great post :) I agree.
    My future is depends on me. Lottery is exciting but only exciting :)

  • http://www.overthinkersadvice.com/ Wan Muhammad Zulfikri Bin Wan

    Nice post, Wayne.

    My next step is probably the decision to work hard and stop playing around with my life. I had an epiphany lately and it made me think about the value of working towards my goal and making it consistent.

  • http://www.davecosta.co/ David Costa

    I have always loved that Kierkegaard quote.
    One element of Kierkegaard’s thinking that the author misses is that because we do not know the outcomes of our lives, we are forced to live with the uncomfortable fact that it all might not work out, that it all may come crashing down on our heads, no matter the amount or degree of our efforts.
    And yet, another element of the quote makes clear that acting in life is preferable to inaction because, when it’s all said and done, we will only be able to, at that point, look back upon what we’ve done. By then, the time to act has passed.
    Once we get to the point where true reflection is possible, it is often too late to fully change course.
    In other words, to use a quote Mr. Stiles will surely recognize:
    “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
    Ecclesiastes 3:1

    Wisdom is knowing when to act and when not to act.

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      Thanks, David. You’re right; it’s the second emphasis of Soren’s quote that is relevant for this theme. But you make a good point. There are no guarantees. Even our best plans are subject to the plan of Another. Thanks for your insightful comments.