Realising dreams and setting goals



Everybody has dreams but not everyone realises those dreams, in fact, many people don’t even come close!

I have just finished reading a book by Dr Steve Peters, “The Chimp Paradox. The mind management programme for confidence, success and happiness.”

I found it a fascinating book that really helps you to understand why we think in the way that we do and also manage frustrations.

The overall idea is that the brain is split into three personalities; the chimp, the human and the computer. The chimp essentially is the emotional reactive part, the human the logical, more calculating side and the computer helps to decide which of the two should be working, based on past experience. This is a very rough overview and it is worth reading the book to get a full understanding of the concepts.

One part of the book that I found interesting was a chapter based on following dreams. It is more of a plan for success, a way to think big and chase dreams in a way that the brain will work with you and hopefully help you to make those dreams come true.

The entire book is based on the relationship between your human part of the brain and the chimp part of the brain. The limiting factor with people trying to realise dreams is that they satisfy one part of the brain and not the other. The chimp can be very demanding and can throw the plan off track if not managed properly! Steps are outlined to help give structure. At each stage both the human and chimp must be considered.

The dream machine has seven steps…

  1. The dream
  2. Foundations stones
  3. Commitment screen
  4. The plan
  5. Oiling the wheels
  6. Audit
  7. Outcomes


1. The dream

A dream is not a goal. A dream is something that seems out of reach. Small goals can be put in place to help you move towards the dream. It is important to set a dream that is a dream and make sure that your brain knows that it is just that. If a dream is not achieved then that is OK because it is only a dream. Aim high!

2. Foundation stones

Foundation stones are set areas that can be improved to move you towards that goal. They are the variables that can easily be monitored and measured against where you want to be. Take winning a race as your dream. Your foundation stones would be weight, speed and the distance covered each week. From these foundation stones you can then set two different types of goal; target goals and maintenance goals.

Focus on one target goal in order to progress. Set a target and work at it until you reach that point. The other goals should stay as maintenance goals; the goals that need to remain as they are. Once a target is met then this becomes a maintenance goal and another facet can become the target goal.

3. Commitment screen

This is about realistically preparing yourself for the hurdles in front that you need to overcome in order to realise your dream. It is essential that you prepare your entire brain. It is key to look at how the chimp and the human part of the brain would see different hurdles. The chimp part of the brain may make it particularly difficult for you to overcome a hurdle so prepare yourself for that. One of your goals may be to eat less chocolate. You know that if your chimp part of the brain sees chocolate then it will override the rest of the brain and ‘make’ you eat it! You could place the chocolate out of sight so that there is not a chimp temptation!

4. The plan

Create a realistic plan broken into small achievable chunks. Always ensure that you can easily measure your progression at each stage. Goals were defined in the foundation stone stage. Don’t ever work on more than two target goals in each stage. Too many target goals reduces focus.

5. Oiling the wheels

Try to stay happy, encouraged and committed. A dream often seems so far away. Breaking the dream into chunks helps you to see progression. At the end of a chunk is a milestone achievement. Celebrate in some way after each one. A progress chart is also beneficial as you can see that you are climbing towards your vision. The human part of the brain may not feel the need to reward itself. However, the chimp side is driven by progress and reward. Pleasing the chimp at this point helps to manage it in less positive times. On going motivational reminders also help to manage the chimp, reminding you of the vision or dream.
A good trick is where you focus in this ‘oiling the wheels’ stage. Imagine you have just completed step 5 of your 20 step process. Reward yourself not just on competing the bit between step 4 and 5 but look at all you have done to get to step 5. Now focus on getting from where you are now to completing step 6. So not focus on getting to step 20. Thinking this way will increase motivation. Keep that progress chat up to show overall progression.

6. Audit

This is all about seeing if you are on track, see what is working (keep doing it) see what isn’t working (change it!) check the target goals- if they have been reached then move to maintenance goals and reset your targets. Getting someone else to give the audit can really help (even if a little painful when you are not doing well)

There is a great skill in honestly assessing and being able to improve. It is key to assess from the human perspective and not the chimp perspective. Let’s look at how each assess if something has not gone according to plan.

The chimp’s assessment

Blame other people first, then blame the circumstance and lastly if no other option, blame themselves.

The human’s assessment

Blame yourself, blame circumstances and lastly blame others.

The chimp will look back at situations and repaint them so that they are not to blame. This is called self serving bias.

One way to avoid this bias is to sit down with a piece of paper and note down the facts- this removes the emotional side and forces you to logically assess and improve.

7. Outcomes

At some point you will come to the end of your journey to reach your dream. There are three possible outcomes; 1. You acheive your dream, 2. You gain partial success or 3. You encounter a setback and essentially don’t realise your dream.

You may think that acheiving your dream is the best possible outcome and that only happiness can come out of this. The truth is that there are negative and positive ways to cope with all three outcomes.

For a lot of people, the aftermath of reaching a major milestone can have negative implications. Some get complacent and forget how hard it has been to reach that milestone. For some it leads to fear- fear that there is now something to prove. Once a medal is won, every race after this is compared to the last. There is a fear that this success cannot be repeated.In both cases, it is worth comparing each dream as starting from scratch- looking at how far you have come rather than having a starting point as the last achievement. Some people feel depressed as they hit an emotional dive. I personally feel this after running a marathon. There is a lot of joy and focus in getting to the dream and once this has gone there is a bit of a void. The advice here is to have the next dream ready to work towards. For a marathon this is simple… book the next one!

Then there is the partial success.The chimp part of the brain sees things in black and white (full success or full failure). The human part can accept the grey area and can help the chimp to break down the task into small chunks of black and white. It is not wise to aim for partial success but when you have completed the task and look back and review, it is good to celebrate partial success and also learn from the partial failure.

Failure (or setbacks) become the remaining possible outcome. The chimp part of the brain will see this as a massive failure and will probably blow it out of proportion. The human will see that it is not the end of the world and learn from the mistakes, brush off and do better next time.

The way that you perceive a task has a lot to do with the way that you respond to failure. A great example is described… take your driving test. Imagine being 17, in school, and everyone around you is passing and driving. When it comes to your test it becomes the biggest thing in the world. If you fail you are left behind. Now imagine that you take your test later in life. The pressure is far less and a failure is more of an insignificance than a major issue. The human part of your brain allows you to see a failure as an inconvenience and a stepping stone to success.



So that is a very quick overview of the dream machine (A plan for success) taken from Dr Steve Peters, “The Chimp Paradox. The mind management programme for confidence, success and happiness.” I will be putting these plans into motion for personal and team goals. This has got me thinking of how this can be applied to business methods and practices…



I work in a tech team using agile methods (scrum) multidisciplinary teams work in stages that last only two weeks. A stage is called a sprint and a dream may be a milestone. Within a sprint there are stories- here the dream is the sprint and the goals are the stories.

How can we take inspiration from the seven step way of working and apply it to our scrum teams? Here are some ideas…

  • Apply the foundation stones to the projects. Pick target goals and maintenance goals. Assess at retrospectives and make improvements.
  • At each retrospective, look all the way back and just one step forward. We are good at looking just one step forward but also only look one step back. It is sometimes hard to see where you are in the bigger picture.
  • Ensure everyone knows the overall dream.
  • Agile is all about failing quickly and early and then learning from those mistakes and moving on. It is important that the chimp part of the brain does not take over here and that the human part ensures that motivation is kept and improvements are made.
  • If the challenge is big then small chunks are important. It is also important to offer some sort of reward as each milestone is reached.


You can find the Chimp Paradox here

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