Thought, Idea, Dream, and Fantasy: What’s The Difference?

by cason on March 3, 2013

You’ve got something in your head, but what is it?  Is it just a thought?  Is it an idea?  If it’s an idea, does it feel more like a dream, or more like a fantasy?  Here’s how to tell:


There are billions of thoughts, maybe even trillions, created each day.  There’s nothing particularly special about thoughts.  You have thoughts all the time:  I’m hungry, she’s lovely, I need to go to the bank, etc.  Thoughts pass by effortlessly, and often unconsciously.  And while thoughts may be nothing special by themselves, they provide the basic ingredients for something much more interesting:  Ideas.


Ideas occur when thoughts collide and create an opening for creativity.  Thoughts:  I’m hungry, you’re hungry.  Idea:  Hey, let’s go out to eat!  Ideas are the product of the spark of energy created by the friction of multiple, intersecting thoughts.

Everything made by people was once an idea.  Every book, chair, company, t-shirt, cheesecake, painting, car—everything.  It could be as simple as “I’d really love some ice cream” or as complex as “a person on the moon in 10 years”.  To make that idea real, every person went through a process of fulfillment, a journey that has been repeated billions of times throughout history.  Without fail, everyone starts something new with an idea, and only an idea.  The difference is in what you do after you have that idea!

There is no judgment in an idea, no good or bad.  Morality occurs as a filter for judging the value of an idea, but the idea itself has no specific moral quality.  This is how we can say that there are no bad ideas!  You might say that killing someone is a bad idea, but I would disagree with you.  Killing someone is an idea.  It’s our sense of right and wrong, good and bad that comes in later to decide whether that idea is a bad one.  As you explore your practice in fulfilling ideas, set aside moral judgments for a later stage..

Ideas are great.  Ideas are fun and exciting.  Ideas are the platform upon which all else is built.  But, BY THEMSELVES, ideas create no value.  Only when an idea finds its way to possibility, probability, inevitability, and then to reality does value get created.


An idea that’s big to you, one that you want to pursue and may already be pursuing.  You’re excited by it, but not sure how to fulfill it.  Dreams are the result of fleshing out an idea with what it would look like, how it would feel to you if it were your reality.  A dream resonates with you at a deep level, wanting to be brought to life in a way that just won’t let go.  You find yourself coming back to it, time and again.


A fantasy is a dream that seems impossible to fulfill.  It feels like there are too many obstacles to even really consider that a fantasy could come to life and be real.  Fantasies do indeed become real, and do so all the time.  Fantasies become dreams when you’re willing to believe that it can be fulfilled, that the obstacles can be resolved, that it is, in fact, possible.

Here’s an exercise for you:  Write out all the “ideas” you have right now.  The categorize them–which are thoughts, and which are truly ideas?  Of those that are ideas, which are dreams, which are fantasies, and which are just ideas, possibilities you see but aren’t particularly committed to right now?

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