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May 2024
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You Need More Than Goals to Succeed

Let your mind meander to trigger new thoughts and ideas.

By Ravi Raman

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
— Albert Einstein

Goals are a vital tool for maximizing one’s potential not just to achieve but to contribute. Goals enable the mind and body to organize resources in a manner that creates a favorable outcome. Goals are the North Star by which we can build the habits and systems that lead to a brighter future. I’d go so far as to say that humans are designed to be goal-seeking animals, with important aspects of our brain and physiology “lighting up” when pursuing a worthy goal.

You might think, by the tone of the past few sentences, that I think goals, and their achievement, are all that matter when it comes to living a full and successful life. If you believe that, you are incorrect. When we want to break free from the predictable and achieve something entirely new, we require more than just a worthy target. We need something beyond a destination that is predetermined. We need fresh ideas and new thoughts that will help us get to where we need to go. The new thought does not spring from predictability, planning or extrapolation from the past. New thinking comes from a different place.

The Value of Emptiness

You must live in the present, launch ¬≠yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. — Henry David Thoreau

New thoughts come from blank space, free time and quiet moments. They can be triggered by a good book, new conversations, a fantastic movie, or fresh perspectives shared by a new friend. New thoughts can, and often do, come from the sudden embrace of a meandering mind.

Albert Einstein, for example, stumbled upon his special theory of relativity while taking a break from intensive mathematical work to allow his mind to wander and daydream.

Nothing I am saying contradicts the fact that goals are immensely useful and, dare I say, vital. What I am saying is that in addition to a habit of setting goals, be open enough to allow new thoughts into your world.

How? Cultivate a greater awareness to what you are doing moment by moment. Increase your curiosity, and strike up conversations with the people around you, even if you don’t think they would be of any direct relevance to your current projects or goals. Most crucially, create blank space in your day, both free time and free mental space and quietude, to allow the fresh thought to emerge.

Anyone Can Do It

Even the busiest among us can create this time and space. Here are three examples:

  • Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, is known to block up to two hours of free time per day on his calendar, divided into four 30-minute increments. Why? To allow new thought and fresh ideas to emerge.
  • Bill Gates famously retreated from his busy job as co-founder and leader of Microsoft for a week, twice a year, to think about the future.
  • Yuval Noah Harari, author of the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (I recently read it, as did Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook), takes 30–60 days away from his busy teaching, writing and travel schedule to go on a meditation retreat each year. Harari does this in addition to a twice-a-day hour-long meditation practice.

My Challenge to You

Creativity [is] the process of having original ideas that have value. — Sir Ken Robinson

My challenge to you, particularly to the goal-crazy ones among us (I include myself in this cohort), is to create empty time and space in your day to unleash your originality and creativity. Use this time to be bored, daydream and allow new thoughts to enter your world. Be it 10 minutes or two hours, see what this fallow ground will yield regarding creative ideas and insights. It’s my belief that through entering this void, you will ultimately gain more progress than even the best SMART Goal could create on its own.

This article was originally published on


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