One of the most common pieces of advice that’s proliferated by the self-improvement industry is that, in order to get what you want from life, you have to be have crystal clear goals.

That you have to know specifically and exactly what you want to get out of life – what it will look, sound and feel like. You have to have a clear picture inside your mind, one that contains rich details of where you’d like to end up.

If you don’t then how do you expect to live a rich and fulfilling life?

Within the self-improvement industry, whether it be a relatively small chunk goal you’re after – e.g. losing weight, getting fit, get a promotion – or something on more of a grander scale – e.g. find an ideal life partner, create a life purpose, or achieve financial freedom – you can sum up the standard “goal achievement” advice with a few bullet points.

It looks like this:

  • Become crystal clear of what you want – the clearer the better.
  • Get down to the specifics; create a very clear and specific vision.
  • Imagine what it will look, sound and feel like.
  • Visualise this vision in your mind’s eye.
  • Take action – do something that moves you closer towards this vision.
  • Check-in every now and again to see how you are doing.
  • Change your approach if you’re going off-track.

The general idea is that by creating a clear & specific vision, and repeatedly visualising it in your mind’s eye, you are programming your brain to focus on the things that are relevant to the achievement of it, and “screening out” everything that’s irrelevant.

By breaking the goal down into manageable chunks and checking in regularly, you also increase your chances of not going off-track – of becoming distracted by the many other aspects of life that don’t fit with your goal.

This is of course, solid advice.

In life we do get more of what we focus on.

Strategically choosing a goal that fits with our wants and needs, and then creating a vivid representation of it, sharpens our internal lens; it makes it possible for us to mobilise resources and focus our attention on the tasks that matter.

However, setting clear, specific, and highly targeted goals is not the only way to get what we want from life.

In fact, if this is the only strategy you use to create a fulfilling life I’d like to suggest that you’re most likely missing out.

Because the reality is that, in life, we don’t always know what’s a good fit for us until we first experience it.

Sometimes, it’s the unexpected surprises that can end up being the aspects of life that fulfil us the most.

The Unexpected Surprise…

We like to think that we can predict every aspect of our future.

Plan out our life like some kind of criminal mastermind seeking world domination, and then turn these internal manifestations into exact external realities. 

And if we are strategic and motivated enough we can sometimes do a decent job of this.

But we often forget that life, while being something we can predict and shape to a certain extent, is also organic. It can be random, unpredictable, and sometimes messy. 

There will be unexpected forks in the road, twists in the plot of your life that you simply won’t be able to predict. 

And this can actually be a gift rather than a nuisance that we think we have to eliminate.

I recall a conversation I had with a friend about 15 years ago.

He had been single for a long time and, after many setbacks, had finally managed to – in his words not mine – “score a hot girl’s phone number”.

He had called her and she had agreed to go on a date with him.

He was ecstatic.

He invested all his energies into looking good and being the best he possibly could on the date. He thought she could very well be “the one”.

The date turned out to be a total disaster. There was no connection, conversation was difficult, and the whole evening was weird and awkward.

As he headed home feeling bitterly disappointed, he got talking to a girl on the train to pass the time and elevate his mood a little. That was 10 years ago and he’s now happily married to that girl and has two amazing kids.

She wasn’t the girl he “thought” he was looking for, but she was most definitely the right one for him.  

I find this story as thought provoking as it is touching.

How often have you heard of something similar?

People investing lots of effort into getting something they think they want, only to end up getting something unexpected that turns out to be even better than what they originally set out to acquire.

I think it happens more than we care to admit:

Chance meetings that turn into fruitful, fulfilling relationships…

People who end up in unexpected jobs that they end up loving…

Unplanned nights out with friends that end up being hugely memorable…

Random, unexpected experiences can be a significant source of pleasure and fulfilment so they shouldn’t be ignored.

This often “hidden layer” of the goal achievement process is what I call The unexpected surprise, and it’s an avenue for fulfilment that we don’t often consider. 

As human beings we love the idea of control – having complete dominance over our world and being able to “design” our destiny.

So the power of experiencing and achieving things that are not on our goal list is an idea that often slips by us.

Yet it’s an important one to cater for.

Sometimes we simply don’t know what’s a good fit for us until it practically hits us in the face, so it’s worthwhile leaving space for the unexpected: the randomness of throwing yourself into something without trying to control or predict how it will pan out.

Encouraging more Surprise…

So how do we encourage these unexpected surprises?

It seems like an impossible task because, by definition, they aren’t things we can predict.

It is possible to increase the likelihood of them occurring though. It requires you to let go of the reigns of control a little, and to act in a way that can be counter intuitive, but it is possible.

If you’d like to experience more unexpected surprises in your life, you have to encourage more randomness.

Instead of being like a rigid machine fixated on measurability, predictability, and specificity, leave space in your calendar for doing things that are drastically different than what you’d normally to do.

Engage in activities that you wouldn’t normally engage with.

Speak to people you wouldn’t normally speak with.

Look at your list of goals and do something that is wildly different to them.

If someone asks you to do something you’d normally say no to, say yes instead.

By adding more unpredictable events to your life it mixes things up. It creates a randomness that encourages more unexpected surprises.

Unexpected surprises happen when we least expect it, so by doing things you don’t expect, it increases the chances of them occurring.  

And of course, I’m not saying you should abandon your well-formed goals and make this approach the foundation of your life.

Just do it 10% or 15% of the time.

Don’t reduce life down to some kind of lab experiment where you attempt to control every variable. Let go of the need to control and predict, and engage in the occasional piece of sheer randomness.

By doing so you’ll discover and experience things that are so drastically different that you’ll expand your mind in ways that you can’t predict.

Aspects of life will be brought into your awareness that you wouldn’t normally have considered, and you open yourself up to the possibility of having more meaningful unexpected surprises.

We do have to plan to have a fulfilling life, that’s for sure, but we also have to let go and embrace the unexpected pleasures its organic nature has to offer.

All the best,

Steven