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  • Writer's pictureBeyond the Range

The Key to Success is Knowing What You Want

In this post, I’ll share what may be the most important secret for achieving personal success, and then offer a few ideas for implementing it.


In his popular book, “Think and Grow Rich” (published in 1960), author Napoleon Hill outlines a “magic formula for success.” This has several components that he addresses in various chapters titled “Thoughts Are Things,” “Desire,” “Faith,” “Autosuggestion,” “Imagination,” and so on. He provides excellent advice in a straightforward manner (often touching on the metaphysical and spiritual aspects), and it is no surprise that this book hits home for so many readers.


In my opinion, however, Hill understates one critical point. Not a single chapter is devoted to what may be the foundation to success: knowing what you want. While Hill does hint at this idea several times in the book (often implicitly or generally by acknowledging the power of desire, or that “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve”), I don’t think he goes far enough to stress the value of having a “single definite purpose.”


“Think and Grow Rich” shares many real-life cases of people born into difficult circumstances who knew what they wanted, faced incredible adversity in seeking it, and ultimately succeeded. On the other hand, I can't think of any examples in the book of people who grew rich despite having no idea what they wanted from life.


Indeed, it seems that the full power of “Think and Grow Rich” can only be fully harnessed by individuals who clearly know what they want. Hill’s secrets to success are like the sails, rudder, compass, and crew of a ship. They all work together to get the ship across the


sea to its destination. But what if there is no destination? What are these components working for (or against) without an end point or objective in mind? How is a ship sailing aimlessly any different from a person who “drifts” through life with no definite purpose?


An individual must know where he is going, or what he is aiming for, if he is to employ the wisdom of “Think and Grow Rich.” As Hill repeatedly tells us, the methods outlined in the book can be employed scientifically and with measurable success by anyone who really knows what he wants. But to ascertain the knowledge of what one wants – the destination or end point – well, this is arguably the most difficult and important part of one’s journey. I believe it may be the key to personal transformation.


There is a technique used by clinical therapists called “The Perfect Day.” It involves asking clients, “What would your perfect day look like?” Clients are encouraged not to hold back or worry about being unrealistic in their answers, and instead to describe their ideal day-to-day life.

Despite complaining about all the things that we don’t want, most of us have no idea exactly what we do want.

At first, this may seem like an easy exercise; after all, who can’t imagine a perfect day? Given how much time we spend complaining, surely we know what situation or things or people would fix our problems, right? However, the “perfect day” question is evidently quite difficult for most people to answer. And contemplating it highlights an important but uncomfortable truth: despite complaining about all the things that we don’t want, most of us have no idea exactly what we do want.


There is plenty of talk regarding the many conditions, abilities, opportunities, etc., that keep people from obtaining the things they want in this world. And there’s no denying that everyone faces adversity due to circumstances outside our control – some more than others. But my guess is that in most cases, an individual who really knows what he wants – and doggedly employs the secrets described by Hill (specialized knowledge, organized planning, decision, persistence, along with the others I’ve already mentioned above) – will get what he wants. It may take a lifetime of effort and expense, and many failures along the way… but eventually the single definite purpose (or something even better) will be realized.


I don’t want to complicate this concept with digressions or more examples. My point is simply that one must know what he wants in life if he is to go after it. By possessing such knowledge, all techniques and resources may then be employed to accomplish it. In the absence of a goal, one is merely drifting. Without a destination, there is no way to know what one must do to get there.

One must know what he wants in life if he is to go after it.

How many people feel as if they are drifting, wasting time, and failing to live up to their potential? How many are confused, frustrated, and angry as a result – and yet they don’t know what to do about it? There are lots of reasons for feeling this way, and we all ask such questions of ourselves from time to time. For many people, the lack of a clear purpose is the dominant (if unrealized) struggle of their lives.


I offer two ideas for addressing the problem of not knowing what you want:


1) Go general.


Rather than setting a specific goal, focus instead on attaining (and maintaining) a state of being or feeling. One way to do this is by setting intentions.


At the start of the day, set an intention to be patient, mindful, or loving, or to look at situations through another’s eyes. With this feeling in mind, one can employ the very same secrets outlined by Hill for achieving any goal:

  • Decide to be a patient person.

  • Focus on the desire to be patient (or mindful or loving) by imagining already being this way. Feel what it is like to be a patient person, and then imagine specific scenarios that demonstrate this patience. In your mind’s eye, become the patient person that you desire to be. “Emotionalizing” these thoughts is the key to bringing them into reality.

  • Develop faith. Know that there is a power working through you to manifest what you want. Trust that God, the universe, your subconsciousness, your higher self (or whatever matches your belief system) are ultimately on your side. When you commit to a thing, forces beyond your understanding will work to help you.

  • Use autosuggestion. Basically, this is self-hypnosis. It may sound like New Age woo-woo, but hypnosis has been utilized for centuries and is supported by modern scientific study. Hill dedicates a chapter on autosuggestion, but for those wanting a more in-depth resource, check out "The Power of Your Subconscious Mind," by Joseph Murphy, and any of Neville Goddard’s books.

  • Persevere. Outline what you will do every day in support of your desire, and then do them.

  • Practice gratitude. Be thankful for what you desire in advance of having it.

2) Get specific.


To ascertain your specific life goal or purpose (“the perfect day”), consider trying these:

  • Free writing. This is a surprisingly therapeutic exercise. There is no way to anticipate what unexpected truths may appear from the ether of the higher mind and flow onto paper or screen. Writing is a projective exercise that allows your subconscious to speak to you. It’s mystical in a way and can feel as if you are channeling a power outside your conscious self. Pay attention to what comes out.

  • Make a list of all the things that you are good at. Consider asking a friend or family member to help (but be wary involving others unless they are very supportive). You may find higher (hidden) desires mirrored in your gifts/strengths.

  • Be lazy. Doing nothing can be productive. But rather than being "lazy" scrolling through social media or watching television, take 15 minutes to go for a walk, sit outside, meditate, or take a nap. When was the last time you simply gazed at the clouds or listened to the rain? By deemphasizing effort and the temptation to “make” something happen, your mind will start to relax. Who knows where it will lead you?

  • Identify what makes you angriest. At the root of all anger is fear; and on the other side of fear is your true (higher) self. The opposite of fear is not just courage, but also clarity and expansion. This is a profoundly powerful exercise, and it may take some time to dig down to the truth.

Hope you found this post helpful. I first read “Think and Grow Rich” more than a decade ago, and ever since, I’ve been tossing around the notion that there is no more important factor for success than knowing what one wants. It is at the root of all positive, directed action. But don’t take my word for it. Read “Think and Grow Rich” for yourself, and please consider sharing what you learn in the comments.


Some related quotes to ponder:


“If you don't know what you want, you will probably never get it.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.


“Everything's in the mind. That's where it all starts. Knowing what you want is the first step toward getting it.” – Mae West


“Unhappiness is not knowing what we want and killing ourselves to get it.” – Don Herold


“The first principle of success is desire - knowing what you want. Desire is the planting of your seed.” – Robert Collier


“True power arises in knowing what you want, knowing what you don’t want, expressing it clearly and lovingly without attachment to the outcome.” – Leonard Jacobson


©Beyond the Range 2023. All rights reserved. Feel free to republish so long as credit is given.

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