“When you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” ― Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four
What is possibility thinking? You may have heard before that “anything is possible” with the right amount of hard work, talent and perseverance. Is that idea true or is it something we tell the self to feel better?
I think that the distinction between possibility thinking and wishful thinking can be a fine line. This becomes more true when the thinking is not backed by any implementable plan or action.
With no structures in place to carry out our plans, even great possibilities become wishful thinking.
Of course, the reverse might ring true for many people. They might hold an attitude that many things are impossible for them to accomplish. Some of that might even be true. But assuming that things are impossible is a defeatist attitude that does not serve your purpose.
What is the solution?
The solution is to test everything out for your situation and your life. The solution is to develop an attitude like a scientist in your own life and ask the right questions for rapid answers and solutions.
The key is to have a strong possibility mindset but not slip into the wishful thinking mode by inaction and analysis paralysis.
Here are 10 ideas on possibility thinking and how to install it in your own life:
1. The Art Of The Attempt And Engagement
“In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.” – Miguel de Cervantes
You may have the idea that something is absurd for your life and your situation. For example, if you are an engineer and I tell you that you are super creative, you may have that feeling.
The truth is that analytical thinkers like engineers can be super creative and are artists in their own right.
The problem lies with our beliefs, perceptions and assumptions that we hold for our self-image.
Imagine that you confront an idea or a possibility that sounds absurd to your self-image. Regardless of whether you can achieve it or not, it processes as “absurd” in your mind.
When you confront an idea and a plan with the possibility mindset, it can be a completely different story.
Look at the Wright brothers for example. They were bicycle mechanics who were also interested in human flight. Many teams that were more talented than them were competing for the first human flight. The brothers were not as prepared and not as well funded with elaborate teams and equipment as their competitors.
They could have just said: This is absurd and impossible.
Instead, they made it happen. They were passionate and they wanted to engage with the problem. Beyond that, they made many attempts in doing the absurd and the impossible. A problem looks and feels impossible till you engage with it.
Once you commit to repeated engagement, it does not seem quite as impossible.
“Every noble work is at first impossible.”– Thomas Carlyle
2. Where Do you Dwell?
“Dwell in possibility.”- Emily Dickinson
It is a great idea to make an assessment of where your dominant mental attitude, thinking and actions live. Do they live in the realm of the impossible or do they dwell in the possible?
There are people who look hard for reasons why something is not possible and they find them. In fact, the universe does not hesitate to serve them what they desire.
For anything progress to happen, we have to at least be open to the possibility of a different and a better way.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”― Arundhati Roy
3. The Nemesis
“I can’t”… “It’s not possible”… “I’m not good enough”… ~ These are lies the demons of your past use to scare away the possibilities of the present.” ― Steve Maraboli
What is the nemesis of possibility thinking and action? It is our beliefs and thinking that it is not possible.
How does this manifest in your life?
- I cannot do this.
- What me? It is not possible for me and not true for my situation.
- The time is not right.
- I am not good enough for this.
- I should have done this before.
We train ourselves to begin accepting impossibility thinking. There are several ways that we do this but there are two major categories:
A. Past failures and unfavorable experiences.
B. Evidence of other people and real life examples of why it is not possible.
In either case, it is a defense mechanism to rationalize our minds to think and believe that we are not enough or cut out for the task.
Before any human ran the 4-minute mile, there were a lot of stories around accomplishing that feat. The assumed idea was that it was not possible to run a mile under 4 minutes. It is not surprising that most attempts to do so did not succeed in shattering the barrier.
Many runners in the early fifties dedicated themselves to the task but never got past the barrier.
Then Roger Barrister, a 25 year old medical student shattered the physically impossible barrier.
Soon there after, once someone showed that it was possible to do a sub 4-minute mile, many other followed to break the barrier too.
“Nothing is more imminent than the impossible . . . what we must always foresee is the unforeseen.” ― Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
4. For a Strong Possibility Mindset, Ask If Not You, Who?
“If not you, who? If not now, when?” – Rabbi Hillel
The popular excuse to justify the “it is impossible” outlook is the idea of outsourcing the idea or the possibility to others.
We justify and rationalize our positions by offering an alternative person, time and place. This takes the burden of responsibility off our shoulders and places it on others.
When you ask yourself that who else but you could and should do the task or the project, now you are in business. You are in the business of possibility thinking and you are in the first step of seizing the opportunity.
So let me ask you this, what are you willing to do to make that impossible dream or aspiration of yours a reality?
Are you going to assume that it is not possible or are you going to take some action on it to find out for yourself?
“You were born and with you endless possibilities, very few ever to be realized. It’s okay. Life was never about what you could do, but what you would do. ” ― Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway
5. The Folly Of Extreme Certainty
“When nothing is sure, everything is possible.” – Margaret Drabble
When you are so sure of your plan that it is the right one for you, you have tunnel visioned your options and possibilities.
Often, we get overly attached with one way of doing things. We may even claim or think in our mind that “my way is the best way.” The reality is not easy to digest for many. Your way might be the best under your current set of situations and structures. But it might become obsolete in a year or two.
For example, you may be an author and use the traditional method of sending your manuscript to publishers.
But if you are technology shy and refuse to get into e-books on the various platforms, you are missing out on a great possibility. And that is just the beginning of the content delivery and multimedia learning avalanche. The world is changing rapidly and getting attached to one way is not productive anymore.
So ask yourself if you are nipping opportunity in the bud by being so sure of your present methods that you disallow other ways. Remember that this is a difficult one to get past. We love our ways of doing things to the point that we get blind sighted to other ideas and possibilities.
Ask: Do you want to be right or do you want to be effective?
6. “Possible until proven impossible”
“All things are possible until they are proved impossible and even the impossible may only be so, as of now.” ― Pearl S. Buck
We are all familiar with the famous phrase “innocent until proven guilty” that is used in courts of law. Today, I urge you and encourage you to adopt a different version of this in your life. The idea comes from the amazing quote above and it is: “Anything is possible until proven beyond a shred of doubt that it is impossible to do.”
Now what does that require you to do? It requires you to:
- Write that e-book that you have been wanting to write despite the time limitations.
- Go get that degree that you have been cherishing regardless of setbacks.
- Believe in you and what you represent even though you have not done so in the past.
- Launch that course or that small business after making a solid plan.
- Promote, sustain and implement the possibility mindset.
- Not make premature assumptions on the impossibility of anything based on previous ideas.
“Before we can slay Goliath, we must come to the realization that it is POSSIBLE to do so.” – Dale Turner
Remember that the new default state is that it is possible. The non-default state is that it is impossible. Now, I will not say what some other books or people tell you: anything is possible. The truth is that not everything may be possible for everyone based on their unique situation.
But are you not even going to make an attempt and find out for yourself. Get the ball rolling and you might just be pleasantly surprised.
“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” – Walt Disney
7. The Incredible Power of Imagination, Belief And Action
“I am where I am because I believe in all possibilities.”- Whoopi Goldberg
Do you believe in the power of possibility thinking or do you think it is simply personal development mumbo-jumbo. Every idea and accomplishment that humans have made was the brainchild of the imagination of some person.
When you take your powers of imagination and make them inseparable with your labor of love, something great is possible. I love what Disney calls this process: Imagineering.
Here is what Disney has to say on Imagineering on their website:
“We make the magic.” That’s our motto at Walt Disney Imagineering, and it’s a belief that permeates everything we do. From castles, mountains and mansions to fireworks spectaculars, Imagineers are the creative force behind the iconic Disney attractions and experiences that our guests have come to know and love. We combine our rich storytelling legacy with the latest technology to breathe life into beloved Disney stories and characters in our theme parks, resorts, cruise ships and other Walt Disney Parks and Resorts experiences around the world. With one foot in the present and another in the future, Imagineers continue to push the boundaries of creativity, innovation and possibility as we create new experiences and new forms of entertainment for our guests of today, tomorrow and beyond.”
I also love their tagline: “Create the never before seen.”
I do not see the words impossible anywhere in Disney’s powerful statements. It is perhaps because they understand the debilitating power of believing something is not possible.
Everything that we take as truth now was at some point considered impossible. Many thought it was impossible to think beyond the dial and cord telephone. The idea of taking your phone with you everywhere would have been considered an impossibility let alone all the things you can do on your smartphone these days. Yet, people did not believe in that limitation and pushed forward.
“What is now proved, was once only imagined.” – William Blake
Imagination is a powerful force. It brings things that did not exist and brings them into the realm of possibility. Beyond that, the burden of implementation and action rests in our court.
The next step: what action and plans do you have about your imaginative ideas?
“It is better to believe than to disbelieve; in so doing you bring everything to the realm of possibility” ― Albert Einstein
To install our imagination into the real world, the most important ingredient is a deep sense of belief in our work and our abilities. We are usually habituated to imagine worst case scenarios. Now let us imagine the best-case scenario and multiply it many fold to see what might be possible.
IMAGINATION + BELIEF + ACTION = A POWERFUL LIFE
“Imagine everything you’re experiencing now being a hundred times more wonderful. Bad turns good; good turns great. THAT IS WHAT IS POSSIBLE.”-Marianne Williamson
8. Is It Worth Doing: The Excitement Of a Challenge
“Only the impossible is worth doing.” ― Akong Rinpoche
If you are only doing what is barely possible, you are most likely staying in the zone of comfort. While this is not a bad thing, you may not experience the same amount of fear and excitement that you can by attempting the impossible.
In fact, flow research demonstrates that flow happens when we are sufficiently challenged and work at the edge of our skill level.
Now this might be uncomfortable for many. But the excitement and fear of a new challenge sparks intrinsic motivation and makes the experience worthwhile.
Ask yourself if you are used to certainty and your comfort zone and do not consider stepping into the uncertainty. It may be the ingredient that is missing: The uncertainty and excitement of an impossible challenge. If you think that you cannot do it, by all means you should attempt it and see where it takes you.
Remember that the impossible is a worthy challenger. Impossible projects can infuse powerful meaning in your life.
“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
9. The Plan
“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – St. Francis of Assisi
The plan to navigate the impossible does not come from jumping headlong and then quitting. Of course if you can do that without quitting, by all means go ahead and do it!
For most people, the transition from doing what is necessary and then what is possible and then into impossible work is huge. This creates all types of psychological discord and unease and makes quitting easier.
The best plan is to listen to the timeless words of St. Francis of Assisi. Begin with small steps into the zone of necessity and then into possibility. When you score small victories, you are telling your belief system that it is possible.
Tiny little steps all add up to a huge leap. But the problem is that we get impatient with the small steps. We want huge results and we want it now. And as a result, we do nothing to move forward.
So what is the way forward?
- If you want to learn and master photography, try taking up one tip a day.
- If you want to write, write 500 words a day.
- If you want to build a small business, read and implement a small change everyday.
- If you want to work on your productivity, try implementing one small system.
“Become a possibilitarian. No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities – always see them, for they’re always there.”– Norman Vincent Peale
10. Detach From Hopelessness And Engineer a Purpose For Your Life
“The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do.” – Henry Moore
When you are hopeful, you are automatically activating the possibility engine in your life. Like the Dalai Lama so wisely said that when we have hope, we have something to hold on to. When we have hope, we have something to look forward to and believe in. When you feel hopeless, you are highly disempowered.
When you find what makes you excited and what makes you engage your skills, you are bringing two powerful elements together.
The possibility formula:
Passion or Interest + Skills That You Can Improve upon + Hope and Possibility + A desire to Do work that matters to you and to others = A Powerful and empowered life
“Never lose hope, there are always possibilities if you just look for them.”- Catherine Pulsifer
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Now over to you!
Which idea resonated with you?
Do you have any tips or ideas to share about navigating impossible projects?
Has possibility thinking helped you in your life? Please share your story!
Let me know in the comments below!