When I hear those words: “living in possibility,” it sounds pretty grand and floaty and rainbow unicorn-y.
And yes, that’s partly my cynic responding, but I think it’s also because in order to dismiss the idea of living in possibility, my brain wants to jump right to the outcome, to see what that looks like as I move through the world doing things I’d never thought possible, doing things nobody ever thought possible, leaping tall buildings in a single bound…. see there it goes again.
But the truth is that living in possibility starts in a way that really isn’t about leaping buildings or leaving a trail of glitter in your wake.
Living in possibility starts small, quietly, and internally.
Yeah, sorry. There are some steps before glitter and unicorns and that’s why we dismiss them, because we’re not sure what those steps are and we don’t know how to do them, and internal – yuck. I’m so with you.
As a life coach I spend a lot of time on the internal, mine and everyone else’s, and sometimes I just have to remind myself to look at the rest of the world because it’s tough in there. Those things on the inside can be pretty dark and full of spiders, but that’s exactly why the notion of possibility can be helpful. Possibility is like a little beam of light breaking in through the canopy into the darkness, encouraging the spiders to continue being helpful and eating pests, but not just run amok everywhere.
When it comes to living in possibility, the only real way to begin is to start thinking in possibility, which means taking a look at what we think when nobody (including ourselves) is looking, examining those underlying, unconscious assumptions about ourselves and the world to see if we’re boxing ourselves in. This has been an… erm… growth area for me.
For me beginning to think in possibility, as a conscious intentional project, began as a practice of noticing when I reacted negatively to positive things people said about or to me, something I did consistently and reflexively.
When praised after a speech or on a piece of writing or after singing somewhere, I would do my best to dismiss that moment: in the early days by diminishing the praise somehow (revealing that I thought I did poorly or I should have been more prepared). As I started to see that, and to see some articles about how frequently women in particular do that, I made a conscious effort to NOT say those things any more. The next step was to begin to just say: “Thank you,” without extending that sentence with excuses and self-deprecation. This didn’t necessarily change my thinking, but it did bring my attention to my pattern and helped me to stop reinforcing my own unhelpful thinking.
Then I began to just really notice how I would recoil, turn away, internally dismiss those personal comments, and even passages in the many self-help books I’ve got stacked up around here. If I didn’t agree, if what they said was TOO good about me, I would skim past, breeze over, or even dismiss the speaker or author. Wow. I would essentially insult them so I could keep on insulting myself. True commitment.
The next step, after that noticing, was to begin to question myself.
An author and thinker named Byron Katie provides one of the most useful sets of questions I’ve encountered; all of those questions are based on reacting to our thoughts with some version of: “Is it true?” You’d be amazed at how many horrible stories about ourselves we can begin to unravel if we just take a deep breath and ask ourselves: “Is it really, absolutely true?”
So I began to apply that tool to my responses to the good stuff being thrown at me, but did a little wordsmithing, as I do, to make it immediately helpful: “Am I sure it’s not true?” My recoil instinct was clearly due to me thinking that whatever good thing was being said was not true, was demonstrably false, and maybe even demonstrated a little disdain for the speaker. I mean, after all, what would have to be wrong with you to have such low standards? Yes I’m shaking my head at myself too.
And so I began my practice of asking about the truth of that reaction, about my certainty that I was not whatever good thing was being acknowledged.
Sometimes that question was all it took, and I found ease in responding to praise about singing, about writing, about good deeds. The trick was when I got down to the internal worth. The trick was when I dug into some spiritually bent self-help books that wanted me to believe REALLY good things about myself like: “I now declare myself to be whole, holy, perfect, and complete.” (Iyanla Vanzant)
It has never been okay to declare myself perfect or complete. The notion of me being holy would defile holiness because of the mistakes I’ve made. I also assumed that if I believed I was perfect I would stop trying to be better and would naturally become selfish and complacent.
Well, that sort of lays the insides bare, doesn’t it?
And all of that shows the ways that old wounds and improper words diminish my living in possibility. Those thoughts create the cage for what I can do, my estimation of my capacity.
What would happen if I let go of the words and wounds that get in the way, or if I kept them in safekeeping but decided they need not get in the way?
Here’s what happens when we step out of certainty and into possibility:
“I cannot trust” becomes “I find it difficult to trust but would like to learn.”
“I cannot love or be loved” becomes “I am willing to begin to allow myself to open myself to love in all forms regardless of my past.”
“I can’t surrender” becomes “I am open to the idea that surrender creates both ease and action and is strength rather than weakness.”
“I am not enough” becomes “I wonder how I would feel if I decided that I am exactly who I should be right now.”
All of that by asking: “Are you sure? Is it absolutely true?”
Thinking in possibility leads to living in possibility. Glitter and unicorns to follow.