What is possibility thinking and what can it do for you? It's kind of like taking a stroll in a beautiful meadow, and thinking of all the opportunities you've not been seeing. You might think of it as positive thinking on steroids.
And it can change your life.
Norman Vincent Peele, the Father of Positive Thinking
Years ago positive thinking was the rage among self‑help gurus and was the vogue in the pop psychology culture. Once I went to hear one of the architects of the positive thinking movement, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, speak about the power of positive thinking.
Transfixed by this wonderful man’s presence . . .
. . . and the incredible energy of his message, I found his way of thinking empowering and transforming. I had read his books and followed his career, but I was not prepared for the tremendous personal power and kindness he exuded.
I came out of that seminar a much more positive and focused thinker, feeling that my life must have potential that I hadn’t yet envisioned.
A few years later, in graduate school, I learned the importance of thinking logically and healthfully. I became a cognitive therapist who specialized in helping clients adjust their faulty thinking patterns and to think more rationally.
This experience helped me to become even more positive in my thoughts and actions. I stopped interpreting events in derogatory ways, based on illogical and negative assumptions, and learned to think clearly and constructively about them. Without realizing it, I was getting closer to grasping possibility thinking.
In time, I began to think in a way that highlighted the search for the hidden possibilities in a given context.
Also, I learned to re-frame the most stubborn problems as opportunities in disguise. Slowly but surely, I was moving closer to real possibility thinking which involves looking at situations in new and creative ways to open up unrealized pathways for change.
While it is important to think positively, it is equally important to go beyond positive thinking, and to become aware of the possibilities in every situation, viewing life as more than a struggle to survive, but an exciting array of challenges and opportunities.
It takes mental discipline to find the possibilities in a bad situation, but they are there. If we see the possibilities, we can view the situation in a more positive manner. By constructing more than one perspective or viewpoint, we can realize the potential in any situation, and open the door to greater flexibility and more constructive action.
Possibility‑thinking starts with the conviction that you make a difference, that you are capable of doing greater and greater things. Searching for the possibilities sometimes involves the mental skill of finding options and possibilities that may be right under one’s nose. The simpler they are, the more likely they will elude us.
These possibilities become apparent when we reconfigure our interpretation of a situation, or look at an old situation with new eyes, using an opportunistic thinking style.
A client of mine dreaded changes the administration was making at his place of employment. He disliked the supervisor, and disagreed with his policies. Each week, he saw the situation as becoming graver. Desperate, he began to look for another job.
I asked him to take a step back from the situation and to try a few different ways of viewing the changes, although he may not agree with the new perspectives.
First of all, he eventually realized that not all of the new management policies were disagreeable. For instance, the new manager allowed greater freedoms on the job and actually trusted staff more than the previous one.
Second, after taking a hard line initially, the new boss began to soften his approach in time. My client not only survived his performance evaluation, but did quite well on it, although he had anticipated the worst.
Third, my client was sure the new boss had it out for him, and interpreted several events as giving him the proof. I asked him to re‑examine each event and to scrutinize his assumptions. He found that each event could have been seen differently and realized that there was no way he could actually prove that the new manager wanted him to leave the job.
Then we got down to some bloodhound work, scenting out some new possibilities. According to my client, there were no possibilities inherent in the new job situation.
But upon revisiting the changes that were being made at work, my client began to find what he had refused to see all along. There were new possibilities for growth because of the new way things were being done. A project that he wanted to start was given the green light. This could not have happened under the old boss. As he began to see the new leader differently, more opportunities emerged - opportunities his old, inflexible way of seeing things had blocked.
It took some effort for my wonderful but discouraged client to completely surrender the old way of interpreting the changing landscape at work, but once he did so he found that he was no longer disgruntled. He decided to stay and make the most of what the new manager had to offer, rather than spend his time complaining or justifying his anger.
What a trooper he was. He ended up doing great things. He had mastered his old habits and learned the secrets of making any situation work for him.
We may not like certain aspects of a particular change taking place in our lives, but if we approach it in the right way, searching for the hidden possibilities and teasing out the surprising opportunities, we will be able to make the most of the situation.
When we believe our lives are significant and purposeful, and we are capable of outstanding personal growth, our future fills with possibilities. We are not thinking thoughts based on a model of scarcity, failure or shame, but of possibility.
Doing what you love requires courage and a huge commitment to yourself . . . and it's worth it! Opportunities will open up for you in amazing ways.
We learn how to transform the negative by shifting our energy to the positive side of the scale. Possibility thinkers train themselves to reframe problems and barriers in ways that lead to discovering the inherent good in them. Many possibilities are hidden or nonexistent until we think optimistically and focus our mental energies on creative products.
I worked with a couple who was locked in a bitter battle for control of their sinking marriage . . .
. . . Each blamed the other for their troubles, and they were sinking in a sea of "negative sentiment override," Gottman's term for a floundering couple's quicksand of negativity and pessimism. In the first session, I could barely get through the assessment due to the couple's penchant for arguing and fighting and disagreeing.
They seemed so hopeless and lost, so I switched from inquiring about the problems they'd been having to inquiring about their strengths and assets, and their possibilities.
They were stunned. It didn't sound like marital counseling. It was fun and empowering.
If you could solve a few of the problems facing you, what could your potential be for a happy love life? For becoming really good parents? Or for solving problems without arguing? Or for building a healthy financial future?
Once they shifted from their problem-based narrative to a positive, solution-focused future, and imagined the potential they might have in their relationship, the two worried and unhappy spouses became more excited and inspired. And soon, they began to envision their potential for having a truly inspired and great relationship.
Possibility Thinking is Therapeutic
The discussion and ensuing brainstorming put them in a good mood and changed the way they viewed their relationship. No longer did they feel helpless, but empowered to change . . .
. . . and they began to look beyond their current problems, and their "stuck" relationship.
There are conversations that drag you down, but conversations consisting of possibility thinking are very therapeutic and enabling.
Try It For Yourself
Sit down with your partner and spend an hour talking about (and dreaming about) your potential for future happiness, and discuss only the potentials -- not the problems or flaws in your relationship -- and your hopes and dreams.
Magic will happen. You'll feel better, and you'll think about the relationship in a healthier way.
Need More Help?
If you need more help get counseling or coaching. The kind of incredibly inspiring, forward moving conversations you can have with your personal therapist or coach will help you to capitalize on the hidden possibilities for your life.
And having a strong advocate for your potential can actually make things happen that you've only dreamed about for years. A good coach can give you the kind of all important push you can't give yourself.
When we purposely engage in conversations for possibility thinking, we generate rich and exciting ideas for growth, change and profit. As we sharpen our ideas, possibilities lead to specific opportunities, which we can develop into initiatives for enhancing our endeavors.
To learn how Possibility Thinking can help you reach new vistas in every area of your life, contact me. I'll be happy to share more ideas about this exciting subject with you.