Possibility Thinking: #15 of 28 Big Ideas from the World of Coaching

This article is sixteenth in a multi-part series that adapts and excerpts my entire book, The Coach Within: 28 Big Ideas for Engaging the Power of Your Own Wisdom, Creativity, and Choices* (Everything Goes Media, 2017).

15. Possibility Thinking

“The possible’s slow fuse is lit by imagination.”

— Emily Dickinson

“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 are always there.”

— Norman Vincent Peale

“Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.”

— J.K. Rowling

As so much of coaching is working with clients who want to open new doors and make new realities available to them, possibility thinking is a touchstone resource coaches and clients visit regularly in their work together. In the abundant spirit of possibility itself, possibility thinking has at least three possible dimensions, all readily accessible for your work with yourself:

  • First and fundamentally, there’s the sense of not whether or not something “is” possible or “if” it’s possible, but How is it possible? And, What would make that possible?

  • Second is the facet of possibility thinking that encourages the pushing of boundaries on a single item of import to you — to the limits of your imagination, creativity (big idea 2), or desires. What all is possible here? When you’ve reached those edges, for good measure, ask yourself at least once or twice, What else is possible?

  • Third, we have the strand of options generation. What possible moves are next? What possible choices do I have? This is moving beyond the false dichotomy of believing it’s just one thing or another. It’s even going beyond black, white, and that middling gray in between (three choices!). Instead, it’s becoming aware of the infinite gradations between two points on a scale as well as the universe of possible directions that are off the scale.

If at first glance, you read possibility thinking as overly optimistic or a tad flighty, re-read the above from a pragmatic point of view: Possibility thinking as a solutions orientation not problem-oriented. It is unrepentantly positive…but grounded in practicality.

Let’s look at an example for each:

First, say you find yourself disappointed because your first impulse to an invitation is “I can’t join my friends on this year’s adventure.” Catch yourself pre-determining something as not possible and focus instead on the “how.” How can I make this trip possible? (If you get stuck on “how,” review being not doing (big idea 14). Be the person doing the thing you wish were possible and see if inspiration on the “doing” and the “how” comes forth.)

In the second case, consider that you haven’t liked your apartment for a long time, and you’ve committed to moving this year. Before you start the search, employ this type of possibility thinking. What all is possible for my next home? What neighborhood would be right for me? At what price? What features? What décor? Involve your imagination and be true to your deepest wishes. And when that is fully fleshed out, don’t forget: Now, what else do I want?

For the third type, take something complicated, one of those situations where hurt, sadness, or confusion can make us especially prone to catastrophic, all-or-nothing, one-way-out thinking. My spouse/friend/co-worker has betrayed me — I can never speak to them again! Pain easily leads to instant, extreme responses, but generating possible alternatives when we’re facing the worst can lead ultimately to a more nuanced, fitting, and hopefully restorative response. Take the time to brainstorm options, and get out of the box and off the spectrum with your thinking.

Your Coaching To-Do’s

⎕ Pick three real-life situations on which you can practice applying each of the three styles with journal work. Use writing paired with possibility thinking to make better solutions more real.

⎕ For number one, recall an instance in which you recently told yourself something wasn’t possible for you. Revisit that with, How can it be possible for me?

⎕ For number two, choose something that deserves further expansion and all the details your imagination and creativity can muster — think big and consider everything. Then, press on with What else?

⎕ For number three, where have you found yourself in need of better options recently? Tend to that matter with your best brainstorming. Focus not on solving anything but on generating as many options as possible. Free associate. Keep going. Go further.

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