HOPE, Pt. 3 - Possibility: Leaning Into The Potential

“Some things have to be believed to be seen.”  — Madeleine L’Engle

“Capacity is a state of mind. How much we can do depends on how much we think we can do.” — David Schwartz

“So you’re saying there’s a chance!”

If you’re from the same era as me and are at all familiar with the Jim Carrey of old, this phrase brings one particular scene to mind — Lloyd Christmas asking Mary Swanson what his odds are for ending up with her. Standing there in the hotel lobby after a long, arduous, and near-to-frozen trip to Aspen, Lloyd represents a picture of hope in the middle of what seems to be hopelessness, the one-in-a-million chance of (in Lloyd’s words): “a guy like you and a girl like me ending up together” … this is the power of possibility, and the beauty of hope.

In a less Hollywood-esque example, possibility played an active role in every golf shot I’ve ever consciously hit. During a recent a trip to the practice green, I realized how large of a role this idea actually represents. Even from a single practice session of chipping and putting around the green, the implications were crystal clear. When I came into a chip or a putt with a vision for the possibility of hitting a good shot, that good shot came into being more times than not. This “hack” almost feels like a “cheat-code” you’d use in a video game, it's that freakishly connected.

In life, this is more true than we often want to admit or believe, because once we believe it then we have no other option than to jump.

What Are Possibilities?

Thane’s definition of possibility is: the stimulant that helps us lean into our full potential and embrace our creational calling in this beautiful adventure called life. Ultimately, this means both leaning into and living in the possibility of what lies ahead.

If living in, and leaning in-to the possibility allows us to express our full potential while living lives characterized by hope, then what are these “possibilities”?

Possibilities can be many things:

— Possibilities are unconfined
— Possibilities are future oriented
— Possibilities stem from reality
— Possibilities are generative
— Possibilities are contingent (on belief)
— Possibilities are endless

“Reality is a cloud of possibility, not a point.”  - Amos Tversky

A possibility can be something similar to Lloyd and Mary ending up together (one-in-a-million) or something similar to me eating some dark chocolate in the evening time (one-in-every-other-day). It is a term and an idea that covers a wide span of reality, but it always plays a role regardless of the size of probability at play.

Important Distinctions

A crucial component within the idea of possibility is the difference between a possibility and a probability. One involves the head, the other focuses on the heart. One hedges bets while the other chooses to go all in.

A possibility does not stem from a probability, but rather from a potential capability.

Possibility utilizes our imagination; probability primarily relies on reflection. One is looking into the future, the other is focusing on the past. Both can be helpful, but one is far more powerful.

“Imagination allows us to conceive of delightful future possibilities, pick the most amazing one, and pull the present forward to meet it.”  — Jason Silva

Before we get too lost in the clouds, I do want to mention one other distinction that is important to understand: the difference between improbable and impossible; the difference between something that seems impossible and something that actually is impossible.

Belief and possibility do have limits, specifically relating to the natural limitations of being human. Some of our human limitations are already known, some are still being discovered and disproved. An example of this distinction is comparing the belief in a human’s ability to fly with the belief in a human’s ability to run a four-minute mile. One is physically impossible (without technological add-ons), and one was perceived to be impossible until it was famously disproven otherwise.

This fine line is often hard to distinguish.

“Persistent people are able to visualize the idea of light at the end of the tunnel when others can’t see it. At the same time, the smartest people are realistic about not imagining light when there isn’t any.”  — Seth Godin 

Impossible versus improbable can be one of the most difficult distinctions to discern, because the improbable almost always seems impossible, regardless of whether it truly is or not. One helpful question to ask when facing this dilemma is whether the possibility you are leaning into feels impossible for the entire human race, or if it just seems impossible for you. If it is a personal impossibility, then it will more likely fall into the improbable column.

Why The “Lean” Matters

As mentioned earlier, my thesis is based on two main objectives: 1) living in, and 2) leaning into. Living in means we are remaining in a place of possibility, not settling for less than we are capable of. Leaning into means we are consistently pushing into greater expansions of that possibility as we continue growing personally.

“Leaning in” is an important part of this entire equation because it denotes an active reliance upon the unknown, the potential you possess that lies beyond your current or perceived grasp.

Leaning in always creates some measure of discomfort. One physical illustration of this comes even in human interactions or conversations with others. Leaning in places you into the personal space of the other, often creating a slight discomfort that adds an element of importance, intimacy, or intensity that is often used in non-verbal communication.

It’s important for us to understand that this is always harder than it is easier. Leaning in is scary, vulnerable, and filled with tension. We can often be creatures of comfort, and a life of leaning is a non-stagnant reality requiring a greater dependence on faith, on a belief in a reality that isn’t yet seen.

“If you limit yourself only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is compromise.” — Anaïs Nin

As a Christian, I believe this is God’s design, and living by faith is what produces our best life for the world’s greatest good, and ultimately God’s glory.

Possibility Works Both Ways

There was another layer I observed during the practice session on the golf course. Possibility doesn’t just work for creating the ideal shot and outcome I desire, it can also just as easily work in producing the negative outcome I fear.

Fear is the default mindset we tend to carry, partly because it is the most pragmatic. It is usually the most believable outcome.

When I’m hitting chips and I hit a poor shot (which happens rather often in golf), the default image in my mind for next shot will be the negative outcome and the bad chip that just happened. With this on the forefront of my mind, the possibility of hitting another shot like it is amplified ten-fold. This is why negative affirmations tend to produce negative results. When I approach a shot with the mental-chatter saying: “don’t hit the ball here”, or “don’t swing the club this way”, I’ll end up producing the very thing I told myself not to. This is the power of possibility flipped on it’s head.

Possibility is a powerful mindset, but it can more easily be used to produce a negative outcome than a positive one.

There’s another prominent way this shows up on the golf course. When I’ve been playing exceptionally well and am in the second half of my round, there is a sneaky tendency to start entertaining the possibility of “messing up”. The second I begin to start playing out of fear, from the negative affirmation of trying “not to mess up the good round I have going”, is the second I begin to create the fear-driven reality by leaning into the negative possibility.

The bottom line is, possibility will at work, one way or another. Not sure about you, but I’d much rather have it be used for good instead of creating the reality I dread.

“The best way to predict the future is to influence it.”  - Gregory Wilson 

Possibility Works In Many Ways

Not only does possibility prove to be effective in both positive and negative beliefs, it also can be helpful in different phases of growth and work.

As humans, we have two main functions in life: 1) creating, and 2) cultivating (idea-credit goes to Andy Crouch in his book: Culture Making). 

In the creation phase, possibility is crucial because we have to believe it is possible to bring something into existence. But in the cultivation phase, possibility flip flops into a different role. For us to embrace our job as cultivators — maintaining what has been created — we have to believe in the possibility that something can be removed from existence if there is personal negligence. This gives us the motivation to work diligently to cultivate what has been created, knowing that there is a very real possibility of it diminishing or extinguishing entirely without the maintenance and stewardship of that creation.

These are just a few examples of the ways that possibility plays a factor in our daily lives. It can make an impact on every type of work and with any type of person. This goes back to the cliche that: anything is possible… especially when it comes to possibility.

Possibility’s Call To Action

Possibility is such a blessing. It helps us have hope in life. It provides purpose by giving us an image or idea to lean into and pursue. And it is an important tool, both as creators and cultivators of culture and life.

We must always remember that, most of the time, whether or not something is “possible” it is entirely up to us and our belief in the possibility. In our everyday lives this is more true than we would like to admit, but the reason we don’t want to admit it is because then we have to start taking ownership of that belief. It means we must begin to lean into and live in the possibility of everyday life: of the dreams we are pursuing, of the work we a doing, and of the growth we are experiencing.

Like much of life, possibility is grey — it’s not black and white. This means: what’s possible is often situational and variable in nature (not stagnant). We can either run away from this tension, or choose to embrace the discomfort of the unknown and make it our home.

There are two final exhortations to be made:

1) Take Ownership
It is ultimately up to us and our belief in our own potential, our belief in the possibility of what’s to come and the opportunities we can both create and cultivate in our lives. This is a daily battle we all must fight, but it's a fight that’s worth the effort because it's the battle that unlocks our truest potential for the world’s greatest good.

2) More Is Possible Than You Expect
We are chronic under-believers in possibility. In daily life, we are not trying to believe in the possibility of flying (obviously impossible), but rather in the possibility of staying focused for an hour time-block to make sure to write this blog post. Believing in the possibility of a successful sales call. Believing in the possibility of lifting that bar with more weight on it than you’ve ever lifted before. Believing in the possibility of that girl saying yes to a coffee date. Believing in the possibility of benefiting from reading that book instead of watching that show. Believing in the possibility of showing up and working hard, every single day, over a long period of time, as the recipe for reaching the goals set before you.

“Hope is a revolutionary patience. It begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work; you don’t give up.” — Anne Lamott

Living In The Possibility 

Living in the possibility leads to a life of discovery.

Living in the possibility means we believe in our full potential and lean into the discomfort.

Living in the possibility requires us to trust the process of growth and live in the unknown.

Living in the possibility requires us to lean in.

Living in the possibility produces hope.

The only question that remains is ... What’s possible?

… you already know what I would say.

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”  - Lao Tzu