Overcoming Defeatist Attitudes in Your Life and Developing a Possibility Mindset

A guide to making the impossible possible

Mike Sturm
Sep 13, 2020 · 5 min read
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Photo by Gantas Vaičiulėnas from Pexels

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

-From Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass

There may be no better feeling than doing what someone else has said is impossible. There’s also no better fuel for future progress than achieving supposedly impossible things.

Doing so is all about mindset. Namely, you need to learn how to develop a possibility mindset — meaning you see what’s possible where others only see what’s not. This kind of mindset is at the root of innovation and perseverance.

When you develop a possibility mindset, you can not only amaze others who tend to doubt you, but also (and most importantly) yourself. A possibility mindset can help you shed self-doubt and achieve more. Here’s how to do it.

What Makes Something Impossible?

Just because someone says something is impossible doesn’t make it so. In fact, the things that people often claim are impossible are usually quite possible. The reason we prematurely label things as impossible is because we’re not clear on just what impossibility actually means.

In order to get clear, the first thing you need to do is ask the very simple question: what is impossible about this supposedly impossible thing? As we’ll see, it can be one of two situations: it’s either the road or the destination.

Each situation calls for a slightly different approach, but neither approach involves simply giving up. They just involve slightly different ways of thinking. Picking a different way of thinking is how you develop a possibility mindset.

The Two Flavors of Impossibility

When someone says “that’s impossible!” it helps to stop and ask what “that” is. I’m not trying to be coy here, but rather, I’m trying to expose something that lies at the heart of many defeatist assumptions — so that you can defeat the defeatists in your life.

There’s a metaphor that I find useful when thinking about supposedly impossible things: think about it in terms of traveling. You’re trying to get somewhere, and someone tells you it’s impossible to get there. There are two things they could mean by that: either the road you’re taking won’t get you to the destination, or the destination itself is inaccessible.

Impossibility often presents itself as a roadblock on a road we’re determined to travel. But usually, there’s no need for us to travel that particular road. In most cases, the road itself matters little to us, it’s the destination we’re trying to get to that matters. The road may be blocked, but the destination is not inaccessible. It’s still there, we just need to take a different road to get there — or in some cases, make our own road.

This metaphor serves to illustrate how we often look at impossibility the wrong way. We travel on a given road, and then find that the road is blocked, and we can’t keep traveling on it. So we say that getting to the destination is impossible. But that’s not true. What’s really impossible is just to continue on that road. But we can still reach the destination; we just can’t use that road anymore.

Sometimes we don’t so much misjudge the road, as we misjudge the destination. We think that we need to get to a certain destination, but we actually don’t.

Let’s say you’ve got a goal (destination) of getting a raise at your job. So you talk to your boss, and you present all the reasons why you deserve to get a pay bump. She entertains your reasoning, but ultimately turns down your request. Your destination of getting a pay raise seems an impossible one to reach.

In that instance, you need to ask yourself if your destination really is to get more money at your current job, or simply getting more money in general. My guess is that it’s the latter, because it probably doesn’t matter where the money comes from.

When you look at your goal that way — of just getting more money in general — there are other ways to get there. You could pick up a side gig or start selling old things you don’t need and bring in extra cash that way. It wouldn’t be at your current job, but it actually may be easier and more fulfilling.

There’s also another way to look at it: You could pick a slightly different destination.

Is your goal to make more money, or simply to net more money? When you think about your money in general, there is the cash you bring in (income), and the cash you spend (expenses). The former minus the latter is your net income — it’s what you get to keep. What really matters is the net. And if you can cut your spending enough, you might be able to net as much money as if you had increased your income with that raise you were chasing after.

See, it wasn’t impossible — you were just thinking too narrowly. You just had to adjust your destination.

In this way, I take the phrase “making the impossible possible” literally. You are taking X — which really did prove to be impossible — and replacing it with Y — which is where you were really trying to get anyway. And Y is quite possible. So now, you go after Y. Broaden your thinking, and do what you initially thought couldn’t be done.

That’s the possibility mindset. It involves asking which thing is supposedly impossible, and being willing to make adjustments and substitutes along the way.

Possibility and Persistence

If you take nothing else form the above rant, here’s a neat little package.

Develop a possibility mindset by examining each supposedly impossible thing you face. Ask the question: what is it about this thing that’s supposedly impossible — the road or the destination?

If it’s the road that’s impossible to travel, look for other roads to the same destination. Find another plan, different tools, or a different way to get to your goal. You may have to adjust your timeline or who is involved.

If the destination really is inaccessible, ask yourself whether or not that destination is your ultimate destination — or just a stop on the way to another ultimate destination. Ask yourself why you desire the goal that seems impossible. That reason why will often reveal other goals that are actually more important to you, and that are not impossible to achieve given your current circumstances.

If nothing else, remember this: for everything that seems impossible, there is at least one other thing that is possible. Focus on what’s possible, and persevere.

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Mike Sturm

Written by

Author of “The Wabi-Sabi Way” and “Be, Think, Do”. Subscribe to my newsletter “Woolgathering”: https://goo.gl/UhzUYL.

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

Mike Sturm

Written by

Author of “The Wabi-Sabi Way” and “Be, Think, Do”. Subscribe to my newsletter “Woolgathering”: https://goo.gl/UhzUYL.

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

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