“In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold.” The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
Imagine going for a hike in the woods. There are no groomed trails to guide you, but you have a map, compass, and a notion of where you want the hike to end. As you set out, you move to the left of that tree and to the right of the big one over there. Hopping over small streams, rocks, and tree trunks, you inch toward your final destination. With each step, you shape your direction and manifest possibility. As you move forward, some possibilities are no longer available and new ones emerge. Your compass allows you to navigate in broad swaths and keeps you from getting completely lost. Even with the compass, you cannot predict where you will end up.
Some decisions lead you into a section too thick with branches to be passable. You must backtrack to get moving forward again. Other fortuitous decisions make your journey easier or more interesting. You can clearly see a couple hundred feet in front of you and try to strategize your moves to reach imaginary targets of trees, openings, and rocks. Looking at the sun’s position and your compass confirms you are walking in the right direction. With every step you manifest one possibility and open yourself up to many more.
Take a hike! Exploring your life and work goals and is much like this hike. You have navigational tools that are approximate and imperfect. Each decision and action nudges you forward and presents a unique set of possibilities that you can manifest. You can shape your experience and results through recognizing the myriad possibilities in play and making choices that seem directionally aligned with your goals. Each day you manifest possibilities. While there is no one right or wrong possibility, some manifestations will better serve your goals and catalyze breakthroughs.
A possibility is something capable of existing, a potential alternative, a prospect, or a theory. Possibilities relate to your potential and include possible outcomes, paths, flavors, levels of exertions, pace, resources needed, enjoyment, and relationships. Here is a list of possibilities that cover these categories:
- I will get another college degree in the next two years.
- Bob’s business will begin offering a new line of productivity products that launch in 2007.
- I can focus and be very productive today.
- Sally will spend more time on high impact projects and less time on routine tasks and meetings.
- The product development process will reduce to less than 18 months.
- Maggie will fall in love and marry.
- The work environment will feel more invigorating and employee engagement will improve.
- Jack will shift from being a micromanager to one that empowers and engages his team.
- Art will partner with 10 colleagues on the creation of a project.
- The desired outcome can be achieved with a $10,000 investment.
- Team members will build strong working relationships with one another.
- A new competitor will challenge your business.
These are all possibilities. At any given moment, at this moment, you have many possibilities that you can explore and manifest. You are likely unaware of most of these possibilities.
When you manifest a possibility, you reveal it and then make it real. To manifest means to make visible and this can apply to tangible outcomes or intangible emotions and concepts. Here are a few descriptions of possibilities manifested.
- Harry was at peace for the first time in his life.
- As she collected her degree, she was enveloped with a flood of emotion.
- As the new machine started up, 12 months of hard work came together in victory.
- Kelly was unable to outrun the police and was arrested for robbing the local Shell gas station.
- Lisa’s book achieved a top 10 ranking on Amazon.com on July 12th.
- Scott’s emails, conversations, and tenacity paid off. After just two weeks he received 55 new orders.
- The town was happy.
Manifestations can be broad, large, narrow, or small. Sometimes a country manifests a possibility. On September 12, 1962, United States President John F Kennedy declared that the United States would land on the moon within ten years. Here’s a quote from his speech:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.
Being the first to land on the moon was a possibility manifested by thousands of passionate and dedicated people. And at each step along the journey to reach the moon, project team members worked with passion and focus to make millions of individual decisions and actions come together for success.
The mountainous Kingdom of Bhutan, sandwiched between India and Tibet, is one of the least economically developed countries in the world. Its average annual income is about $700 per person. Estimates of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which have always been uncertain because the first modern census of Bhutan was not conducted until 2005, generally place Bhutan in the bottom 15% of countries, barely ahead of such impoverished nations such as Djibouti, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Tajikistan, Benin, Eritrea, and Mali. Living conditions in Bhutan can be harsh. Villages become isolated when roads are closed by landslides and less than two-thirds of the people in Bhutan have access to improved water supplies. Ninety percent survive by subsistence farming. The first modern roads were not constructed until the 1960s, and neither television nor the internet were available until 1999. The Bhutan National Bank did not issue its first credit cards until 2004, and plans are only now being made to install the first automated teller machines in the country.
Despite its economic poverty and hardships, Bhutan is often envied as a peaceful Shangri-La that has managed to avoid the negative aspects of modern civilization. This is because of an intentional decision by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck to pursue a policy of increasing the Gross National Happiness rather than the Gross National Product. First enunciated in 1972, when the king ascended to the throne at age 16, the policy is based on promoting four areas of possibility: economic growth, cultural preservation, sustainable use of the environment, and good governance. The King’s vision represented possibility on a grand scale. This was not the well carved path that other countries hiked.
Scholarly research lends credence to the idea that happiness is not dependent upon economic growth. In a paper published in the Journal of Public Economics in 2004, economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald examined the degree happiness in the United States and Great Britain during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Although some groups such as American men and African-Americans reported increases in happiness, and people with high incomes and high levels of education reported more satisfaction than those with low incomes or the unemployed, the overall sense of happiness among Americans appears to have fallen over the years.
The people of Bhutan have manifested many amazing possibilities. Life expectancy in Bhutan has increased and infant mortality has fallen under the policy of Gross National Happiness. Primary school enrollment has increased, with a goal of universal enrollment by 2007, and in recent years the government has spent as much as 15% of its budget on education. Economic growth has also been both strong and balanced by environmental preservation. Bhutan is developing hydropower resources while mandating that 60% of the country must remain forested. Twenty-six percent of the country is preserved as parks. The number of tourists allowed to enter Bhutan is limited to a few thousand per year and each tourist must spend a minimum of $200 per day. Hiking and trekking are encouraged, but high-altitude mountaineering expeditions were banned in 2003 in deference to spiritual beliefs. Bhutan became a tobacco-free country in 2005. Despite its successes, the country continues to grapple with unavoidable outside influences in its attempt to balance happiness and economic growth. In response to concerns about the influence of television on young Bhutanese, the government recently banned both MTV and professional wrestling on television. Each year they explore and manifest new possibilities that serve their goal of high Gross National Happiness.
The Bhutan example is evocative. To what degree do you measure success based on what you produce? If your ultimate goal is to feel fulfilled, connected, and joyous, your milestones ought not be about money, status, or possessions. What if you focused on manifesting possibilities that improve your individual, familial, or workplace happiness? When you shift your focus, a different set of options emerge. I know this is not easy to do and I struggle with it myself. I consider myself a recovering yuppie. My natural inclination is to define my success by what I produce and the fruits that my productivity bears. But here’s the catch. I know that I could work less and improve my happiness. Think about what I just wrote. I could work less and better enjoy life. That seems like a no brainer, doesn’t it? I the last couple years I have made good progress and I continue to manifest new possibilities for ways to up my gross individual happiness.
What gets in your way of manifesting the life you seek? While you manifest possibilities every day, you may not be generating the reality that will best serve your goals. The barrier that seems to affect a lot of people is an unwillingness and inability to recognize the full range of possibilities available to them. They give up too early or believe that because one option was removed, there is nothing more they can do to reach their goals. There are possibilities that you have not considered and that would allow you to spend more time on activities that enrich and enliven your life.
You can build your muscles for seeing, taking on, and manifesting possibilities by adopting the following states of mind: wonder, inquiry, abundance, exuberance, and courage.
- Wonder: When in a state of wonder, you feel admiration for beauty, welcome the unexpected and inexplicable, and are drawn to exploring the unfamiliar. You delight in pleasant surprise.
- Inquiry: The art of inquiry is at the core of learning and great conversation. By asking provocative and evocative questions you will achieve many layers of understanding. When absorbed in inquiry, your mind’s open for business sign is turned on and burns bright.
- Abundance: Opposite of a scarcity mindset, abundance is the belief that there is more than enough to go around. There are many right ways to do things. Competitors can be excellent partners. You don’t have to be the first or the only one providing a product or service to be successful. You win by helping others thrive.
- Exuberance: Exuberance comes from the Latin word exuberant, which means being abundantly fruitful or fertile. A feeling of exuberance occurs when our minds are fertile and filled with liveliness, energy and excitement. When exuberant, we grow luxuriantly.
- Courage: The courage mindset helps transfer all these mindsets into positive action. Resolve, responsibility, and ownership are at the heart of our courageous minds.
Does reading this list make you sit up a bit straighter? Are you thinking about your day in a new way? These heady concepts pack a punch and yet they are uncommon terms in many homes and workplaces. While you are blazing through your practical to-do lists, will you see and manifest the possibilities that could make a huge difference to your success and happiness?
Think about the possibilities for how today could unfold. Play for a few minutes in the mindsets of wonder, inquiry, abundance, exuberance, and/or courage. Think about the possibilities again. Then go for it. Manifest something amazing today.