All the Possibilities

October 20 2020

A diagram of the possibilities

There are far more options than you can possibly imagine.

I only realize this now. Thinking about the partner I would like, in my dreams it conjures several cool people. They resemble aspects of cool people I have met in the past, but they are not those people. They remind me that those people, even, are possible. But they are new ones.

When my mind goes to imagine the possibilities, it looks at the small subset of what I am famaliar with, and tries to sort through it, to see what is possible. As my life gets more limited (say, in COVID), the field of possibility just gets more limited.

When you are in the kitchen in the morning and you are getting ready to make breakfast, this type of thinking may be very good: I will have to be resourceful with the small number of options I may have in my cupboard. But when it comes to something bigger, this is a big mistake. And we can all easily do this. In fact, I consider myself to be a very open-minded, broad-thinking person. And yet, when my imagination goes to conjure what the possibilities are, it goes to the ones I have heard of. No, not a that, a subset: the ones I have heard of, and can remember. No, not that: a subset: the ones I can remember, and believe I could do, with what I have avaliable.

The mind is good at figuring out what to make for breakfast (a discrete set of options, small enough to easily imagine, and that do not stretch our sense of what we are capable of). But the mind does not see how to imagine something much, much bigger, that could go far beyond what we believe.

The problem is not that the mind is not good at this—there are many ways of getting beyond this limitation. The problme is that the mind tells us that it is good at it. It tells us that our first set of options is the set of all possibilties. The problem is that it believes it’s done a good job of exhausting all the possibilities, when it has not done anything of the sort.

In the diagram, A is all the things we have recently been thinking about, or the options that are easily at hand, like the catsup that you can grab without getting up from your chair.

And B is all the stuff in your memory banks and the sets of possibilities you can imagine if you worked a little harder. But this is kind of like A, in a lot of ways: it is stuff that fits within your given ideas—which we frequently forget is actually kind of like the catsup that we don’t have to get out of our chair to grab, because do you really want to tell me that all the things you can think of offhand, are all the things anyone has ever thought of? All the skill and mastery of the human race? And what about things no one has ever thought of!?

Of course, C is a much bigger expanse, and like the mystery of life itself, we just don’t know how far it goes…

Thanks to Gary Keller, author of The One Thing, for sort of triggering this realization with his formula for asking questions.

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© Alexander Feller 2018