Ask yourself this: When was the last time you found yourself at a crossroads or had to make a major, possibly life-changing decision – and you ended up doing something based on what you thought you COULDN’T do, not on what you MIGHT do? Did you make the decision or take an action based on limiting beliefs? What was the outcome and how did it feel?
Now, ask yourself this: How would it feel if you made a decision based on EVERYTHING that MIGHT be possible? If you didn’t worry about the outcome, what would you let yourself consider? What options might you have? What choices or decisions would you make?
The decisions we make and the actions we take throughout our lives are usually based on our thoughts and beliefs about our present circumstances as well as our past experiences. I did this, and this happened. I didn’t do that, and that happened. Over time, this becomes the “criteria” we use to make future decisions.
Here’s an example: Twice in my professional career, I found myself at a significant crossroads and had to make some potentially life-changing decisions about my next right action.
The first was in September 2014. My 5-year contract with the government was due to expire. My current job paid me a generous salary and provided me with affordable benefits. Now, keep in mind that expiring contracts are usually just awarded to another company, and the existing employees are offered positions with the new company. And so it was in my situation. I was confident that no matter which company won the contract, I would be offered a position, which was as sure a Sure Thing as it could possibly get when working as a contractor.
I also had two mortgages (three, if you count my vacation ownership), an unenviable savings account, no pension, a 5-figure credit card debt, a younger sister I was assisting financially, and I was years away from qualifying for Social Security benefits.
Fast forward to just this past October. Again, I reached a similar crossroads. Just like before, my contract was ending, and I was faced with a similar decision: stay or go. But this time my present circumstances were significantly different: an even higher salary, double the amount in my savings account, zero debt, one mortgage, and a generous Social Security income. And yet, even though my present circumstances indicated that I had options that I didn’t have in 2014, I was still afraid of not having an income. So, once again, I believed I had no options. And once again, I was resolved to stay in my Sure Thing job.
Truth be told, I had been unhappy for a long time in these jobs. But I was far more afraid of not having an income than I was of not being happy, and so choosing not to accept a position with the new company was, for me, a “not in a million years” choice. I believed that my present circumstances offered me few, if any, choices. I was just going to have to hunker down and gut it out, just like I always had in the past and just like, I assumed, I always would in the future. And so, I decided I had no other choice but to accept stay with my Sure Thing jobs.
And then something happened.
“In order to avoid this bitter end, we have to be reborn again, and born with the knowledge of alternatives.” Maya Angelou
Challenging the “not in a million years” approach to living our lives is a golden opportunity to make some fundamental changes in our lives. It can mark a turning point in how we live our lives.
And giving yourself permission to consider all of your options is the key to getting from where you are to where you MIGHT want to be. Ideas that might not have occurred to you in a million years now might reveal themselves.
In this blog, I’m going to explain the three most important keys to harnessing the power of possibilities: identifying what you want, why you want it, and what you’re willing and not willing to do; giving yourself permission to look at alternatives; and releasing any limiting thoughts and beliefs that are holding you back from being reborn with the knowledge of alternatives!
Examining Your Present Circumstances
Through such increased awareness, you may also become more discerning of your thoughts, feelings, and actions, and that awareness will give you greater opportunity to make a positive change if you wish to do so. Susan L. Smalley and Diana Winston
Let’s begin with the foundational work, what Ram Das calls “planting seeds of awareness,” by examining without judgment your present circumstances. Start by completing each of the statements:
1. Physically, I am:
2. Emotionally, I am:
3. Mentally, I am:
4. Spiritually, I am:
5. Financially, I am:
6. Other (describe your career or job situation, your relationships, or anything else that accurately captures where you are right now):
Remember to describe your present circumstances without judgment. Think about how I described my situation earlier: I included words like “not happy,” “unenviable,” “gut it out,” “not in a million years.” These are judgments. Remove the judgments, and we’re simply left with the facts: salary; health care benefits; three mortgages; savings account; credit card debt, financially supporting a younger sister.
Identifying Your Limiting Thoughts and Beliefs
The most influential part of a mindset are the beliefs you hold true. Myrko Thum
It can be difficult to learn to consider options and alternatives regarding how you live your daily life if you can’t or won’t release your limiting thoughts and beliefs. Limiting thoughts and beliefs can:
- Seriously hold us back in life.
- Control our behaviors behind the scenes, enough to curtail our results in some area of life.
- Block us from taking reasonable and intelligent actions.
- Stop us from achieving our full potential.
- Cause our life to lose its richness because we are not able to perceive it correctly.
It can be very hard to recognize your limiting thoughts and beliefs since they are so ingrained and such a part of how you navigate through life. So, let’s look at what might be holding you back and how you can recognize it.
In an article called, “Five Ways to Let Go of Limited Thinking,” Daniel A. Miller said this: “Much of the time, you will know if your thinking is limited because you will feel internal conflict or a sense of “dis-ease.”
Answer the following four questions:
1. Looking at your present circumstances, do any of them make you feel “internal conflict or a sense of dis-ease”?
2. For each limiting circumstance, why do you believe it’s constrained?
3. If you wanted to change any part of your present circumstances, do you believe that change is possible?
4. If not, what beliefs are holding you back?
Remember that this is about whether you are perceiving your present circumstances correctly. Does the feeling “match” the reality of the circumstance, not necessarily your perception of it? For example, maybe your financial situation is actually secure, but you believe you don’t have “enough” money. Maybe your physical condition is good, but you believe that you’re not thin “enough” or fit “enough.” The concept of believing that we have and are “enough” is very hard to manage. Colette Baron-Reid calls this “scarcity consciousness,” and it can unconsciously block us from taking reasonable and intelligent actions.
Think about how I perceived my present circumstances when I had to decide about my Sure Thing job: in both instances, I perceived that my financial situation was limiting, and as a result, I didn’t have any option other than staying put.
Now, keep in mind that there might be very good reasons why you feel something in your life right now IS limiting or constrained. Maybe change isn’t possible, and your belief about why it’s not possible is perfectly reasonable. That’s okay. The purpose of this exercise is to learn how to recognize that you believe something in your present circumstances is limiting and why you believe it.
Giving Yourself Permission
No matter how qualified or deserving we are, we will never reach a better life until we can imagine it for ourselves and allow ourselves to have it. Richard Bach
To my mind, giving ourselves permission is essential in harnessing the power of possibilities. Permission to consider alternatives. Permission to let go or stay. Permission to say Yes to a new path and a different direction. Permission to say Yes to ourselves. Permission even to say NO when it’s the best course of action.
For most of us, giving ourselves permission can be challenging. Part generational, part upbringing, part cultural, there are many reasons why we rarely if ever consider what we might really want to do or are even willing to try to do. We simply do what we believe we have to do.
When you give yourself permission to think about what you want, why you want it, and what you’re willing to do or even try to do, you free yourself to at least consider alternatives. Ideas that might not have occurred to you in the past now might start to materialize.
Complete each of the four statements:
1. What does “giving myself permission” mean to you?
2. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being Never and 5 being Always, rate your response to this statement: I give myself permission to think new things, to be open to new ideas and possibilities in everything I do.
3. Is there anything in your present circumstances that you might be able to change or might want to change but you haven’t given yourself permission to even consider making a change?
4. If you listed something in #3, what’s holding you back?
Do your best to be honest. If giving yourself permission is scary or you believe it isn’t possible right now, say so.
Keep in mind that this is about simply giving ourselves permission, not about taking action at this point. Maybe you’ve heard this riddle before: Three frogs are sitting on a log. One decides to jump off. How many are left? The answer is three – he only DECIDED to jump off!
Remember how I shared that when I reached the crossroads twice in my professional career, I initially decided not to give myself permission to even consider the idea of making a change – and then something happened? This is where I took the first step towards harnessing the power of possibilities: I decided to at least give myself permission to consider other options before I ACTUALLY DID consider other options. And I had to remind myself that this was just a “mental exercise” – I’m still sitting on the log. I haven’t jumped off – and I don’t have to if I don’t want to!
For #3 and #4, maybe there isn’t anything you need or want to change at this time. That’s fine. Just keep these questions in mind if you find yourself faced with a decision or crossroads that you’ve never had to consider before.
Opening the Door to Your Options
Have you heard of the story titled, “The Horse Might Sing”? There are many different versions, but my favorite goes like this:
Nasrudin was caught in the act of stealing and sentenced to die. Hauled up before the king, he was asked by the king: “Is there any reason why I shouldn’t take your head off right now?” To which Nasrudin replied: “I am the greatest teacher in your kingdom, and it would surely be a waste to kill such a great teacher. So skilled am I that I could even teach your favorite horse to sing, given a year to work on it.” The king was amused, and said: “Very well then, you move into the stable immediately, and if the horse isn’t singing a year from now, we’ll think of something interesting to do with you.”
As Nasrudin was moving into the stable, his friend chastised him: “Now that was really foolish. You know you can’t teach that horse to sing, no matter how long you try.”
Nasrudin smiled and said: “I don’t know that at all. I have a year now that I didn’t have before. And a lot of things can happen in a year. The king might die. I might die. The horse might die. And, who knows? The horse might sing.”
I love this story. It’s a message about hope, a reminder that anything is possible and that there are always options – including the “not in a million years “option of the horse actually singing!
Remember I talked about being at a crossroads or having to make a possibly life-changing decision. The definition of a crossroads is “the place where roads intersect or a place at which a vital decision must be made.” A crossroads involves options: this road or that road, this way or that, this direction or that, do this or that.
A crossroads implies that we are intended to select one of the options available to us: we turn left instead of right; we take the shady path rather than the sunny one; the uphill climb rather than the downhill stroll. Otherwise, we come to a standstill.
If giving yourself permission means, “Okay, I’ll let myself consider that maybe I do have options,” then opening the door to options means, “I’m going to actually identify ALL of my options.” We’ll look at how opening the door to all of your options can keep you from continuing on a path that might no longer serve.
When we come to a crossroads, seeing all of the possible roads we can take and all of the options that are available to us can certainly be overwhelming and scary. But it can also be a golden opportunity to make some fundamental changes in our lives. It can mark a turning point in how we live our lives.
In her book, I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, Barbara Sher said this: “All their lives they did what had to be done, and didn’t bother daydreaming about alternative lives because they never expected to be free enough to have a choice.”
Have you been avoiding looking at alternative lives? Have you been trying to not look in the mirror and see what is true? At the start of this webinar, I asked you to ask yourselves: “If I didn’t have to worry about the outcome, what would I let myself think about? What options do I have? What choices would I make?”
Complete each of the four questions or statement:
- What does “opening the door to options” mean to you?
- On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being Strongly Agree and 5 being Strongly Disagree, rate your response to this statement: I believe my options are limited due to my present circumstances.
- If there is something in your present circumstances that you might be able to change or might want to change, describe ALL of the options that MIGHT be possible regardless of the consequences or the outcome, whether real or imagined.
- For the circumstance you cited in #3, what are you absolutely NOT willing to do? Why?
When it comes to opening the door to options, willingness is the key! If giving ourselves permission is about thinking about what might be possible, then opening the doors to options is about being willing to name them. All of them. But remember – this is still just about understanding that there are always options, and you need only consider them. You haven’t jumped off the log yet!
Once again, do your best to be honest. If it’s scary to acknowledge that you do in fact have options, and you’re willing to even consider them, say so.
Looking at #2, consider this: in the Limiting Thoughts and Beliefs exercise, you looked at your beliefs regarding your present circumstances, especially those you believed felt limited or constrained. Now, this takes that perspective one step further – it’s about identifying whether you also believe that your options regarding anything you might want to change are limited as well.
For #3, if there is something in your present circumstances that you might be able to change or might want to change, the key to describing all of your options is letting go of the fear of the consequences or the outcome, whether real or imagined.
Letting go of fear is vital. Fear, whether real or imagined, is one of the primary reasons that people don’t reexamine their snapshotted lives or allow themselves to take steps to change their present circumstances.
Some of our fears, of course, have basic survival value. Fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger; if we didn’t feel it, we couldn’t protect ourselves from legitimate threats. But often we fear situations that are far from life-or-death, and thus hang back for no (seemingly) good reason.
If we think we know what will happen because of something we will or might do, the steps we take, whether consciously or unconsciously, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; we make it happen because we assume it’s going to happen anyway.
But it’s essential not to get caught up in possible consequences or outcomes. In her book, After Shock: What to Do When the Doctor Gives You—or Someone You Love—a Devastating Diagnosis, Jessie Gruman describes this tendency like this: “It is the fear of the unknown that paralyzes. You can acknowledge the possibilities and know where you might go. It doesn’t mean that you are fatalistic, and it doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen.”
Remember how I shared that when I reached the crossroads twice in my professional career, I initially decided not to give myself permission – and then I did? This is where I took the second step towards harnessing the power of possibilities: I ACTUALLY DID consider other options. I ENVISIONED WHAT MIGHT BE IF NOT FOR FEAR. I started from a place of fear and came up with these options: I can work part-time. I can get a different job that is more fulfilling. I can work for just one more year. I can save more money. All reasonable options. But then I decided to put my fear aside, which allowed me to consider ALL of my options, which included NOT getting another job at all. I let go of trying to imagine outcomes or consequences and suddenly I could really see ALL of the options that might be possible after I decided to jump off the log.
Look closely at #4. Being willing to look at options doesn’t mean that all options are possible. Sometimes an option really isn’t possible depending on your personal circumstances, your beliefs, your financial situation, or any number of other factors. For example, maybe you’d like to find a new job or get that car repair finally taken care of, but your financial situation just won’t make this possible at the time. This is about being honest with yourself: If you honestly believe that it really can’t be done, so be it. In her book, The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah described it like this: “Think about who you are and what sacrifices you can live with and what will break you.” Just be certain that you are still perceiving your circumstances nonjudgmentally and correctly.
Maybe there isn’t anything you need or want to change at this time. That’s fine. Just keep these questions in mind if you find yourself faced with a decision or at a crossroads that you’ve never had to consider before.
The Way Ahead
“You always have a choice.” Nicolas Lore
I have a friend who lives by this philosophy. Whenever I talk (okay, whine) about decisions I’ve made in the past, her response always is, “It was your choice, remember.”
I HATE it when she says that.
But I also know that she’s right. It was my choice. I always have a choice.
Knowing that I have options is essential to my peace of mind and spiritual wellbeing. Having options means the difference between seeing a way ahead—or a way out—or staying in a deep hole that I have, on occasion, fallen into.
Have you been avoiding looking at alternatives? Have you been trying to not look in the mirror and see what is true? Or are you ready to let yourself be reborn again with the knowledge of alternatives?
It’s your choice.
1. Identify all of your limiting thoughts and beliefs.
It may take some time to uncover your beliefs, but it will be time well spent. The quality of your life depends on it. Spend some time now uncovering and eliminating your limiting thoughts and beliefs, and you will improve your life experience to a great extent. Remember that you have an absolute freedom to choose the way you want to live, and you can choose your own beliefs and ways to behave as well!
2. Pick something you want to be, try, or do that you haven’t undertaken yet and apply what you’ve learned in this webinar.
What are your alternatives? What are you willing or not willing to do? Remember that this is simply about getting in the habit of giving yourself permission.
3. Be willing to continually reexamine your present circumstances.
Take me. In 2014 and again in 2022, gave myself permission to really look at both my present circumstances nonjudgmentally and ALL of my options, and in both cases, I actually took the “not in a million years” option, and I quit the Sure Thing jobs I had! And I never regretted doing so nor did anything dire happen to me. In fact, it was just the opposite. It turned out to be the best thing for me in both cases.
Now fast forward once again to today. I’ve been unemployed for the last 7 months since I walked away from Sure Thing job #2, and now I’m back looking for a job. And why? Because my present circumstances have once again changed. So, I gave myself permission to reexamine the snapshot of my life, I looked at all of options (and non-options), and then I chose a new course of action based on my new snapshot.
4. Find the courage to change if change is needed.
Only you can know whether it’s time to make a change. In her book, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, Christiane Northrup, M.D., said this: “What we resist, persists. In a nutshell, here’s my professional advice. Make the changes that speak to you. Leave the rest.”
5. Stay in touch with your feelings, especially those feelings of “dis-ease.”
You have to allow yourself to feel your feelings, to recognize when things aren’t working out anymore, and to consider other options that you probably hadn’t let yourself think about before.