Move Into Possibility!

"In the measurement world, you set a goal and strive for it. In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold.” - Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander

Do you know what world you're living in? I didn't until I read the Zander’s book, The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life (Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, Penguin Books, 2000).

Here's the core message of the book:

“…many of the circumstances that seem to block us in our daily lives may only appear to do so based on a framework of assumptions we carry with us. Draw a different frame around the same set of circumstances and new pathways come into view.”

May I say, Amen! Our assumptions can get us into trouble more often than not! Have you ever examined your assumptions? Have you asked yourself, is this the way I want to look at this situation? Is there another way? I do, but I forget that I can choose, that I can untangle myself from the assumptions...of the Measurement World. 

What does that mean? Please read on.

I'd like to use a couple of my most recent assumptions to explain what I'm talking about and the applicability of The Art of Possibility - in my life and maybe in yours.

Firstly, there was my assumption about submitting a postcard to The Lost Kitchen restaurant in Freedom, Maine and getting a reservation:

Assumption: It will never happen. This place is flooded with postcards every year, from all over the world. I could never get in.

Secondly, there was my assumption about seeing the whale:

Assumption: A whale? A humpback whale in the Sheepscot River? What are our chances of seeing it? Nil.

The chance of getting a treasured reservation and the chance of seeing a whale – the possibilities are slim to none in both cases, I thought. Two potential once-in-a-lifetime experiences basically killed off by two assumptions…(IF I had stuck with them.)

I assumed. That’s what we do, right? Something inside of us quickly offers up an opinion and without much thought, we go with it.

How do our assumption-making, and our thinking affect the outcome?

The Art of Possibility by the conductor Benjamin Zander and his wife, the therapist, Rosamund Zander is a life-changing book that offers a life-changing philosophy. I have always been interested in the effects of “assumption making” mostly because of my conflict management work with groups. Assumptions are what often stood in the way of misunderstandings that alienated people and instigated conflict.

“Oh, I thought you changed the locks because you were going to let people go!”

“Oh, I thought you didn’t like me because of how you never smiled at me.”

And on and on. People rarely question their assumptions and the Zanders tell us why we should.

They explain that we are in charge of our frame of reference – about everything. They teach us that we automatically inherit how we see things because nearly everyone lives in what they call, The Measurement World without realizing it. Everything we do is based on measurement in our lives. How much money we make. Whether our team wins. How beautiful our spouse is. Everything is based on some form of measurement. And we use that to calculate what's possible. "The chances are..." we say - like we know, but we don't know.

They teach us that you don’t need to play the measurement game. You can play the possibility game. You can live, instead, in The Possibility World.

They contend that it’s all invented, that everything in life is an invention – the way we see things; the way we measure things; the way we compete; the way we judge ourselves. Think about it. It's true.

So, they conclude: if it’s all invented then you might as well invent a way of viewing life that benefits you. You might as well invent a frame of possibility. They call this new frame, this new universe, a Universe of Possibility.

I’m all in!

I’m done with the World of Measurement…though that’s not as easy as that might sound. It’s all around us all the time. We are so used to comparing, judging, striving to get ahead, to be the best.

The Zanders describe it this way:

“The dramatic action in this world of success and failure has to do with overcoming odds and prevailing or being acknowledged and included. Virtually every children’s book, every made-for-television special follows the pattern. Competition is the vehicle to success, and metaphors based on competitive sports and war are applied to almost any situation. Conversations among friends chronicle personal trials and triumphs. Certain feelings mirror the ups and downs of fortune in the world of measurement: love for our own, for instance, and sympathy for those weaker than we are; fear, anger, and despair at losing; and, of course, the exhilaration of having come out on top.”

Can we say that this is what causes our stress, our unhappiness? We are always measuring. And if we believe the Zanders and say, it’s all made up – then what would choosing possibility, instead, look like?

Back to my assumptions. Here’s what it looked like for me in my postcard and whale examples as I switched from measurement to possibility. I reset for possibility. (Note: you have to remember you have a choice when you play this game. Don’t just accept the assumptions that are handed to you…i.e. the general measurement-world assumptions. “Forget about it. It will never happen!”