Today's lesson comes courtesy of a new book I'm reading called The Art of Possibility (aff link).
I’m almost 100 pages in, and I’m loving it. There are so many juicy, thoughtful, mind-shifting little nuggets in this book — too many to share in just one newsletter (so I recommend you grab it for yourself!)
The one that stood out to me most in the first few sections of the book came when the authors, Rosamund (Roz) Stone Zander and Ben Zander, began talking about what they refer to as “The World of Measurement.” They observe that our default paradigm for understanding the world around us and how we fit into it is one of measurement, comparisons, standards, and scales.
Think about it… We tend to rate our successes depending on how we stack up compared to other people (“I don’t have nearly as many Instagram followers as so-and-so.”) We consciously or unconsciously rate our experiences in relation to other experiences. (“This coffee is good, but not as good as the coffee we had at Dark Horse last week.”)
As a result of quantifying and evaluating everything, we often then operate from a place of scarcity - that place that tells us there’s not enough - when it comes to things like “time, money, power, love, resources, and inner strength,” according to the book.
I read that list of scarcities probably five different times.
"Scarcities of time, money, power, love, resources, and inner strength."
WHOA. Think back to the last time you were in a bad mood or felt weak. Can you trace back that feeling to one of these scarcities? To the thought that you didn’t have enough of one of those things?
I’m betting you can.
Now, there was a time in human history when our sole evolutionary goal was to survive in a time where resources WERE actually scarce and our ability to go on living depended on how well we could fight for those resources.
The problem is… we’re all still walking around with that mentality. We’re operating as if we’re still in a dog-eat-dog world when we’re actually in a dog-help-dog-and-everybody-can-still-eat-just-fine world.
The thing about the world of measurement and functioning on scarcity is that it forms a well-defined, fixed box that we are convinced we have to play within. It makes us invent rules that may or may not exist.
When we operate on assumptions of scarcity, we create an invisible fence around what we believe is possible.
The beauty of this book is that it suggests an alternate view of the world, one that goes beyond the world of measurement. It reads:
“Let us suppose, now, that a universe of possibility stretches beyond the world of measurement to include all worlds: infinite, generative, and abundant. Unimpeded on a daily basis by the concern for survival, free from the generalized assumption of scarcity, a person stands in the great space of possibility in a posture of openness, with an unfettered imagination for what can be.”
Beautiful in theory, right?
But how do we go about applying this logic in practice?
Well, first let me introduce you to a few of my own limiting thoughts that are rooted in scarcity, and let me share with you two practices that I’ve adopted to combat this way of thinking.
- Ideas. I can’t tell you how many times I think I have some sort of transformational framework for approaching my life or some ground-breaking idea for a project, only to find out a short time later that the very same thing has been immortalized already in a book or that my novel company already exists. And each and every time it happens I feel deflated, “less than,” and in many cases it leaves me with that little voice in my head that says, “Caroline, forget trying to be original. Everything's already been said and done.” A deeper look, though, reveals that I’m actually operating on the assumption that there are a fixed number of good ideas in the universe and that when someone else has one, that leaves one less for me. What if, instead, I entertained the thought that, while those ideas had already found their owners, my brilliant ideas were still out floating in an infinite universe of possibility, just waiting to be discovered? How might that change my level of inspiration and motivation?
- Money. I think we’ve all been here, right? I especially used to feel the scarcity of money when my business was 100% reliant on client-service design work. It always felt like I was competing for a static number of clients out there and it led me to operate from a place of fear that I was never doing enough to attract them. Now I brainstorm revenue ideas for my business from a place of abundance. I know I have valuable skills and knowledge to share, I know that value is worth money, and then it simply becomes an exercise in exploring creative ways to bring that to an audience that could benefit from it. I close my eyes and visualize that money-making opportunities are all around me; I simply have to learn how to see them.
- Opportunities. I hate saying no to people. Sometimes emails land in my inbox with opportunities to speak at events or share my work with an audience or collaborate on a project and I have to politely decline, even though it kills me. Every time I do it, I have this moment of panic and disappointment where I feel like I’m missing out. Like I’m letting an opportunity slip away that I’ll never get back. As if we all only get a certain number of at-bats in our life, a fixed number of chances to do something worthwhile. Well, with an attitude like that, who's going to want to send me more opportunities! Instead, though, if I can make decisions and continue living with the belief that opportunities will come my way if I'm open to them, I feel confident that it's that mentality that will allow me to attract those very things.
Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t still struggle with these three scarcities. I do! Those and so many more. But this book has allowed me to now become aware of when I’m placing limitations on myself unnecessarily.
Here are two kind-of-silly-but-totally-helpful games I play with myself when I notice I’m operating from a place of scarcity:
In the book, they say that instead of thinking to yourself There are only so many pieces of the pie, you can imagine that the pie is enormous, and if you take a slice, the pie is whole again.
Well, every time I feel like there’s not enough of something, I picture this huge, enormous, delicious cake (I like cake more than pie, but feel free to use your own personal confection of preference) that just keeps becoming whole again as soon as I take a piece. It’s the Infinite Cake of Abundant Awesomeness. (Who doesn’t want to imagine THAT on a regular basis.) As silly as it sounds, the visual representation of abundance proves really helpful for me in making sure I'm coming from a place of possibility, not limitations.
And if the regenerative baked goods strategy doesn’t work for you, I’ve also found that every time I notice myself behaving with a scarcity mindset I just repeat in my head:
“Pssht. There’s plenty more where that came from.”
Go ahead... try it!
It definitely takes deliberate, regular practice to break the habit of living in the World of Measurement, but I’ve been trying to do it for the past week and I can tell you, the difference is substantial in the way I’m starting to see the world.
- Just because someone else is winning does not mean you have to be losing.
- Just because someone else experiences joy, it does not mean your chance to experience joy diminishes.
- Just because you feel like you don't have the resources to accomplish your dreams, it does not mean you can't imagine a dream where you have more than enough resources to make it happen.
It's all a matter of possibility.
Your challenge this week is to identify one road block you’ve been experiencing and acknowledge how it relates to one of the scarcities I mentioned.
Now apply one of the two abundance practices above and write down (somewhere you can see it throughout the week!) one way that you can shift your thinking to the world of possibility. If you feel comfortable, share it in the comments below!
I know it’s not easy — it requires an immense amount of imagination and open-mindedness to expand your perspective in this way, but I promise the view from the other side is worth it.