I remember hearing as a child, “Don’t be a dreamer. You should have your feet firmly on the ground”—as if to say dreaming was a waste of time, a digression from what was realistic and important. Being firmly on the ground meant access to the venerated place where the serious contenders stood; the place of ideas, knowledge and achievement. By contrast, dreaming was for people who never got anywhere.
But science is catching up to those childhood dreams, and it turns out that dreaming about the future (in a positive way) plays a key role in how we perceive, think and motivate ourselves to set new goals.
Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Positive Psychology, in conjunction with The John Templeton Foundation, has started a project to research this forward thinking, which they term “ prospection”. He writes, “What if the mind is not a storehouse of knowledge but an engine of prediction?” This suggests that imagining possibility may indeed be a life-changing first step to achieving a new goal.
So, how does this work in coaching? Like a painter facing a blank canvas, we take the time to visualize what is possible, feel it and listen to what resonates. We sense what is important to us, connect with what is deeply meaningful and visualize a new way of being. It is only then that we can sketch out the scene and begin to create our new life.
It is important to point out that the creation of our vision is not just a forward-thinking process; it also includes what we have learned from experience and what we already know about our strengths and weaknesses. “Prospection” and “possibility” do not mean unbridled dreaming or fantasy. They are, rather, an orientation of mind in which we allow for all possible (positive) versions of a situation based on all the facts and potential outcomes. In this way, it is both a creative and practical process.
Seeking a New Goal?
Possibility is practical in another way too: it acts as a point of reference when we decide on a new goal for ourselves. There is no prescribed path or map to tell us how to get to a goal, and we do not always know what the next right move is. This is where possibility acts like a beacon through the confusion: we can look to it and ask ourselves, “Will accepting this project get me closer to my long-term goal? Is this the best use of my time?”
Living with possibility also supports us in developing our resilience. When we make the brave choice to go after what we want, we sometimes fail. We then have to re-evaluate our strengths, limits and inner resources, which can feel like being on a roller coaster of bruised egos, followed by surges of hope and disappointment. But the more we see these experiences as learning opportunities rather than evidence of our inadequacy, the closer we get to our goals. We become skilled at rolling with the punches, getting back up and planning our next steps. And we can do all this because possibility draws us forward—gently and persistently. We follow the goal like a baby crawling toward a favourite toy: they fall, get up, shake their head and continue on, all without ever losing sight of the glossy red paint.
The part I like best about this process is that it requires us to be open: it requires us to make space in our minds and to keep our hearts open and receptive. These are the qualities I try to bring to my everyday life, and I would never have learned to do that without recognizing possibility just ahead of me, shining a light on something I had not thought possible before.
So, I invite you to consider: what if it were possible?