Don't Be Sold on the Idea That 'Anything Is Possible'

Don't Be Sold on the Idea That 'Anything Is Possible'
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There is an intoxicating idea that is repeatedly sold to us by the self-help industry. It is the thought that we all possess limitless potential. The idea has certainly captivated a huge audience -- it is reported that the burgeoning self-help industry is worth several billion dollars in the U.S. alone.

The enticing promise of limitless potential is that "anything is possible." To support their claims, many self-help gurus make assertions such as “whatever the mind can conceive it can achieve.” The question is, as you pursue success, can you rely upon this belief?

Related: The 3 Personal Development Goals Successful People Pursue Habitually

There is no doubt that it will (initially at least) cause you to aim higher as you dream of greater possibilities. The hope that your best achievements still lie ahead of you is certainly exciting. However, what if it this “anything is possible” belief leads to false hope and the success you intensely desire forever eludes you? What then? According to some, this kind of false hope can be highly damaging.

As the philosopher Nietzsche declared, “Hope is the worst of evils for it prolongs the torment of man.”

When our hopes are not realized they can cause strong disillusionment. In his book, SHAM, for example, Steve Salerno writes about the potential harm positive psychology books may do to individuals who are lured in by the grand promises of transformation and success but who ultimately fail to achieve their aims because they did not “believe enough” in their dream.

In his excellent book, Thinking Fast and Slow, the Nobel Prize-winning author, Daniel Kahneman, also outlines the danger of false hope through what he refers to as the “optimistic bias” that many of us possess in our thinking.

“Most of us view the world as more benign than it really is, our attributes as more favorable than they truly are, and the goals we adopt as more achievable than they are likely to be," Kahnemann writes. "We also tend to exaggerate our ability to forecast the future, which fosters optimistic overconfidence.”

To make his point, Kahneman gives the example of “entrepreneurial delusions” that many business owners entertain. He states that the chance of a small business surviving for five years in the U.S. is about 35 percent but most new business owners do not believe that the statistic applies to them. Kahneman quotes a survey of American entrepreneurs in which 81 percent put their personal odds of success at seven out of 10 or higher, and 33 percent said their chance of failing was zero.

It would be wrong, however, to blame the self-help industry as being the sole cause of false hope. As many of us know, well-meaning parents may also inadvertently play their part, especially those that psychologists refer to as the “philoprogenitive type.” These parents typically over-praise their offspring, believing them to more talented than they actually are, something which can later lead to bitter disappointment if their children realize (in the sometimes harsh reality of life) that they are not as good as they were led to believe.

Related: Forget Big Goals. Take Baby Steps for Small, Daily Wins.

So given the dangers of false hope, what should we believe is possible?

This is a critical question, especially as many of you will no doubt have put your future on the line as you seek the success that matters to you. My answer -- given my experience of working with progressive individuals from industries as diverse as business, sports and entertainment -- is this:

While the more enthusiastic and optimistic amongst us may claim that anything is possible, a better premise to believe is that more is possible in life.

It could well be that, regardless of your current circumstances or limitations, you could achieve “anything,” but this concept, in my opinion, is too broad or too vast to apply easily. I believe the notion that more is possible is a better way to proceed as it allows you to build step by step from where you are and you can more specifically target the next move in life that takes you onward and upwards.

The fact is that the very best do not achieve more through some kind of vague hope in the future. Instead, they follow a very definite strategy of looking for the next best move open to them that can enhance their success. This success isn’t necessarily just about having more, it’s also about being more -- more dynamic, more creative, more courageous and so on.

You can achieve this progressive attitude by creating and then firmly holding on to an image of your ideal self. This image shouldn’t be limited to the best of who you are today, it should be the image of the best you believe you can become in time.

The actor Matthew McConaughey expressed it perfectly in his Oscar acceptance speech when he revealed that his hero is always him 10 years from now.

“Every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero's always 10 years away," he said. "I'm never going to be my hero. I'm not going to attain that. I know I'm not, and that's just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.”

By believing and visualizing that more is possible in your life, you can more effectively chase down the success you desire. And who knows how far this belief may take you?

Related: The Difference Between Successful and Very Successful People