Provision #634: Play With Possibilities

Laser Provision

We know it’s important to feel good. When we feel good, we relax and become open to new possibilities. We broaden our minds. But did you know it works the other way around as well? The more possibilities we see, the better we feel. Options lead to opportunities which lead to optimism. If that sounds like an attractive chain to you, then you may be reading this Provision at an opportune moment. You’ll learn all about brainstorming new possibilities • a practice that may become your new best friend.

LifeTrek Provision

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The same could be asked about appreciation. Which comes first, positivity or the possible? As it turns out, the chicken has an edge. The more we appreciate the good stuff, the more open we become to imagining, considering, and exploring possibilities. And the more we lay those eggs, the more chickens come home to roost. Positivity and possibility cross-fertilize each other in delightful and constructive ways.

It’s pretty clear how this works. When we are filled with negativity of any sort, including anger, fear, confusion, embarrassment, pain, and fatigue, we tend to narrow our options. We respond with the classic fight, flight, or freeze alternatives of the limbic system. The notion of playing with possibilities is the furthest thing from our mind. We just want to do whatever we have to do to start feeling better.

But fight, flight, or freeze are neither the only alternatives nor even the best alternatives when it comes to resolving negativity. By reframing the negative with the power of appreciation, such as I wrote in last week’s Provision, Reframe the Negative, we can calm down our limbic system and open the door to other, more creative, and hopefully more successful possibilities.

Research by positive psychologists makes clear that this is exactly the way positivity works. It broadens the mind. It turns us away from doom and gloom and draws us toward the realm of the possible. Barbara Fredrickson notes, however, that the effect is temporary. Unless we consciously cultivate appreciative attitudes and perspectives, the limbic system reasserts itself and can easily overtake us.

So the chicken that lays the egg of possibility is positivity. What we appreciate, appreciates. When we appreciate things with positive value, however covered over they may be by the patina of negativity, then we turn in that direction and those things grow. When we fail to appreciate those things, taking stock of only the negative things that we don’t like, don’t want, and don’t appreciate, then those are things that grow. We actually make matters worse by focusing on what’s wrong.

That sounds counter-intuitive, since most people have a natural affinity for problem solving, but the more we focus on problems, even in trying to solve them, the more problems we see. It becomes a vicious and at times discouraging cycle. When we drain the swamp to catch the alligators, we may find ourselves overwhelmed and overrun with alligators. Better to leave the swamp the way it is, and find new things to focus on that will make life more safe, attractive, and welcoming.

When we do that, when we catch sight of a new vista that is filled with hope, trust, and love, all kinds of new possibilities begin to emerge. Fredrickson writes: Positive psychologists have learned that we can “broaden the very scope of people’s attention simply by making them feel good. Our emotions are connected to our outlooks via a simple cause-and-effect relationship. As positivity flows through our hearts, it simultaneously broadens our minds, allowing us to see both the forestand the trees.” (2009, p. 57).

Of course positivity has to be genuine for that to work. Pretending to feel good is not very effective, at least not until it gets to actually feel good. And that’s the cross-fertilization I’m talking about when it comes to positivity and possibility. It’s important to cultivate positivity. The more appreciation, gratitude, affection, excitement, joy, and energy we feel, the more possibilities we see. But it also works the other way around. The more possibilities we see, the more appreciation, gratitude, affection, excitement, joy, and energy we feel.

I see that all the time in my work with coaching clients. People often come to coaching in a crouch. They want more out of life and work and they can’t see how to get it, so they close up like a clam until they can’t stand it anymore. That’s when they may decide to reach out and talk with a LifeTrek Coach.

But we avoid focusing on the problem and the pain. That’s what therapists are for. Instead, we focus on the possibility and the potential. We look forward to what might be and we love to brainstorm new possibilities with our clients.

Whether we call it that or not, brainstorming • the rapid generation of multiple possibilities • is an essential work of coaching. In one form or another, I use it with most of my clients most of the time. On occasion, I will use the word to set aside a time for brainstorming. “Let’s brainstorm about how to do that or how to get there,” I might say. More often, however, I just make use of one of my favorite coaching questions, “What else?” Then I ask it again, and again, and again. The more we come up with, the more we have to work with.

One doesn’t have to be working with a coach to brainstorm. Indeed, it’s possible to brainstorm all on your own with a paper and pencil. As ideas come, write them down. Draw circles around them. Connect related circles with lines. Develop clusters of ideas. Keep going until you can’t think of anything else, then go a little longer.

Here are a few basic rules for effective brainstorming:

  • Positive Focus • Focus specifically on what you want, not on what you don’t want.
  • Rapid Ideation • Go fast. Don’t develop anything. Just get it out.
  • Withhold Judgment • Brainstorming is not about generating good ideas.
  • Go for Quantity • Brainstorming is about generating ideas. The more the better.
  • Go for Crazy • Think outside the box.
  • Broaden & Build • Allow one idea to stimulate another idea. Let one thing lead to another.

Now here’s the magic. The more possibilities we generate through brainstorming, even if we don’t end up pursuing them, the better we feel. The mere fact that possibilities exist is encouraging. We are not trapped and hopeless the way we thought. We are free and full of possibilities.

So positivity and possibility work together to make us feel better and lead us forward. That’s true regardless of whether or not you play with a coach. Playing with possibilities is an essential attribute of successful and happy people. If you want more good stuff in your life, then play with possibilities until the good stuff comes true.

Coaching Inquiries: How many possibilities are you aware of in life and work? What would assist you to brainstorm more possibilities? How could the generation of possibilities increase your positivity quotient? Who could become your brainstorming partner on the trek of life?

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

I am not sure we have met, maybe once for just a few moments, but I’ve been reading your Provisions for a long time. I am often struck by how relevant they are to my learning each week! However, this week’s Provision, Reframe the Negative, requires a response! The timing is just too remarkable. 

My task this morning is to craft our first assignment for the 50 ninth grade students participating in our high school completion program. (Of course, I checked my email before embarking on my task… a topic for another conversation!) The students were identified as at-risk for dropping out of school last spring and our programming begins now, although, their school-based advisors have been working with them throughout the summer doing fun get-to-know-you type activities. We are going to partner with a group of ninth graders in Senegal, Africa in a web-based social networking opportunity using Ning.

The students in Senegal tend to be diplomats’ and executives’ children • quite different life circumstances than our rural children here in Alabama! However, we see great possibilities for learning from each other. For the first activity, we decided to invite all of them to take pictures of their community • pictures of what they love and celebrate and pictures of what they wish were different (I am questioning this part of the assignment right now!) and to post their pictures to theNing. Once the pictures are posted, the students can begin sharing questions and comments with each other about their photos… Hopefully, a meaningful conversation will emerge…With tons of appreciation! Thanks.

I so enjoyed your ‘Reframing the Negative’ Provision. It reminded me of a story I was told by a client, the City of Grande Prairie, Northern Alberta. They had a project where they gave disposable cameras to street people, printed the photos and held a 3 day exhibit in a gallery downtown. I understand that it was a wonderful success and my client told me that the images that people photographed reminded her that regardless of the situation in your life • we all see beauty in nature and in friendships. A number of the ‘photographers’ said that they were so proud of their exhibit and that they at last had something to give back to their community. They were so proud of their accomplishments!!

Your letters on positive reframing really struck home with me. So many of the children I work with on the Gold Coast of Australia have come out of severely dysfunctional family frames and need some way to make sense of it. I’m sure your letters will be of great help to many of them • not to mention so many of the parents who read our weekly newsletters.

Thank you for keeping us “real” on this trek called life. The more we assert strategies like “framing for the positive”, the better off our world will be.

I, too, was deeply moved by the stories told at Ted Kennedy’s funeral. There is a photograph in Time magazine I have cut out of Ted Kennedy looking right at me (and you). When I am searching for something to help me reframe the negative, I will look at this picture and see him looking at me and I will hear his words • I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can’t do.

If ever I am searching for a coach I will call you first! Today’s Provision is especially beautiful, and as always, is filled with images and wise words. It is especially rich for me this day partly because my first wife has been in the hospital for over three weeks and still is seriously ill. Our three children, youngest is 40, are dealing with this in a magnificent way. As much as I want to be there with them and to •protect• them, I cannot. So, thank you for this piece on this Sunday morning! We can see the positive if we look. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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