Focus on the Impossible


The Other

I think many people really misunderstand what it means for something to be impossible. It’s a problem that leads people to impose limitations on the actions they take in life that they shouldn’t. If you think something is impossible to do, you won’t try to do it. Ultimately, this makes you miss out on great life experiences and opportunities.

The Impossible Becoming Real

Throughout history many things people once thought were impossible turned out to be completely wrong. At one time all Europeans “knew” that swans could only be white. They considered it impossible for them to be any other color. That is, until Willem de Vlamingh, a Dutch explorer, ventured down an Australian river in 1697 and found thousands of black swans.

The Wright brothers were discouraged from experimenting with flight because it was considered impossible. Walking on the moon, running a four minute mile and the rise of personal computing were all once thought impossible too. Even gorillas were at one time considered to be only mythical until their discovery.

Of course these are all famous examples of people overcoming others’ disbelief. But what about all the times you shrug off something you want to do as being impossible? For all you know, you could be stopping yourself from doing something truly groundbreaking.

Why Focus on the Impossible

The things you think are impossible to do often aren’t impossible, simply difficult. When you label something as “impossible” to do, you give up trying to accomplish it. After all, why should you put effort into something that won’t ever happen?

The trouble with labeling something as “impossible” is often that it’s just an excuse, not reality. It’s an easy way for you to give up on something difficult or justify your own self-doubt.

Giving up on doing things simply because they are difficult is not a good way to live an extraordinary life. It’s those difficult things that make life worth living. The more things you mark as “impossible” and give up on, the more limits you’re putting on where you can take your life.

Why People Believe Some Things are Impossible

There are people who really do see something as “impossible” and believe it. To them, it’s not an excuse, but a fact. And there is a good reason they believe it: they can only believe what actual physical experience tells them and not their imagination.

Let’s say that you want to be a stand-up comedian. You watch others do it and they make it look so effortless. You work on some material for several months, practice several times in front of your friends and family and finally decide to try it out on a live audience. You’re confidence and expectations are high. In the end though, you get a lukewarm or even cold response from the audience. What happened?

Some people would conclude that they just don’t have what it takes to be a stand-up comedian. Perhaps you just don’t know what’s really funny. And since you don’t know what’s really funny, becoming a stand-up comedian is something that would be impossible for you to accomplish.

This is faulty logic for two reasons. You’d be comparing yourself to comedians who have worked on their material for years. They slowly weeded out the bad parts to their routine and introduced better, stronger jokes. It’s not something they put together in a few months.

Secondly, jumping to a conclusion early about something you’ve only attempted a few times is premature. It’s like trying to pick out Major League baseball players in a team of eight year olds. You have to give it time and a lot of attempts before you can really assess yourself.

It’s like the old phrase, “I’ll believe it, when I see it”. People only believe what they see. And if they see something as being too hard, they can misinterpret it. People can often be poor judges of their own capabilities or how things work in the real world.

Believing in the Impossible

Take a look at some of the things you’ve done in your life. If you search long and hard enough, you’ll find things you’ve done that others have blown off as impossible. Some examples include graduating from college, traveling to an exotic country, getting a good job or getting a hot date.

If you’ve done one of these, you probably don’t realize how hard it is for others to do them. Other people have discounted these things as “impossible” for them to do. You need to realize that you can fall right into the same mindset as they did.

Ignore that mindset and believe in your imagination. Be aware of the possibility that you’re putting self-imposed limitations on yourself by what you think is impossible to do. Take a chance on yourself and keep going. You’ll probably be surprised about what you’re actually capable of doing.

When it comes to thinking about the impossible, I like to use this quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

“There is no use trying, said Alice; one can’t believe impossible things. I dare say you haven’t had much practice, said the Queen. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
photo credit: teotwawki

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  1. I love the Alice in Wonderland quote and the stand up comedian analogy. This is such a good read for anyone trying to make a change and encountering the early setbacks to differentiate between impossible and difficult!

    • I love the Alice in Wonderland quote too. I get a lot of inspiration from the quote whenever I think I can’t do something. It’s just one way I keep the impossible in perspective.

  2. Focusing on impossible takes you to wonderland, of course. Enriching post I must say.

  3. Great post! What is really crazy is that even though friends/family see me do seemingly impossible things, they STILL consider it impossible. That there is some reason/excuse as to why I could do it but THEY couldn’t.

    • I’ve also noticed that some people think what I do is possible for me, but impossible for them. I don’t quite understand why though since many of the things I’ve done were just difficult. And even if I explain that to them, they don’t really see it from that point of view.

  4. Interesting post Steve, and I for one am a person who likes to think big but at times have still limited myself to what I foresee as being achievable. Rocket ships to the moon was one that comes to mind. Something that only seemed possible by the creators of a cartoon or sci-fi movies only 80-90 years ago was achieved only a few decades latter, because as a collective the American people decided to do it. I’m a dreamer, always have been and always seem to bite off a little more than I can chew at first, but in time what seemed difficult (whatever task that may be), becomes normal.

  5. Awesome post Steve. Great insight. “Believe in the impossible” Powerful stuff. Countless examples show that beliefs create our reality – placebo effect, self-fulfilling prophecy, even general expectations shape the world we live in. Believing in the impossible really opens the door to a limitless life.

    @Miranda I love the Alice and Wonderland quote too. My favorite quote is when Alice looks at the Hatter and says, “this is impossible” – he replies, “Only if you believe it is.”

    Great post Steve and great site name – it’s what caught my attention.


    • I like that quote from Alice in Wonderland too. There are a lot of good quotes from that book.

      Beliefs and general expectations really can shape our reality. That’s why I think it is a very limiting mindset to keep saying that something is impossible. If you change around that focus, you can make your life limitless.

  6. “Other people have discounted these things as “impossible” for them to do. You need to realize that you can fall right into the same mindset as they did.”

    So true! How many times have we heard people say “I could never do that,” but in their eyes, you can see they wish they’d allow themselves to try! I have begun to examine what I’ve written off as “impossible,” in my own life, and just letting myself at least try has changed my whole paradigm.

    I just discovered your blog, but had to subscribe I love it so much! :) I have a feeling I will have to feature you on my next blog roundup so my readers can enjoy your inspiration.

    • Hi Ruby, I’m glad you like the blog.

      I know what you mean about trying. I’ve done volunteer work in high school with students who have just given up trying to learn because they see learning as impossible for them to do. And I know that if they would just listen to the directions and try that they would see more success. It’s hard to get that across though. At least it’s made me try more often in my own life.

  7. The last two years I’ve been living my life in ways most people feel is impossible and I have to say, I love every part of it, the good and bad. Life is entirely way too short not to strive for the impossible, however improbable. Fear is one hell of a prison.

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