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Deciding what to do? Consider what's possible, probable and desirable

29/02/2020
Andrew Outhwaite

What to do?

How to decide what to do?

Yesterday I spoke to three different friends about decisions: careers, intimate relationships, and business strategy.

After talking with each I felt clearer about the difference between what’s:

  • possible,
  • probable and
  • desirable.

We were paying more or less attention to each aspect during our conversations. Afterwards I realised it was helpful in discussing and deciding to shift attention between each and signal when we were doing so. Doing so made options clearer, decisions quicker and implications more obvious.

I hope this helps you too?

Possible.

Anything’s possible, really. Then in specific situations, such as careers, there are ‘rules’ or ‘laws’ so not everything is possible.

What IS possible, which is usually much more than what YOU THINK is possible: to become the president, to be sacked tomorrow, or be head-hunted into an entirely different industry, for your company to be bankrupted.

Often people conflate what’s possible with what’s probable. It can be uncomfortable to acknowledge one’s own full potential, or to acknowledge all that could go wrong. All that’s possible is also a very long list so can just be overwhelming. What’s possible is a very big circle. So there are lots of reasons not to pay attention to all that’s possible.

But what's possible really is possible, it's true, reality. And being open to that means you allow for the improbable, but desirable to become actual. Like believing it is possible you will find someone to love and marry, even if you personal history says it's improbable.

Probable.

What’s probable is less than what’s possible. Based on analysis of history and a sense of the current conditions, one can calculate the likelihood of two particular people get married or that a particular business strategy will work. There’s a whole lot of possibilities that are very unlikely, and improbable e.g. only 1% chance.

A strategy could possibly work, but is it probable that it will work: in this specific situation, this organisation, at this time, in this market and culture, with this leadership, with these assets and resources?

In making decisions about intimate relationships I have a strong bias towards a sense of possibility. I can tend to give less attention to patterns in history, incompatibilities, and even what my partner's sense of possibility or probability is. Our experience and perception affects what's desirable and whether it's 'worth it'.

Desirable.

Now. Here. This moment. This situation. What do you want? What do you intend will happen? What are you willing to commit your life, time, energy to?

History is filled with people who’ve realised their heart's desires. There are countless examples of people desiring and doing the improbable. And in every field people have redefined what is possible through their force of their desire, commitment and intelligence.

Whatever is possible, probable, what and how much you desire it to be so is critical. You have to decide if you want to make it actual.

This is now. Personal. Experiential. Not abstract. Not for later. Not ‘possible’ according to fundamental laws of physics, nor ‘probable’ based on statistics.

It’s what you, now, actually want. Owning it completely, taking responsibility. Regardless of what’s possible or probable, be clear on what you want, what it means and what you are up for.

So, make a decision and take action.

Because decisions aren't for themselves, they are to create a different meaning, experience, and direct your attention and action.

You are a participant in life, not an observer.

You are also not the whole picture, so be prepared that your desires may turn out to have been improbable.

And realise the consequences of your actions for what is then probable or possible.

After the conversations I realised I was:

  • hoping things would happen, because they were possible, but wasn't actively taking action to make them MORE probable,
  • limiting my desires to what was probable. Really much more was possible, but not if I didn't allow it and act towards it,
  • pursuing strategies that were improbable. Objective, historical analysis and forecasts showed they were unlikely to succeed.

Recognising this allowed me to change strategies or adjust desires and commitments. I made some corrections. Changed my thinking, am taking different actions.

What we do has profound implications for our experience and future possibilities.

How we think has profound implications for what's possible for us and what we do.

So, everything’s possible, some things are more probable, a smaller subset is likely desirable and only ONE thing is ever actual.

Some ways in which to use this in making decisions:

  • If feeling hemmed in and not liking any of the options, open up and pay more attention to what’s possible,
  • If unsure about what will work and what's going to be more probable and easier, do some analysis based on history and present conditions,
  • If knowing all the options, possibilities and probabilities yet still being indecisive, consider: are you being honest, are you really taking full responsibility, and are you clear about what’s personally desirable?

Whatever you do, actually make a decision, and act now.

There is no later.

If you wait the conditions will be different.

What you do now defines what’s possible in the next moment.

If you break up, other relationships are possible. If you choose this strategy, it may be irreversible. If you don’t go for this job, you won’t get it.

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