The Art of the Possimpible*

Mar 5, 2013   //   by Steve Wooding   //   A Slice of Lemon, Articles  //  No Comments

Can OpenerIN SHORT: Changing our words really can change our world!

 “The difference between ‘can’t’ and ‘can’ is that ‘can’t’ requires a lot of certainty while ‘can’ just asks for a little possibility.”


(~841 words, approx 5-8 mins to read.)

Last time we discovered that the general assumption that words are just tools for describing our experience isn’t true and that in fact the words we use also define our experience too. I promised that this time we’d dig into that a little more and discover how we can use that to our advantage.

Let’s look at a simple statement:

“I could never do that!”

Remember the times you may have heard someone say it, or found yourself saying it.

Your list of occurrences might include some of the times I’ve actually heard it said:

  • having to give a presentation or speech
  • expressing an opinion in a meeting
  • dealing with conflict
  • cleaning out smelly drains
  • running a marathon
  • cleaning and dressing a serious wound

By saying “I could never…” the speaker has put the activity in question in a large box labelled “Impossible Things.” You might want to argue that much of the list I’ve given you above fits instead into the box of “Things I’m Very Afraid Of.” However, I’d posit that while you may be on to something, that latter category is actually a subset of the first one in the mind of the speaker because of the little bit of reasoning they’re doing, possibly unconsciously, which goes something like this:

“I feel very afraid of that and because I can’t imagine admitting to the fear, getting over it, or facing and dealing with it, it’s easier for me to believe that the thing itself is impossible.”

And I find that very interesting, because essentially they’ve popped whatever ‘that’ is into the same box as spontaneously sprouting wings and taking to the air or growing a second head which are, in the normal universe, truly impossible. Because if we didn’t put ‘that’ in the category of “Impossible Things” it would automatically have to be in the opposite category of “Possible Things” instead and that would mean we’d have to change that little sentence from “I could never do that” to the following:

“I won’t do that.”

I know from experience when I’ve explained this in face-to-face conversations that some people find that a provocative thing for me to say and that’s because it highlights the fact that the impossibility of ‘that’ is something we created ourselves simply as a result of the way we chose to describe ‘that’.

And that has implications: if you’ve decided that you could ‘never’ do something, it means that just as the people we spoke about last time can’t tell the difference between blue and green, you won’t see the latent capabilities inherent in yourself or the possibilities offered by a genuine opportunity to grow or try something new – you’ve robbed yourself of the ability to distinguish things that might take time and effort and some change, all of which are actually possible, from truly “Impossible Things.”

Take running a marathon for example. Before late 2007 I had never run more than 5 miles or walked more than about 10 miles in one go in my entire life, and it’d been a while since I’d done even that. Yet about 18 months later, at 40 years old, I ran and completed my first marathon.

Whilst it’s true I had no experience of marathons to look back on and therefore no real proof that I could actually do it, that didn’t mean it had to go into the “Impossible Things” box. On the contrary it had to go into the “Possible Things” box precisely because I hadn’t yet proved it to be impossible.

And the way I, and countless others have done, made sure it didn’t go anywhere near the “Impossible” slot was to start by changing the way I thought about it to myself and spoke about it to others. Instead of something “I could never do”, it was something “I haven’t tried yet”. Before long it became something “I haven’t done yet, ” and finally became something “I have done.”

Let’s take a look at those phrases in a little more detail.

  • “I haven’t tried yet” creates the possibility of having a go, and the ‘yet’ subtly implants the idea that at some point in the future I will have at least attempted it.
  • “I haven’t done yet” moves me on to something I’ve actually begun to find out what I’d need to learn or change in order to do it, or in this case have started training, and the ‘yet’ reinforces the idea that at some point I will have done it
  • “I have done” is what you get to say when you’ve actually done it and, having kept it out of “Impossible”, moved it from “Possible” into “Accomplished!”

Because I talked about the task differently, I thought about it differently and therefore I felt about it differently too.

No matter whether it’s a presentation, conflict situation, marathon, flying or something from your own “I can’t…” list, start by putting it on your “I’ve not done that yet” list instead and notice the beginnings of a shift towards the “Accomplished!” category.

Changing our words really can change our world!

Until next time,


ps. If you’ve been on one of our “Taxi..!” workshops you’ll have experienced a number of other ways of changing words to change worlds too. And if you’ve not, look out for the next workshop!


* Possimpible is, according to Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother #4.12), “the place where the possible and impossible meet,” because, “nothing, and everything, is possimpible.”


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