(N.B. Unpublished. All rights reserved. ©2023 Phil D’Agostino.  no part of this article may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from Phil D’Agostino.  Phil@PhilDagostino.Net)

Living in the Realm-of-Possible Can Drive You Bonkers!

How to stay sane when facing difficult times

Let’s kill two myths right off the bat:

  1. We fear the unknown
  2. Anything is possible

We shall dismantle number one first as it leads us directly to number two.

It’s a commonly held belief that we fear the unknown. Many articles have been written to explain why. But the reality is that we do not fear the unknown. Are you skeptical? Do you drive a car? Ride in one? Cross the street in front of one coming at you? Do you know what will happen? No. Do you fear it? No. this would seem to be a very serious argument against the idea that we fear the unknown since we face dozens if not scores of unknowns every day and yet we plow headlong into them.

Think about it. What actually is an unknown? As silly as this may seem to be as a subject for consideration, many people have come up with very elaborate definitions when asked. Some have even become quite eloquent in their philosophical rendering of this concept. But the answer is really very simple.

The unknown is the absence of the known.

Okay, that seems a little simplistic. It is simple but not simplistic. Let’s go a little further. The future, which is every instant after this instant, is unknowable, so everything we do is facing the absence of what is known, or is the unknown. Using the driving of a car as an example; you get behind the wheel and turn it on. Do you know it will not blow up or burst into flames? No, but you turn it on anyway. You then put it in drive and take off, often tooling down a highway at eighty miles an hour. Do you know that you won’t hit something? Kill someone? Kill yourself? Or, that the car will not fly into pieces or your tire will blow out sending you into a careen? No; yet, you drive anyway. Why? More importantly, if we say we fear the unknown, why don’t we fear driving? Or even starting the car? Or getting out of bed? Because, that we fear the unknown is a myth! We don’t fear the unknown.

The unknown is an empty hole in our knowledge base, so there really isn’t anything to fear. But we often do feel fear under certain situations. When we do, what then do we fear if we don’t fear the unknown? It isn’t the empty hole we fear, it’s the negative outcome possibilities with which we fill that hole. For example, if my boss calls and tells me I have to be in her office to explain something that happened this morning, many of us would be terrified! We wouldn’t be able to sleep a wink or think straight until after that meeting. Do I know what’s going to happen? No, it’s unknown. In fact, it’s unknowable. So, what do I fear? Do any of these thoughts sound familiar:

  • “Oh, my gawd! I’m going to get fired!”
  • “I’m in big trouble I just know it!”
  • “I am such a loser. I’ll never get over this!”
  • This is horrible, awful, terrible!”

Did you notice all the exclamation points? These negative thoughts and outcome possibilities are filling that unknown with things you do fear. So, it isn’t the unknown. We fear what we fill that unknown with. Myth one, falls in abject ignominity.

Now for myth number two: Anything is possible.

Our culture is full of people who want us to be on a constant pursuit of doing or being better tomorrow than yesterday. They exhort us to learn more, strive more, work more and achieve more. Their clichéd motivator is, yes, “anything is possible.” I was discussing this point in front of a group and this young man told me how demotivating I am and ignorant it is to limit yourself by believing such rubbish as “No, not just anything is possible.” He in fact told me he believed it was and that’s just all there is to it. I asked him, if he wanted to fly off a building and land safely, that because he believed or wanted it enough, it would be possible. He thought a few seconds and said yes. I reminded him that I said fly off the building, not glide or ride, but, you know, jump off and fly. He stuck to his guns and said yes. I asked, “So, if you were to go to the top of the Empire State Building and jump, you believe that you could fly and land safely?” He thought some more and said, “Yes! I don’t know how, but anything is possible. I just don’t know how yet.” Here is how one can go bonkers living in the Realm-of-Possible.

While this seems to be a silly exchange, or that it is of little application as presented, let’s consider the first myth we debunked, that is that we fear the unknown, and add to it this concept that anything is possible together. You find a fertile seedbed for growing anxiety and depression. Some of us take an unknown, like what will happen tomorrow in my boss’s office, think about every possible outcome and play it out in our head as a negative outcome possibility. And, it is that, which we fear, dread or worry over.

How to not let it drive you bonkers

Challenging negative thinking is the underpinning of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.) There are several different ways to do that, of course, but one of the easiest is to get out of the Realm-of-Possible and get into the Realm-of-Probable.

What is this Realm-of-Probable? It’s where we live every day of our lives. When you get behind the wheel of a car, anything is possible? No? But that doesn’t stop us. Why not? Because we’ve done this so many times before, unconsciously we think “I’ve done this a gazillion times and nothing has gone wrong. The probability is extremely high that it will be just fine this time, too.” If I take a shower, isn’t it possible that I can slip and fall and hurt or even kill myself? Yes, anything is possible. But that doesn’t stop me because I unconsciously think “I’ve done this a gazillion times and nothing has gone wrong. The probability is extremely high that it will be just fine this time, too.” Do I know that as a fact? No. Remember that we realize that any instant that follows right now is unknowable, and so our outcome in the shower is an unknown. Yet, we live in the Realm-of-Probability not the Realm-of-Possibility, and so it doesn’t stop us.

So why do we let our minds do this? That is up for debate and outside the scope of our current discussion. And besides, what’s far more important is how to use this to keep ourselves from going bonkers. So, when you find yourself facing an important decision or event with significant impact possibility, remember to stay in the Realm-of-Probable. Think things like:

  • Isn’t it possible that I might be fired tomorrow? Maybe, but how likely (probable) is that really? I mean my boss has been upset about things before and people didn’t get fired. In fact, I don’t even know that she’s upset. That’s a presumption. Be real. It’s not likely.
  • But what if I were to be fired for real!? Isn’t it possible I’d be without work and lose my house? Maybe, but how likely is that? I have some money saved up, people would work with me until I got on my feet. The likelihood is that it would be a royal pain, but I’ll get through it. Afterall, I always have up to now.
  • Isn’t it possible that if I jumped off the Empire State Building, I could fly to safety? Maybe, but how likely is it that I would? Almost zero, so, I won’t be doing that.

Don’t be lured by the idea that anything is possible. Some things beyond our knowledge may very well be “possible,” but pursuing them could easily lead us into bad investments, relationships, career pursuits and a host of other things that we might later regret. So, when you’re feeling that sense of fear, dread or worry, remember to plant yourself firmly in the Realm-of-Probable and avoid driving yourself bonkers.