What does it mean to throw off the impossible?
Well, there are many ways the impossible can creep into our days, leaving us feeling incapable, unmotivated, and confused.
Let’s look at some of the most common impossibilities…
1. Holding yourself to sky-high expectations.
For instance, if you’re trying to do something without displeasing anyone, this is a thoroughly unreasonable expectation to hold yourself to.
As that wise adage, passed down through the ages, reminds us, haters gonna hate.
Or less cynically, people like different things!
And someone’s preferences and comfort level aren’t a measure of anything besides that person’s preferences and comfort level.
They’re not a measure of your worth.
If you grew up in a wounded family system where you were expected to cater to other people’s needs out of fear of being punished/rejected/etc…
…displeasing someone can feel like basically the worst thing ever, but trying to live a life that makes as little waves as possible disconnects us from our joy, purpose, and natural vitality.
2. Holding yourself to ill-defined, moving-target expectations.
This, again, is a hallmark of a wounded family system where people are often living under rigid rules that must never be broken…
…but the rules either change, depending on the moods of the adults, or they’re unspoken.
In either case, shifting or uncommunicated rules are pretty hard to follow!
This setup can leave us feeling like we’re walking on eggshells, with disaster ever around the corner.
We then live in failure-avoidance mode, which keeps us playing it small and safe, curbing our natural curiosity and creativity in favor of sticking to what we already know.
3. Preferencing fantasy aspirations over the life we’re currently living.
You might even say this is the driving force of capitalist culture: always working toward that next shiny thing that will complete us. Until the next shiny thing, that is.
When we’re continually stoking this fire, such as through the stimuli we intake regularly (social media, I’m lookin’ at you)…
…our authentic desires and the pursuits that are personally meaningful to us get tangled up with culturally sanctioned shoulds and what “everyone else” thinks is important.
If we don’t know how to separate the two, we might be chasing the impossible in the form of goals we don’t truly care about, and then we’re left wondering why we’re unsatisfied when we cross someone else’s finish line.
(This can also fuel imposter syndrome, because our accomplishments feel hollow and as if they don’t really belong to us.)
4. Staying loyal to unworkable situations.
This is another one that can often be traced back to wounded family systems where unworkable situations were the norm.
For instance, perhaps people don’t set boundaries in your family. Instead, they communicate what they need through passive-aggressive comments and behavior, yet people are expected to feel safe and connected within these situations.
This is an unreasonable expectation.
If this was how you grew up, it’s easy to blame or shame yourself, thinking that if only you [fill in the blank] a little harder or better, then things will work.
If we carry this programming into our adult lives, we might find that we’re pouring time and effort into getting unworkable things to work.
Maybe we’re trying to change someone who isn’t indicating that they have the willingness and the dedicated follow through to change. We might cling to potential, ignoring the current reality.
Maybe we’re “making up the difference” by compensating for what others aren’t able or willing to bring to a relationship.
For instance, perhaps someone is flaky and unreliable, so to make the relationship “work,” we’re perennially available at the drop of a hat, because if we’re not, who knows when they’ll be “available” again?
For me, throwing off the impossible is a regular practice, kinda like brushing my teeth.
It’s not just a once and done sort of thing.
Here are some suggestions for coming back to the possible…
Start to learn your personal cues that indicate the presence of sky-high expectations.
For me, if I’m feeling draggy and unmotivated, yet I can’t let myself rest (often there’s an agitated, urgent feeling bubbling under the surface), this is a red flag.
If I break down these feelings…
The dragginess stems from feeling disconnected from the goal I’m toiling toward. On an unconscious level, I don’t find it personally meaningful.
There’s also a (often unconscious) feeling of hopelessness, because what I’m expecting of myself is so unreasonable, and a part of me “knows” this, which manifests in the form of feeling unmotivated.
But because the sky-high expectation seems like “the way life is,” I feel like I have no choice but to meet it, hence the avoidance of rest and the urgent, pushing energy.
Do the same with ill-defined, moving-target expectations, looking for your personal cues.
For me, these can trigger similar feelings as their sky-high cousins, but I’ve also noticed that confusion and procrastination are biggies here.
When I don’t really know what I’m working toward (but I’m not fully conscious of this), I find myself avoiding sitting down to do the work.
And this makes sense because I don’t really know what the work is!
For instance, maybe I want to improve my business, so I task myself with sitting down to figure things out.
But what, exactly, am I figuring out? General ways to improve? I mean, this is so vague-sauce, it pretty much guarantees I’ll draw a giant blank.
If I wanted to, say, increase the number of newsletter subscribers–now there’s a tangible goal that I can work toward.
When you learn your personal cues, you can get curious about your expectations and goals.
Are they ridiculously high?
Or perhaps they’re theoretically doable, but they need to be broken down into much smaller chunks with a more generous time frame.
Are your expectations or goals ill defined?
If so, how can you get more clear on what done looks like?
This is another place where breaking bigger goals down into smaller chunks is super useful, because each of those chunks is now a mini finish line, helping you stay clear on when something is done.
For instance, if your larger goal is revamping your website, unless you break that down into smaller chunks, you’ll find yourself hopping from one bit to the next, to the next, losing traction and feeling scattered.
Contrast this to having clearly defined mini goals written down, like, “Update the photo on my about page.” Once you have a new photo up there, that task is done.
No more popping back to the about page just to tweak it a little…meanwhile forgetting what you were doing over on the home page…and then messing with the font on the contact form…
Before you know it, you’re feeling frazzled, and this seems like a great time to go do something–anything–else, and the website sits untouched for weeks.
Are you trying to get an unworkable situation to work?
Some of the ways I explore this question is by paying attention to areas where I feel resentful and drained.
I look at what I feel like I “have” to do or deliver in these interactions, otherwise things might not go well. Journaling can really help me tease out the threads.
And then, I experiment with doing these “have tos” less, and I see what happens.
If applicable, I let other people know what I’ll be doing differently, such as, “I’m not able to come to brunch every weekend.”
If a situation can only function when I do things that leave me feeling resentful and drained, that’s unworkable.
This is an invitation to change what I’m bringing to the interaction, communicate my needs clearly, and, in some cases, work with the other people involved to shift the dynamic.
And if other people aren’t willing or able to do this with me, then I make choices around how much I want to be involved, if at all.
(Therapy can be incredibly useful here, especially if these dynamics are with family members or are replays of family patterns.)
Life is challenging enough. We don’t need to turn the difficulty dial all the way up by expecting ourselves to do the impossible.
You are enough.
You always have been, and you always will.
You don’t need to earn or prove your worth by tackling impossible goals.
Coming back to the possible cultivates an inner sense of, “I’m capable. I can do this.”
It allows us to focus on what’s working rather than fixating on the unworkable.
It welcomes more satisfaction and joy into our days, instead of fueling fears of lack and not enoughness.
And it’s a regular practice, something we come back to again and again.