“You can do anything…”

With the implication that if you don’t, that was your choice. Your responsibility. Or if you’re being hard on yourself, it’s your fault you are stuck in the circumstances you’re in.

As I wrote the other day, there’s a sense of cruelty to this, not only because it’s not a gentle idea; it’s also simply not true.

We would like to believe adages like, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” They appeal because they offer the very seductive illusion of control: as long as you control how you react, you can do anything.

That leaves no room for the inexplicable, or an even starting line, or a lack of fortune. Sometimes, we just don’t know how. Sometimes, we just don’t have the right person supporting us, or the fortunate sense of timing. Sometimes, our efforts go for naught.

Moreover, sometimes, letting go of control is the best solution. (Lots of books on this topic—my favorite is Trying Not to Try.)

That’s no reason to give up stirring the pot, of course. Your unluckiness is likely to run out, even briefly at some point, as long as you keep at it. As long as you stay open to new approaches, to trust your intuitive hunches, to break whatever patterns you’ve fallen into.

You also need to remain believing in yourself; after all, what you think of yourself can affect your performance (see creative self-efficacy).

I set out to write about expectations and beliefs because I wanted to find the psychological, practical, and widely applicable sets of frameworks, heuristics, and principles for people to unlock their potential and increase their efficacy in themselves. 

There is a line between, “You can do anything,” and, “You can raise your expectations of yourself.” 

Knowing where to draw that line for yourself, understanding what to expect of your current and future selves, assessing your strengths and potential, adapting to opportunities and remaining open, and finding and rallying people to support you in raising that expectation and meeting it, seems to be the way to go.

Then, maybe, you can do some of the things you want, closer to the vision you want. (But if your vision is too perfect, maybe never actually there—see the parable of the architect who burned his plans.)

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