See More Clearly

Bill Abbate
Photo by rhoda alex on Unsplash

Did you know some "things" go unnoticed behind everything you say and do? They lurk in the background, out of sight, invisible, yet their effect on your life is dramatic. No, I am not talking about ghosts!

These unseen "things" affect every thought you have, day in and day out. Once you come to realize they are there and get to know them, you can gain control over them. Until then, they control you!

You know their name well. They affect every human being on the planet. Yet, because they are largely unexamined in our lives, we're relatively ignorant of them, unaware of their profound effect on us.

The name of these "things" in every life is --drum roll please…


What Exactly are Assumptions?

In their most basic form, assumptions affect how and what you see. They influence your thoughts and understanding of a subject and can affect your behavior. While assumptions can come from your beliefs, they do not necessarily influence them. Assumptions are those "things" you accept as true or believe will happen without proof.

Your thoughts are affected by the hidden assumptions you have formed. Subsequently, most of your decisions rest on what you assume to be true.

Assumptions often act as blinders, keeping you from fully seeing. In fact, some assumptions can completely blind you from seeing anything at all. Other assumptions are like rose-colored glasses, subtly coloring everything you see. But not all assumptions are flawed.

Did you know an assumption can completely shut you down? The assumption that something is absolute can close off further interest, exploration, and knowledge. This stops the entire learning process. But what if that assumption is false? There are many examples of this in history.

Think about the old myth that the earth is flat, a belief that limited some explorers! Others—but only the bravest—decided to test the assumption and prove it wrong. Yet even after it was proven wrong, some continue to cling to this false assumption believing the myth. Such thinking will constrain you.

If you have too many strict or fixed assumptions, you limit your thinking, your ability to learn and grow, and your life journey. There is much truth to the statement that assumption is the enemy of understanding. It is always good to question and examine the assumptions you hold.

When it comes to accurate or true assumptions, some can serve your life well. An example of this is when you know you can do something because you've had success in it before. The success could be in learning, growing, changing, creating, and other such things.

Perhaps you have reached the level of manager in the business world and assume you are good at your job, do great work, and produce great results for the company. Such assumptions can serve you well if they are true. There is nothing wrong with believing in yourself and your abilities!

Overcoming False Assumptions

"Until we know the assumptions in which we are drenched, we cannot know ourselves." Adrienne Rich(1929-2012)

How do you overcome wrong, false, self-limiting assumptions? By becoming curious. By asking questions. By removing the blinders or rose-colored glasses. By challenging your assumptions!

Let's discuss how you can uncover an assumption and possibly change it. A few basics are required. You need:

  • The right questions
  • Genuine curiosity
  • The ability to keep an open mind
  • The willingness to change

If you cannot embrace each of the above, the attempt will end with no result or frustration.

Feel free to use the following exercise and questions as-is or customize them to suit your needs.


Step 1. Name and explore the subject or behavior

Identify the subject or behavior for which you want to examine your underlying assumption(s). What do you believe about the subject? If you are absolutely firm in what you believe about the subject or behavior, choose another. Find an assumption you are willing to look at broadening or changing. When you have one, record your answers to the following questions:

  • What do I believe about this subject or behavior?
  • Why do I believe this?
  • From where does my belief come?
  • What am I missing?
  • Follow the last question with, "And what else?" as many times as needed.
  • Name or concisely describe your underlying assumption

Let's "assume" you have doubts that you are good enough to get promoted to the next level on your job. With this assumption identified, list what you believe underlies it. For example:

  • I do not have enough education
  • I lack confidence
  • I lack experience
  • I have not led others before.

Using introspective questions, uncover these beliefs further. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What does this say about what I believe?
  • What are my beliefs about this?
  • How am I seeing myself?
  • Why do I think this?

Step 2. Question your assumptions on the subject or behavior

Having uncovered your assumption (what you believe to be true), question the beliefs you listed as thoroughly as possible. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Why don't I have confidence in myself?
  • Do I really need more experience?
  • Do I really need additional education?
  • Do I really need previous leadership experience?
  • Do I need to change my habit of not speaking up?
  • Ask "And what else?" until you exhaust all of the possibilities.

Step 3. Dispute the assumption

Continuing with the above example of assuming you are not good enough for a promotion, overcome each answer supporting this self-limiting assumption by disputing it. For example:

  • It may be true I do not come across as confident as I know I could be, but I can and will work on this. I will immediately begin reading everything I can find to grow my confidence and assertiveness. I will also check out some of the great leadership courses online. While I am young, I refuse to let age stop me! I see myself growing even more once I get the promotion. Now ask yourself, "and what else?"
  • I already have some experience, and besides, no one has experience in a job until they do it! I will not allow this assumption to hinder my chance of getting the promotion. I know my boss had no experience doing his job when he got it. The same is true for almost everyone, so why should it be different for me? I know I can learn and gain the experience needed before or after the promotion! Now ask yourself, "and what else?"
  • I may not have an MBA, but I know I could do a great job, and not everyone has one in that position. I know I can function well at the next level. Now ask yourself, "and what else?"

At the end of each disputation, you will notice it is important to ask yourself, "and what else?" This question is crucial to disputing old, outdated, irrelevant assumptions. Attempt to gain several perspectives for each disputation by asking the question until you exhaust its possibilities. The longer the list you create, the more powerfully you will overcome those erroneous assumptions.

Final thoughts

By examining the assumptions in your life, you can overcome what a famous philosopher once claimed:

"The unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates (470-399 BC)

Examine your thoughts and beliefs using the above technique, and you will create a "life worth living." Why not start examining at least one area or behavior in your life? What is more important than shaping the rest of your life into something magnificent! The choice is yours!

This short article only touches on one technique for examining your assumptions. If you wish to take a deeper look into how assumptions influence your behaviors and the results of your life, check out Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. This book will walk you through a change map that will challenge existing assumptions, resulting in significant changes in your life.

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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