What assumptions are you making about your life, work, other people, yourself, family, friends, politics, and the thousands of other things in the world?
Since so many assumptions miss the mark, should we make assumptions at all? Is it even possible not to make them?
Let's look at assumptions, what they are, and how to deal with them in life.
What is an assumption?
What would the world be without assumptions? How could we avoid making them when they are integral to the human condition? Making assumptions is most often easier to do than taking the time needed to see reality,
Are you familiar with the old saying when you assume you "make an a**/u/me"? There is some truth to that. Yet it is inevitable that you will make many assumptions throughout life.
Did you know many believe that assumption is the lowest form of intelligence? What makes it so? Simply understanding its definition helps us understand.
assumption (noun) - a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof. Oxford Languages
In their most basic form, assumptions affect what you think and understand. An assumption is nothing more than a guess. Yes, let me repeat that.
An assumption is nothing more than a guess!
While assumptions can come from what we believe, they have little effect on our beliefs. Beliefs develop over the years based on faith, religion, or a system of thought. They are relatively stable, whereas assumptions are highly subject to change.
The upside and downside of assuming
Assumptions act as blinders, narrowing your ability to see and think. Some can completely blind you from understanding anything. Others can be like rose-colored glasses, coloring all you see. Then there are the very few assumptions that serve you.
Much of what you think about in life comes from the hidden assumptions you have formed. Subsequently, you make decisions based on what you assume to be true. While they may sometimes serve you, they can also distort your perception and be a disservice.
Did you know an assumption can shut down learning? You can close off further interest, exploration, and knowledge whenever you assume something is absolute. That stops the entire learning process.
Think about the old myth that limited some explorers because they thought the earth was flat. Others, the bravest, decided to test the assumption and prove it wrong. Yet even after it was proven wrong, some held on to this false assumption believing the myth, which continued to constrain them. So it is with many of us.
Making strict assumptions in certain areas of life will limit your thinking, your ability to learn and grow, and potentially your life journey.
Some assumptions can occasionally serve you, such as assuming you can do something because of past successes. Perhaps you have reached the level of competence in business and assume you are good at your job, do great work, and produce good results. These can be reasonable assumptions, provided they are grounded in reality.
Accepting something as true or certain to happen without proof can be innocuous or dangerous. Think about the things you may assume to be harmless. For example, it does little harm for you to assume the earth is flat. Yet, assuming you can do a triathlon after a week or two of preparation is unrealistic if you rarely exercise.
One of the most significant issues in making an assumption is when you no longer recognize it as a guess and take it as a fact.
"The problem with assumptions is that we believe they are the truth." Miguel Angel Ruiz (1952-present)
The best bet is to make very few assumptions. Remember they are merely guesses until you have all the information and can view it from every perspective. When fully understood, it is no longer an assumption but a reality.
When the assumption is about another person or group of people, you are playing in dangerous territory. Remember, you are merely guessing. It is too easy to dehumanize others by assuming something untrue. Eliminate assumptions from your life about other people. Better not to assume than look like a fool.
"Assumptions are the termites of relationships." Henry Winkler (1945-present)
Making assumptions about yourself can help or hurt. To assume you can do something you have never tried may be a good thing. But to assume you cannot do something can be self-limiting and stop you in your tracks.
Dealing with false assumptions
How do you overcome false and self-limiting assumptions? By curiosity. By asking questions. By removing those blinders or rose-colored glasses. By challenging your assumptions!
"Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won't come in." Alan Alda (1936-present)
A great resource is available if you wish to take an in-depth look into how assumptions influence your behaviors and life results. If you are interested, read the excellent book titled Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. Their book will walk you through an "immunity to change map" that can significantly affect how you see your life.
"The harder you fight to hold on to specific assumptions, the more likely there's gold in letting go of them." John Seely Brown (1940-present)
Let's discuss how you can begin uncovering and possibly changing some assumptions. A few basics are required – the right questions, genuine curiosity, the ability to keep an open mind, and the willingness to change. If you cannot embrace each of these, the attempt will end with no result or frustration. In doing the following exercise, please feel free to use the questions as-is or customize them to suit your needs.
Five steps to change an assumption
1. Identify the subject or behavior you want to examine and its assumption. If you are willing to look at broadening or changing the assumption, ask yourself and record your answers to the following question:
- "What do I believe about this subject or behavior?" Uncover the belief as fully as possible. A simple way to do this is, after naming and writing down the belief, ask:
- "What am I missing?" followed up with "And what else?" as many times as needed.
2. Let's suppose you uncovered an assumption that you don't think you are good enough to get promoted to your job's next level. Use introspective questions to uncover the assumption further. Ask yourself questions such as:
- "What does this say about what I believe?" "How do I see myself?" and "Why do I think this?"
3. Once you find the root of the assumption (it may be something like, "I just don't have what it takes."), question the assumption as thoroughly as possible. Ask yourself questions such as
- "Why don't I have confidence in myself?" "Do I need more education?" "Do I need more experience?" "Do I need to change my habit of not speaking up?" What else could it be?
When you have narrowed it down to the root issue, you are ready to begin working on the assumption.
4. Dispute the assumption. Let's say it's a lack of education or something else. Inquire:
- "What CAN I do?" Ask yourself this question repeatedly to exhaust the possibilities, striving for at least six responses. Make a list of as many "CAN DO" possibilities as you find.
5. Now that you have thoroughly inquired, you should better understand the assumption that has driven your thoughts. Use the list of possibilities (can-dos from step 4) and begin taking action to adjust or change the assumption.
Spend some time examining your assumptions. You can gain some life-changing understanding in the process. As an ancient Greek philosopher once said:
"The unexamined life is not worth living" Socrates (c. 470 -390 BC)
Examine and get rid of the wrong and false assumptions in your life. It is your choice to create a "life worth living."
In this kind of personal work, be sure to take in other people's perspectives. You are doing this not only for yourself but for everyone you care about as well.
I leave you with some final words of wisdom to consider as you think about your assumptions.
"The least questioned assumptions are often the most questionable" Paul Broca (1824-1880)
Which assumptions in your life are the least questioned? This is a great place to start and may help you chart a new course through life!