How Making Assumptions Can Influence the Life We Lead

Making assumptions is easy. It’s a shortcut.

But making assumptions and not checking the facts can easily backfire. Because assumptions are nothing else than stories we tell ourselves, and they remain stories until we check the facts.

Making assumptions in communication, in a relationship, in the professional life, etc. can easily backfire and, as a consequence, impact the lives we lead.

Following is a succession of stories: examples of making assumptions and how to avoid making these asumptions. We hope they will make you stop and reflect. And, even better, next time you’ll catch yourself making assumptions, you stop, reflect, and challenge them.

 

Who are we but the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, and believe?

Scott Turow, Ordinary Heroes

 

We all love a good story

 

A good story has the power to draw us in, connect with the characters and their emotions, making us eager to accompany them over every hurdle and cheer them on, all the way to the very end. It doesn’t even matter if the story is true or not, we want to be part of it because it somehow makes us feel alive. It may even inspire us to change something in our own lives, and that feels empowering.





But there are many types of stories, and not all of them leave us feeling warm and fuzzy, or inspired. We don’t need to go as far as politics, the media or commercial tactics to understand just how impactful, and manipulative some stories can be. We just need to look at the stories we tell ourselves to understand the way they shape our lives, for better or for worse.

 

Making Assumptions – The stories we tell ourselves




Human beings have a magnificent and powerful capacity: imagination. We can project ourselves into the future and imagine the impact a particular decision may have, before we even take it. We can imagine different scenarios and different outcomes, and even if reality will probably turn out to be very different, connecting with the various options is a reassuring way to make decisions and move forward.

But what is the origin of this faculty we have, and how might it be creating problems for us now?

 

 

Stories as a survival strategy

 

Our vital capacity to create a story makes a lot of sense when we look back at the living conditions our ancestors had to deal with thousands of years ago. Danger was much more prominent and we had to be ready to fight or run for our lives on a daily basis. We did not have the luxury of time to gather as much information as possible regarding a potentially threatening situation. We took the little information we had and our brain filled in the rest so that we could react quickly.

Did we hear a threatening growl? Did we get a glimpse of something large moving behind the trees? Our brain would sound the alarm, picturing the scariest predator in our memory’s repertoire. Whether the picture was right or wrong wasn’t important, it was the warning signal that was our lifesaver. There was no room for the benefit of doubt. Sticking around to get the full picture was often way too risky.




In today’s environment, however, this primitive instinct to fill in the blanks can play tricks on us. Tricks that can have a huge impact on the way we perceive the world and live our lives.

 

What story do you live in?




The reason that our own stories are so powerful is because we tend to believe them. We think that we have a clear understanding of a situation regarding others, and ourselves, and based on this knowledge we come to a number of conclusions. We rarely stop, however, to think about just how factual (or complete) this information really is (if we are making assumptions or id we are reasoning based on solid cold facts).

The beliefs we have about ourselves, our strengths and our weaknesses, our character traits and our faculties to change, rarely stem from reliable sources. They are built on experience. Maybe we overheard something unpleasant people said about us, or we get stuck on that one event that did not go too well. To create a damaging belief, it doesn’t take many occurrences. It can take as little as one. Once we plant the seed of belief in our brain, we focus on finding confirmation. It’s much easier to confirm a belief, than to question it, because we do this at a subconscious level. It does not require active challenging, and that’s where the danger lies.

So if the stories we tell ourselves are really based on beliefs or us making assumptions, and these stories are holding us back, how hard would it be to change the story we live in?

Our Stories

 

The most powerful stories may be the ones we tell ourselves.

Brené Brown

 

The most powerful stories may be the ones we tell ourselves. -Brené Brown #selfawareness #selfdevelopment Click To Tweet

 

Do we have to change beliefs to change our story?

 

Changing our story does take a shift in our mindset, and this sounds like a very hard thing to do. We hear about motivational gurus advocating a better and more positive way of thinking. But this takes conviction, and how can you convince yourself to change a belief that seems deeply ingrained? Beliefs are emotional things, not analytical ones, so simply deciding to think differently seems virtually impossible.





Just because provoking change takes some sort of shift, doesn’t mean it needs an overpowering tsunami to have an effect. We don’t have to turn our world upside down and question everything we ever believed in. That would not only be very challenging, it would be absurd. The beliefs that are worth reviewing are the ones holding us back, not the ones that have a positive impact on our lives. What would be the point?

 

Making Assumptions: Challenging negative beliefs starts with one simple question




Changing a mindset starts with a challenge, and what better way to challenge a belief than by asking a question? When we are telling ourselves a story that is made up of obstacles, and we are in a mindset that makes us truly believe that those obstacles are there, try asking yourself this simple question: “Is this story based on pure facts or am I possibly making an assumption?”

If you can’t back up your beliefs with concrete facts (and someone else’s opinion about you certainly isn’t one), then acknowledging the idea that you are making an assumption is actually quite empowering.

Even if it shakes your belief system a bit, you are suddenly in a position to have an impact on that story you are telling yourself.

 

Searching for the truth

 

Now that you have established that the story is just a story, you have the power to change it. The question is, do you want to? In other words, does it serve a purpose or does it hold you back? Sure, you can go on a quest to try and find the truth, but chances are, there isn’t one truth to find… unless you are doing some scientific research. A more pressing question is whether or not the truth, or the story, is actually useful to you.




If this is not the case, then making assumptions has a lot better things to offer.

 

If we assume one thing, we can assume the opposite

 

I once had a client who only saw barriers to everything she would have wanted to do. After a 5 minute monologue stating all the reasons why she would not be able to follow her desires, I asked her that very simple question: “Are these statements based on facts, or are you just making assumptions?”





It did not take long for her to admit to herself that her beliefs were based on assumptions. I then suggested – seeing that we were making assumptions anyway – that she might try to assume the opposite, just to see how that would look and feel. Her whole body language and expression changed instantly. “Anything is possible” was her reply. In a matter of moments, her mindset had changed, and she saw the benefit of giving her beliefs a bit of doubt. At least, now she did not feel like a victim of circumstance, with no control over her future. Now she could take action and see where that would take her.

 

Taking ownership of our story and making it real




Once we realize that we are making assumptions, that our story is just that, a story, it gives us the opportunity to change it, and that’s empowering. Although we cannot control everything that happens in our lives, focusing on the things that we can impact changes our story tremendously. Taking ownership of our story is the starting point.

Now we can move from a scenario where we are the victim, who has no control over their life, to that of the hero, who takes matters into their own hands and understands how to avoid making assumptions.

Just like in every story, the hero can only impact the things within his or her control, so it’s not about creating the land of rainbows and unicorns. It’s about getting out of our own way so that the hurdles we need to overcome are real ones, and not the ones we fabricate which serve no purpose but to hold us back.

 

Take the quiz  below, and find out if you’re making assumptions that are getting in your way.

If you were offered an opportunity to take on a new job in a sector that you are not very familiar with, but were really interested in, what would be your reaction?

 

 

We often assume that we cannot handle a situation because we don’t have the knowledge, and we prefer to decline an offer rather than risk exposing our “ignorance”. Our fear of looking like a fraud is based on the assumptions that people will judge us at the first sign of weakness. Whether they will or will not judge us is actually irrelevant because we already judge ourselves so harshly that deep down, we truly believe we are frauds.

Rather than value ourselves for what we can do with our brain, we value what it contains, so knowledge becomes the measurement of competence rather than the ability to ask insightful questions and help solve complex situations.

There is a very valuable element to “not knowing”, because it provokes questions that help bring hidden angles to light. Something we assume being a weakness can be a very valuable asset, but we tend not to see it that way… and we’re pretty sure no one else will, either.



You walk by the cafeteria at 10 am and see a colleague there with someone, chatting away and laughing. At 10:45 you walk by their office and notice that it is empty. What will most likely go through your mind?

 

 

Our brain doesn’t like “not knowing”. This is why it is really difficult not to speculate about people or situations when we are faced with incomplete information. Assuming something (no matter whether it’s good or bad) is a natural reaction of our subconscious mind. It takes a very conscious effort not to fill in the blanks, so most of the time we are not even aware of what we’re doing.
 

Making an assumption isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem is when these are limiting assumptions, reducing our perspective to a one-sided opinion. In this case, maybe our colleague does spend a lot of time laughing and talking to people, but this doesn’t mean that he is not being efficient at work. Maybe he is creating stronger bonds with people so that working together is easier. Maybe he is having entertaining conversations that are nonetheless work related. Maybe he just has a different way of getting things done than you do. Either way, there is always another side to the story, and you may be surprised by the positive impact which discovering that hidden perspective could have on you.


 

There is one thing in particular that you have been struggling with for quite some time. Whether it be a few kilos too many, the desire to stop smoking or just getting your desk in order, you have made several attempts at provoking change but have been unsuccessful so far. What is your current state of mind?

 

 

When it comes to provoking change for ourselves, every attempt that leads to failure tends to bring us down. Our mind-set and beliefs are based on experience, so the more often we fall and crash, the less we will believe that we can do otherwise. 

Again, these are beliefs, they are not facts, and they are limiting us from moving forward. Sure, we read about failure being the “stepping stones” to success in business, but when it comes to our own little selves, it sure doesn’t feel like it. Failure feels bad, and the worse we feel, the less we are likely to try again.

Provoking change is tough if we believe it’s tough. It’s also tough if we try to provoke change for the wrong reasons. But most of all, change is difficult if we assume that our previous failures define us for who we are, rather than give us substance to learn and do better the next time.


 

Imagine the company you work for has a bad company culture. People don’t communicate well, they complain a lot and no one really makes an effort to improve the situation. What will your thoughts on the matter most likely be?

 

 

One of the biggest limiting assumptions we have, is that we think we cannot influence the world around us. We tend to feel helpless when it comes to changing our environment, so we don’t even try. Maybe it’s because we have been told since we were very young that “you can’t change people” or “that’s just how the world works”, but we truly believe that our impact is limited to what we can do for ourselves.



These beliefs are not facts, they are limiting assumptions. We all have an impact on the world around us, whether it is by provoking change or doing nothing.  When it comes to company culture, for example, no one seems to think that they can have an impact, whereas everyone actually can. Culture is a dynamic thing, it is not something defined or imposed by a higher power, it is something created and adapted by the people. If you consider how art and music, technological devices and certain household products have totally changed our culture, sometimes over a very short period of time, it becomes clear that cultural change can happen at any level and by anyone’s initiation.


 

You come home tired after a busy day, and your brother calls you on the phone to complain about his difficult relationship with your father. He goes on and on, and you are tired of hearing the same complaints over and over again. What will your reaction be?

 

 

When people come to us with complaints, we tend to think that they expect something of us. After all, they come with a problem, so they must want us to help them fix it. So, at least in the beginning, we give them advice and try to help them out. When things go on, endlessly, and our advice isn’t taken into account, we come to the conclusion that they don’t really want our advice and just want to talk. So then we have the option to just listen, or turn them away.

What we rarely do, is to consider that there might be another way to handle the situation. We assume that we know all the options: to either empathize, advise, challenge, or walk away… and because we can’t think of anything else to do, we assume we need to choose one of those ways.



When we don’t like any of the options in front of us, chances are that there are others that we can’t see. If the answers to your question “what should I do” aren’t satisfying, then maybe there is a better question to be asked, like “what other options do I have” or “where could I find a better approach to dealing with this situation?”

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