Down a rabbit hole – why assumptions and faulty assessments lead to stressful states or situations
In a world filled with drama and laced with large doses of stress, have you ever considered how your assumptions could be feeding into the commotion?
“What gets us into trouble, is not what we don’t know, it’s what we know for sure, that isn’t so” – Mark Twain
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, Assumption is something that you accept as true without question or proof.
We are all very good at making assumptions and we do it all the time – often unknowingly. Psychologically, when we don’t fully understand a situation or why something has happened, we use assumptions, because they give us a why and allows us to start filling in the blanks. This natural response to making sense and filling in the gaps provides us with our own home-grown story. Unfortunately this version is not an accurate nor an objective representation of what is going on.
Assumptions warp and distort the world around us often creating false drama and conflict which leads us into fight or flight mode. Instead of giving us more control, our biased, personally manufactured framework of assessments and untested beliefs often leads our brains to filter out information that does not correspond to our selected mind-set. Assumptions influence outcomes, as we drive a self-fulfilling prophecy towards a constructed conclusion. This mind-set impacts our work life, our personal life, our goals, our relationships and how we interact with the world.
As individuals we are unique and our subjective thinking is shaped by our own values, needs, upbringing, and past experiences. Mixing this with a tendency to believe that other people see the world as we do, can lead to a formidable list of errors. Each assumption has the potential to create a matrix of unnecessary complexity for ourselves and others.
Assumptions are a necessary part of our daily lives, as we do not have the time or energy to check all the facts. People are always going to try and make meaning of what is going on around them. So assumptions are here to stay – we are always going to make them, they are part of how the human brain operates but what we must do is to learn how to make better assumptions. Awareness is always the first step in change – being aware that we often make faulty assumptions is the first step in getting an element of balance. So, learn to recognize when you are making assumptions. Ask, “What stories am I telling myself?” Followed by, “what do I know to be true?” And then learn to let go of the rest. Don’t take things where they are not meant to go.
Using reflection as a tool we can begin to cultivate an awareness of our assumptions along with their patterns and trends.
A self-observation practice
At the end of the day spend 5 to 10 minutes reflecting on the decisions you made. You may want to write notes or journal, so you can begin to recognise patterns.
Later as your awareness develops, in the moment, hit the pause button and assess your assumptions. Subject them to rigorous evaluation and use critical thinking to challenge them, before taking the final decision.
We tend to get into trouble when we think we know what is going on; so stop trying to read other people’s minds. Do your own fact checking before deciding that you know something. Have the courage to ask people questions and be ok with telling people what you want.
It’s important to realize that not all assumptions are created equal. Get to know your inbuilt biases towards assumptions, generalisations, alleged laws and rules. Challenge assumptions on a daily basis, otherwise you will miss out on the opportunity to understand and experience the real situation.
“If others tell us something we make assumptions, and if they don’t tell us something we make assumptions to fulfil our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don’t understand we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.” – Miguel Ruiz, the Four Agreements.