A is for assumptions
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in while, or the light won't come in”. Alan Alda
An assumption can be defined as anything that is accepted or believed to be true or is certain to happen, without proof. Assumptions are learned behaviour and often described as cognitive distortions; irrational beliefs that have become habituated because they have been reinforced over time. It’s very easy to lead your life never questioning anything that you have learned but assumptions damage our capacity to learn and to relate to others.
“Remember, we see the world not as it is but as we are. Most of us see through the eyes of our fears and our limiting beliefs and our false assumptions.”
Robin S Sharma
Aaron Beck and David Burns have done significant research on the negative impact of assumptions or cognitive distortions. Aaron Beck developed the basis for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) after noticing that a lot of his patients were operating on false assumptions and distorted thinking; he made the connection between these distorted thinking patterns and his patients’ symptoms and hypothesized that by changing their thinking they would experience relief from their symptoms. David Burns presented the idea that we ‘jump to conclusions’ because of our impatience to achieve a resolution to a situation. In haste, people mentally make inferences without adequate supporting evidence in order to feel that a difficult situation is resolved.
“Most of our assumptions have outlived their uselessness.” - Marshall McLuhan
The brain is a vast network of connections that requires an enormous amount of energy to keep it running.
“There are over one hundred billion cells in our brain and each of them makes over ten thousand connections with other brain cells. While the large number of possible combinations of cell connections allows for higher-ordered thinking, this is a big problem evolutionarily in terms of energy cost therefore, the brain has to encode things efficiently to save energy.” David McCormick.
One way our brain saves energy is by making assumptions. We draw on our past experiences to find patterns in how the world works. When we encounter new situations, we apply these patterns—or assumptions—to the new environment. This process saves us the energy of analysing each situation completely afresh but the path of least resistance is also the path of least growth.
There is an old saying that "to assume” makes an “ass out of you and me”.
ASS out of U and ME.
Assumptions negatively affect our relationships in several ways. Not only do we unconsciously make assumptions and judgments about other people’s behaviour, and other people’s intentions behind their behaviour but we make assumptions about our own behaviour and intentions.When we make assumptions, we project these assumptions on to others or ourselves and then make judgments and so the downward, closed-thinking spiral continues ; worsening our connections with our inner self and others
The Third Agreement of the Toltec agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz states:
Don't Make Assumptions Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
Most of our suffering stems from this tendency to make assumptions when we jump to conclusions or believe that we know what someone else is thinking without asking questions and making sure that we do clearly understand.
“Because we are afraid to ask for clarification, we make assumptions; then we defend our assumptions and try to make someone else wrong. It is always better to ask questions than to make an assumption, because assumptions set us up for suffering. We have the tendency to make assumptions about everything. The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth. We could swear they are real. We make assumptions about what others are doing or thinking — we take it personally — then we blame them and react by sending emotional poison with our word. That is why whenever we make assumptions, we’re asking for problems. We make an assumption, we misunderstand, we take it personally, and we end up creating a whole big drama for nothing.”
It is also important to examine the assumptions we make about ourselves. In order to come happier, we need to pay attention and become more mindful of the things we tell ourselves about our capabilities or lack of them, learn to diffuse our own thoughts and not make assumptions about what others mean.
The different assumptions we make about what other people are like lead us to relate to others in different ways e.g. if you think people can’t be trusted, it is likely that you behave towards other people in a suspicious, non-trusting way. On the other hand, the person who assumes that to be loved is a human need relates to people in a fundamentally different manner.
Asking questions can improve clarity reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings now and in the future. It’s easy to make assumptions when we have incomplete information about a situation; if we are unwilling to ask questions we fill in the blanks ourselves. We have a tendency to fill in these blanks with our interpretation of what we want to see or hear or alternatively our interpretation comes from past experiences that seem similar or from stories we have heard via others and we simply join dots that are not there and in so doing we are developing a fixed mindset.
“Society cannot continue to disable themselves through their need to categorize people or make assumptions as to another individual's abilities.” Evelyn Glennie
Asking questions gives us a sense of direction and helps everyone to get on the same page, because we are all living off assumptions.
“Don’t Make Assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.”
Don Miguel Ruiz
We also make assumptions because we are insecure; believing that we have to put on a mask and put forward the version of ourselves that people might want or expect to see from us, instead of simply being ourselves.
“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” Henry Winkler
If you are always assuming you know how others think and feel, you stop listening and communicating effectively. Each day you walk through life with notions of how things will go. Your theories have a dramatic impact on your perceptions, and these notions will often affect the world around you without you even being aware causing yourself and others a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering.
“The creative individual has the capacity to free himself from the web of social pressures in which the rest of us are caught. He is capable of questioning the assumptions that the rest of us accept”. John W Gardner
Assumptions block possibilities. They impede your ability to think creatively and get ahead and think how much more this is compounded when emotions and emotional triggers are added into the mix!
"The more aware we are of our basic paradigms, maps, or assumptions, and the extent to which we have been influenced by our experience, the more we can take responsibility for those paradigms, examine them, test them against reality, listen to others and be open to their perceptions, thereby getting a larger picture and a far more objective view." Stephen R. Covey
Assumptions also stop us from taking responsibility for our life; allowing us to hide behind our version of our story and making it easier to blame others for our misfortune, rather than look in the mirror.
“Frankly, I'm not responsible for other people's perceptions and what they consider real or fake. We must abolish the entitlement that deludes us into believing that we have the right to make assumptions about people's identities and project those assumptions onto their genders and bodies.” Janet Mock
It is all too easy to make assumptions consciously or subconsciously, but today, more than ever, we need to be asking the right questions to enable deeper connections in personal relationships, within local communities and to address what is happening in the wider world today and the best approach to enable everyone to flourish.
“We're living in a whole new social and economic order with a whole new set of problems and challenges. Old assumptions and old programs don't work in this new society and the more we try to stretch them to make them fit, the more we will be seen as running away from what is reality”. Ann Richards
I came across the following quote by Wendell Berry several years ago which really made an impression so would like to finish with this final thought
“We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.”
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
Are you aware that you make assumptions?
What do you make assumptions about?
What holds you back from asking pertinent questions?
How can you stop making assumptions and keep an open, growth mindset and ask the right questions?
If you want to reflect more on this subject, here are some links to get you started: