Conquering the “Assumptions Autopilot”

“A friend cancelled our meeting twice. She doesn’t like me and doesn’t want to be friends with me!”

“The first presentation I had in front of a large audience was a disaster. I’m the worst presenter in the whole world, and I definitely shouldn’t try it again!”

“My colleague publicly expressed an opinion that was different from mine. He’s fighting with me and going after my position!”

“While on a trip, my son didn’t call me right after his plane landed. I’m sure something terrible happened to him!”

“I texted my boyfriend an hour ago, and he hasn’t responded yet. Our relationship isn’t important to him. I’ll bet he wants to break up with me!”

What’s the common denominator in all of these thoughts? ASSUMPTIONS!

In each of these situations, I had the minimum of facts to make the conclusions that popped into my head. I made all of them up. My mind just created them automatically, and I believed them to be true despite having no grounds in reality.

Because these automatic assumptions were based on the hypothetical creations of my mind, they caused my reactions to be inadequate. This heavily complicated my relationships. I felt like everyone was against me and no one understood me.

Sometimes, making assumptions is appropriate and useful, but other times, it’s inappropriate and harmful

There are times when it can be beneficial to assume something. For example, if you need to assess the risks of a future project, it’s good to anticipate all scenarios, or to presume that your business idea will be a success. Positive assumptions can also be useful in designing strategies or creative concepts.

An example of inappropriate and negative assumptions is when you automatically worry about your kids before they even go somewhere. Or when you see problems in situations where there are none, or accuse your partner of something he/she hasn’t done yet but “could have done.”

Assuming too much or at a wrong moment can complicate or even destroy relationships

Assuming too much or in inappropriate moments can cause problems in relationships and even destroy our lives. When your reactions are based on assumptions instead of facts and reality, you can become convinced you heard someone say something they didn’t actually say. Or you might believe you saw something that didn’t actually happen. You might then fight for your point of view, which is twisted and unreal. Naturally, this creates tension and conflicts with others.

In the long term, no one can bear to be in a relationship with a person who keeps creating tension and conflict by continuously making assumptions. Even if they genuinely like you, your assumptions will create such an invisible pressure that they won’t be able to bear it for long.

They might not be aware that your assumptions are the reason they want out of the relationship. This “urge” or “feeling” will come from their unconscious, and they‘ll act on it eventually. Afterwards, they might come up with rational explanations for leaving you, but the impulse came from the pressure of the constant assumptions. The only way their unconscious could “relieve” that pressure was to create the “urge” to leave the relationship.

Making assumptions is often an “inner autopilot”

Many times, we start making assumptions without even realizing it. Conjectures and hypotheses appear automatically in our minds, and we’re genuinely convinced that they’re true. Sometimes, we’re even proud of these “pseudo-analytical” skills and the combinations we create without pausing for a second to evaluate the basic facts.

We often start making assumptions because the current situation activates emotions and memories connected to past experiences

Often, we start making assumptions when the current situation and the emotions we feel touch something in our unconscious. This is also automatic, so we aren’t aware of it. Something about the current situation and the emotions it has evoked actually “wake up” unpleasant memories from our past that caused similar emotions. We might think your feelings only relate to the current situation, but most of the time, they’re also connected to past experiences.

This explains why you might find yourself becoming hysterical even when the situation doesn’t seem to have anything important at stake. You can, for example, get very upset and start a fight when your partner doesn’t want to eat in a restaurant you prefer. The feeling of being refused activates similar memories from your unconscious, and the fight suddenly has a much stronger emotional charge than it merits. This assumption phenomenon causes you to become overly sensitive to the situation and make it a more serious problem than it actually is.

We also make assumptions when we want to avoid seeing reality

The “assumption-making process” becomes activated when we unconsciously want to avoid hearing truthful feedback that might cause us to discover negative things about ourselves. You might assume, for example, that you weren’t hired for a job because your ideas were too progressive or that the boss hired a personal friend to fill the position instead. You create false assumptions in order to avoid admitting that you perhaps didn’t get the job because you weren’t qualified or didn’t interview well.

If we want to build healthy relationships, it‘s important to become aware of our tendency to go on “assumptions autopilot”

If we‘re making too many assumptions, our relationships are often complicated and heavy. Only after we become aware of our tendency to go on “assumptions autopilot” can we stop making harmful assumptions. With awareness, you can begin to catch yourself in the act and realize that you’re assuming something automatically without evaluating the facts. You can also make a connection between the emotions of the current situation and that of a past experience. This awareness can help to dissipate the strong emotions that come up as a result.

When you become aware of your assumptions and work toward managing them, you have a better chance of building strong and long-lasting relationships.

Expectations are also assumptions!

We also have a tendency to expect that things should look or happen in a certain way or that people should behave in the way we think is appropriate. For example, you might think a good partner always supports and values the other person in the relationship. Or you may expect a friend to thank you for something you did. Or you might expect your partner to express his/her love in a certain way or that your kids should always behave well and be grateful to you.

But expectations are the same as assumptions. They create pressures that become unbearable in the relationship over time. The unconscious of the other person will “read” the expectation as never being able to satisfy you. They won’t feel accepted for who they are, and they’ll never feel comfortable around you. If they feel that way long enough, they’ll have the urge to leave the relationship.

This doesn’t mean that you give someone license to treat you badly, but it does mean that you can learn to be more accepting of the fact that others handle things differently from you.

How to stop making assumptions and having expectations

To start with, just try to admit that you do sometimes run on autopilot with assumptions and that you do have expectations. If you’re unable to recall any situations in which you made false assumptions, or if you’re convinced you never do it, at least acknowledge that it might be happening without your realizing it — because the truth is that we all do it!

Then, slowly start to pay attention, especially when there’s conflict in your life. You’ll begin to identify your assumptions and expectations. Once you’re able to notice when you jump to conclusions, you can stop yourself and do it less and less. It takes time and practice, but with enough repetition, most people are able to stop making assumptions almost all the time and perceive reality as it truly is.

To start identifying your assumptions, try the following exercise:

Step 1: Choose a situation

Think of a negative situation from your past. It can be an argument you had with someone or a situation when someone did something you didn’t like. Or maybe someone criticized you or didn’t treat you as you expected.

Step 2: Fiction

Imagine this situation all over again, and write down anything you think it means. Write down any assumptions that come to mind.

Step 3: Facts

Imagine the situation for a second time, but this time, try to write down only the facts. You can even ask someone to give you an unbiased opinion and ask him or her to describe the situation only based on facts.

Step 4: Conclusion based on facts

Try to describe the situation once again, this time as realistically as possible. Try to focus only on facts, skipping all the fiction that was created in your head and didn’t happen in reality.

Then, close your eyes, and imagine the situation based on facts only. Start your imagination by saying to yourself: “This is what really happened in this situation…”

Here’s an example:

Step 1: Choose a situation

My friend told me: “I feel bad when you tell me what to do. Please don’t give me advice unless I come right out and ask for it. I just want to share with you what’s going on in my life. I don’t need your help or ideas about how to solve my situation.”

Step 2: Fiction

She told me that I’m attacking her, that I’m hurting her, and that I’m bad. She doesn’t like me and doesn’t value what I do for her. She’s ungrateful. So be it, she can do whatever she wants, and I won’t ever try to help her again! She’d better never ask me for advice.

Step 3: Facts

My friend expressed her feelings and opinions. She told me that she doesn’t need my help in this situation; she only wants me to listen and not give advice unless she directly asks for it.

Step 4: Conclusion based on facts

My friend expressed her opinion, and I agree that I didn’t have to tell her what to do when she didn’t ask for my advice. She never said she felt I was attacking her or hurting her. My beliefs that she’s ungrateful, doesn’t like me, or doesn’t value what I do for her are assumptions based on past hurts in my life. It has nothing to do with my friend in this current situation.

When I imagine the situation based only on facts, I see that my friend only clearly expressed how she felt and asked me not to offer advice when she doesn’t ask me for it.

The rewards are worth the effort

Sometimes, it isn’t possible to uncover your assumptions on your own. It is an automatic, unconscious process after all! Therefore, it’s beneficial if, at the beginning, you have someone you trust to give you feedback. It might be helpful to ask a good friend who likes you and will be honest but kind with you to help you determine where you’re making assumptions that have no basis in fact.

It takes courage, effort, and openness to hear someone point out your assumptions, but it’s definitely worth it, as the reward you will get in return is healthier and happier relationships.