“When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME”
I first heard these words of wisdom years ago when I was learning to drive. I’d made an assumption about what another driver was going to do. My driving instructor’s response told me my assumption was incorrect. He hit the brakes, and said those words. At the time, I didn’t fully understand what he meant, but thought it was intriguing enough to commit to memory.
These days, I get it.
Why assumptions start
It’s easy to make assumptions. All you need is incomplete information about a situation. And an unwillingness to ask the questions you need to complete the information. In the absence of complete information, you have to fill in the blanks yourself.
You fill in the blanks with YOUR interpretation of what you see or hear. Your interpretation comes from past experiences that seem similar. It comes from your past experiences, and also from those you’ve heard about from others.
Armed with your information, you connect dots that aren’t there. You can’t help doing this because you’re missing relevant information. In trying to make sense of the situation, you make connections between today and the past. Connections that don’t really exist. You jump to conclusions that are wrong.
When I was learning to drive, I saw a driver doing something, and assumed he’d do x next. He didn’t. He did y instead, making it likely I was going to hit him. Hence my instructor’s brake-hitting. Had I scanned what was around me for more information, I’d have seen x wasn’t possible. He had to do y.
How assumptions develop
If assumptions are incorrect when dealing with rational matters, ponder this. What happens when emotions come into play?
All hell breaks loose. You see, emotions arrive with many sensitive buttons. These buttons are the places where you got hurt in the past. Your memory has stored this past pain. And activates it whenever your nervous system recognizes anything that feels painfully familiar.
Once activated, you react as if you’re experiencing that same pain again. Your old pain feels as real today as it did when you got hurt. Your present situation doesn’t even need to be the same as the past one that hurt you.
When those emotional buttons get pressed, the resulting dot-connecting is rarely kind. The assumptions you make in this state have one thing in mind. Lashing out in some way. To repel or hurt someone with unkind and disrespectful words presented as fact.
What assumptions do
Behind these harsh words lie the original hurt. And an unwillingness to step up and own your part in it.
This is toxic for the people you’re lashing out at, and for you. The negative energy expressed with this can take a toll on health. Theirs and yours. And by pressing your pain buttons again and again, you deepen your hurt.
Why you should avoid making assumptions like the plague
- They’re an easy out. The path of least resistance is also the path of least growth.
- They stop you from taking responsibility for your life. Assumptions allow you to hide behind your version of the story. This means you don’t own your part in the true story. You prefer to blame others for your misfortune, rather than look in the mirror.
- They keep you stuck in the past. Assumptions rely on old information to fill in blanks and connect dots. Instead of expanding your horizons, you retreat into the past. Into your painful past.
- It’s lazy behaviour. Instead of asking questions to get the information you need, you jump to conclusions.
- They foster a negative mindset. Most assumptions are derived from old, painful information. This reinforces your innate negativity bias that dates back to prehistoric times. And keeps you thinking the world is a fundamentally hostile place.
- It’s toxic behaviour. To protect yourself from more hurt, you use your assumptions to lash out at others. This is bad for them, and you.
- They become a bad habit. The more you make assumptions, the easier it is to continue making them. You find it easier to relive past hurts to get missing information than to ask questions. Go figure!
- They deepen your pain. The more you pick at a sore, the more painful it gets. And it doesn’t get a chance to heal.
- Assumptions are ALWAYS wrong. I have a perfect record with the assumptions I’ve made. 100% of them have been wrong. And it’s hard to believe that I’m unique in this.
Life beyond assumptions
These days, instead of making assumptions, I ask questions. Lots of them. Even if this means finding out a truth that might be painful to hear. If my default behaviour kicks in and I start to assume something, I notice it. And nip it in the bud.
Since I started asking questions and stopped making assumptions, I’m much happier. I’ve managed to release much of my past pain by not activating it constantly. I’ve grown a lot from all the information I’ve gathered through asking questions. I enjoy conversations more because I’m not worrying about protecting myself. I’ve deepened my compassion for others by understanding the fears that lay behind their assumptions. I’m more positive. I’m more fun to be around.
If you think you’re pretty assumption-free, try this. Make a note of every assumption you make during an average day. And double it to count the ones you don’t notice.
If you’re like me, you’ll be surprised by the result.
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Sarah Blick is a Career & Life Coach, Strategist, Writer and Marketer. You can reach her at sarahblick.com.