“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in.” ― Isaac Asimov
You are likely familiar with the truism that assumptions are bad, but how familiar are you to what makes assumptions so problematic or what can develop from holding your unconscious assumptions as the truth?
In this article, you will learn how to
identify assumptions you hold as truths,
learn a technique to peel back the layers of limiting assumptions collected like blankets on a winter’s night, and
deliberately shift limiting assumptions to empowering assumptions with conscious choice.
As Isaac Asimov indicates, assumptions are the stories we make up about the world we live in when we don’t have all the information, the window glass we see the world through. They are the ideas we hold as true, our beliefs before we have verified if they are true or not. We create them to make sense of the world, and we do it in real-time, well before we ever realize we are doing it.
Strangely, as humans, we tend to default to creating negative assumptions, beliefs that limit our sense of ourselves and generally keep us playing small.
If others tell us something we make assumptions, and if they don't tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill 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: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
Why We Make Assumptions
We make assumptions for many reasons, and these are the top four:
Lack of self-awareness that we are holding assumptions as the truth
To fill the gaps of information
For ease and convenience to keep from having to seek out the truth
We lack the courage or conviction to reveal what we don’t know by asking questions
Our brains are incredible meaning-makers, building a bridge between key bits of factual information to create a story of the truth, not the truth itself. We create assumptions all the time. When we meet someone for the first time, we make some quick assumptions about who this person is before we get the facts based on visual cues such as what he is wearing, how he wears his hair, his tone of voice, his demeanor, etc. Our challenge is to be cognizant of the assumptions we are making in order to not be limited or controlled by them.
Consider this description of the trappings of making assumptions from Lemony Snicket’s The Austere Academy:
Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make -- bombs, for instance, or strawberry shortcake -- if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble. Making assumptions simply means believing things are a certain way with little or no evidence that shows you are correct, and you can see at once how this can lead to terrible trouble. For instance, one morning you might wake up and make the assumption that your bed was in the same place that it always was, even though you would have no real evidence that this was so. But when you got out of your bed, you might discover that it had floated out to sea, and now you would be in terrible trouble all because of the incorrect assumption that you'd made. You can see that it is better not to make too many assumptions, particularly in the morning.
Assumptions come in two types—limiting (constrictive) and empowering (expansive). Let’s first consider limiting assumption—beliefs that keep us playing small due to fear or self-doubt—as this is where most of us get hung up.
When we believe our limiting assumptions are true we don’t try to disprove them. When that happens, we can fall into all sorts of different types of traps of thinking that restrains our capabilities to live fully expressed, stunting our growth and keeping us small.
For example, an aspiring novelist may never get started writing because she assumes that to begin such a project would require her to quit her day job and go live on a secluded ranch in Montana in order to get it done. Because of this assumption, she may never give herself permission to try or space to develop an approach that fits her lifestyle and feels manageable.
The Paradox of Identifying Assumptions
Let’s look at the role assumptions play and how you can deepen your awareness of how they show up in your life.
Doing the work to become self-aware of the assumptions we are making before we act on them (or react to them, really) is critical to moving forward in our lives. Doing so allows us to quiet the fears that arise, which is a big step toward clearing up confusion and getting into action again with energy after feeling stuck. All of this in service to moving forward in a meaningful way in our lives—living on purpose and showing up with courage and authenticity daily.
The paradox can be articulated in this question:
How do we become conscious of beliefs that we often hold unconsciously?
Here is a framework of prompts and questions to practice identifying and working through assumptions to empower your forward momentum:
A Framework for Releasing the Hold of Limiting Assumptions
Below is a process for identifying, naming and releasing limiting assumptions you are holding that are not serving you to be your whole, best, brightest self in this world. Writing down your answers, give yourself time and space to explore the prompts and examples that follow.
1. Where is there a sense of resistance, hesitation, or stuck-ness in your life? Consider choices before you where there is indecision or discomfort in various areas of life.
What do you notice?
What precipitates this feeling?
2. What am I assuming that is most stopping me from going forward?
Name it by writing it down and spend time deepening your understanding of it by exploring the experience of it.
3. Next, check-in concerning its degree of truth: Do I think that assumption is true?
What parts are true? What parts may not be true or are false?
4. If you have recognized that it is NOT TRUE, then you have confirmed that it is an assumption, and you can ask yourself this next: What is true and liberating instead?
This is when you get to flush out the fears your mind created for you (thank you, no thank you!) and with them their limiting assumption, and instead hold the truth in its place.
Using the former example, consider how this idea would be applied to the aspiring novelist: It is NOT TRUE that the aspiring novelist will fail if she tried to write her novel without quitting her day job first. What IS TRUE is that she is committed to her craft and will find a way to write her novel in smaller increments of time.
5. Lastly, building on what is recognized to be true, ask yourself to look forward through the lens of truth and possibility: If I knew (insert empowering assumption), how would I go forward?
For example: If the aspiring novelist knew that her first novel would be read and celebrated by many including Oprah, she would write as much as was comfortable from a place of grounded confidence.
Assumptions are our way as humans to process through what we do not know yet, and manage our fears by giving them a hiding place. To do the work to build self-awareness to identify the assumptions that hang you up is some of the most empowering self-care work one can do.
What do we need to really remember about assumptions?
Assumptions create chaos, and truth creates clarity.
If we do not have the true and it is impossible to attain until we move through a choice to action, consider holding an empowering assumption, a belief that makes you feel powerful, courageous and intentional in your choice to move forward.
Here’s a counter-intuitive insight: We as typically default to the negative in our thinking, especially as it pertains to ourselves.
Here’s a challenge for you: Commit to holding empowering assumptions in place of ones that create fear, resistance, and apprehension. Consider this example: Sky diving will be scary (true), and it will be the most thrilling experience of my life that will give me the courage to do other scary things thereafter (empowering assumption).
I am assuming that this article helps you, alchemize your lead-like assumptions into gold with a little more facility.
Curious to connect with me? Schedule a complimentary Spark Session to explore what is calling you forth. Don’t wait for another week, month, year to pass before prioritizing YOU. Designing your best life now.
More about Katie
Katie is dedicated to calling out greatness in women. As a leadership coach and consultant, she relishes diving in with women who are curious and courageous, daring to set a course for change with a compelling vision and open heart. Her style is rooted in a vibrant curiosity, an upbeat energy, and a fierce commitment to transformation. Committed to living a life that honors her values of meaningful connection and creative expression, she invites women to live in alignment to core values with a purpose that makes the heart sing. She has developed a company, Co-Elevate Coaching + Consulting, that honors her belief that we are all leaders of our own lives, learning how to grow ourselves and support the growth of others. She is a graduate from the University of Colorado, holds a Masters in Literature and is continuing to integrate the learnings of the previous two careers as a High School English Teacher and as a Marketing Executive in her current full-time role as (CTI-trained) leadership coach. She splits her time working with individuals and teams in Bend, Oregon and the San Francisco Bay Area. She lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband Brent, and two kiddos and one big bernedoodle.