Have you ever just rashly or automatically jumped to an absurd idea about yourself or others? Did you notice or furthermore give pause when you noticed? Maybe you’ve experienced someone making an assumption about you. I’m sure your first thought may have been something along the lines of, “well, hell, I didn’t even know that about myself” or, “that’s absolutely not right; how dare they”.
It could be something as simple and harmless as what someone’s favorite band is to more damaging and hurtful thoughts like assuming a black man is a criminal based on preconceived notions due to stereotypes. To make an assumption is to forgo obtaining the correct information and to quickly make a decision based on how we view the world. And eventually, if they aren’t challenged, they can become cemented as a belief.
“We make assumptions, and believe we are right about the assumptions; then we defend our assumptions and try to make someone else wrong.”
Don Miguel Ruiz, Author
Assumptions are as human as human can be and we will make one at one point or another in our lives. It’s so easy and quick to do that sometimes we may not even know we’re making one because it’s disguised as a fact. We make assumptions because our brains tend to look for patterns based on what we see and hear to make for more efficient thinking. It does this so that you can focus on other things or pressing issues.
However, while they are natural (and sometimes automatic) thoughts, they can be extremely damaging to yourself and others. And they can be downright lethal in a few cases if you then take action based on those assumptions.
In some cases, assumptions are more negative and critical of other people. Other times they can be directed toward yourself. And that can lead to feelings of worthlessness, it starts up a new depression or make an old one resurface, or bring anxiety to a certain thought or feeling. Challenging your assumptions can help with that. It will take some work, though.
How to Challenge Your Assumptions
These are somethings to be aware of and some things to do.
1. Recognize that you’re making them– By far the hardest thing to do. It’s going to take some time to be intimately acquainted with your thoughts. Introspection is examining your thoughts and actions. Spend some time journaling about your day. Write down how you felt at that moment and why you reacted that way. Journaling often times leads to clarity. Also, mindful meditation helps to bring you back to the present to be mindful of your thoughts.
2a. Be okay with the unknown– There’s something admirable about someone who can say, “I don’t know”. You don’t always have to know the answer to something. If you knew everything, you wouldn’t be working a 9-5. You’d be in a lab. You don’t have to leave it at that, if you feel like it will hurt your chances… at your job, for example. You can follow it up with, “… but I can find out.” Bada bing, bada boom; no big deal.
2b. You don’t always have to have an opinion – Furthermore, it’d do you well to just give up trying to have an opinion about everything. If you don’t know (see above) or you don’t care, stop allocating space in your brain for it. If you don’t care about a sports team or have any clue who the next congressman or woman should be, just say so, and either educate yourself to get an opinion or drop it. My rule of thumb is to have an opinion on things that matter to me, otherwise, if it ain’t a debate club, I ain’t dedicating energy to it.
4. Ask questions and communicate clearly– If you don’t know something and you wanna know– ASK. It never hurts to ask if you can. The answer may hurt, there is that possibility, yes, but no answer at all will drive you crazy. Avoid why’s and ask how and what. Don’t ask “why didn’t you do what was asked”. Instead ask, “how did this happen?” or “what prevented you from following through?”
5a. Be open to possibilities; the world isn’t in black and white– Maybe the guy in front of you just cut you off on the road because he has a laboring wife in the backseat and the baby is about to fly outta her hoo-ha like a bat outta’ hell. Not because he’s an asshole who was born to upset you at this moment in time. There may very well be a time where that is the case, but not every time. Crazy shit happens. Just learn to roll with the punches. 🙂
5b. The world doesn’t revolve around you– And I’m not saying this to be mean, though depending on your reaction to this, it may make it feel like I am. Following close behind #5a, everything doesn’t just happen to you just because you’re you. Sometimes, there are greater and bigger things at play that have nothing to do with you, and you just happened to be there to get the short end of the stick. It sucks. But this does not have to reflect poorly on the person who gave you the news or made the decision. This does not have to reflect poorly on you.
Imagine a day without assumptions. You won’t have to feel like shit about yourself because you linked a bad event to your self worth. Or not having an argument because you, your partner, a friend, a stranger– whomever– didn’t make an assumption about what was said or left unsaid. Not assuming that someone who has a differing opinion to you has malicious intentions.
Focus your energy and efforts on challenging your thoughts and assumptions to find the actual truth. Be impeccable with your word, be compassionate to yourself and others around you, and encourage others around you to do the same.
Peace and peace,