Friday, March 14, 2008

Are Your Assumptions Holding You Back?

*The world is flat

*The four minute mile can not be broken

These are two assumptions that have not stood the test of time. I have recently run across a few situations where false or inaccurate assumptions only caused further problems. Assumptions are a basic part of our daily lives. They can help us or hurt us, but in many cases we “make” assumptions without thinking about it or let them dictate the choices that we make, often without a second thought. Sometimes, our assumptions are holding us back.

If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.
Henry Ford

Assumptions are a basic part of life. You assume that have time to cross a street between oncoming cars without being hit, before you cross the road. You assume that water will come out of your kitchen faucet when you turn it on. You assume that your computer will start (or maybe you just hope on this one!).

We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of these assumptions.
Stephen R. Covey

Assumptions are needed. If you don’t assume an outcome as likely or not likely, you’re less likely to act. If you assume that your bid won’t be accepted, how hard are you going to really work on it? It is often our assumptions that fuel us to take our next action of do that thing that we’re planning or thinking about doing. Without assumptions about future or possible outcomes, we’re often unable to move forward. All scientific theories stated with a hypothesis, which is really scientific terminology for an assumption. The scientist assumes that if “A” then “B” or if you do this, then something will happen. Over the course of “testing” their assumptions are often proved or disproved.

I have learned throughout my life as a composer chiefly through my mistakes and pursuits of false assumptions, not by my exposure to founts of wisdom and knowledge.
Igor Stravinsky

Many of the problems that we run into are a direct result of our assumptions being wrong or incorrect. Within the project world we try to document our assumptions. At various points in projects you try to document your assumptions. This is a good exercise because you stop to think about the basis for much of your planning. Later on if the outcome is different than you expected you can see what the assumptions were. So if you find yourself facing a problem, you might want to reflect on what your assumptions were and determine if they need to be modified or changed completely.

If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from that person's angle as well as from your own.
Henry Ford

So much of what you do in life is based on what you assume that other people will do or how they will respond. If you think that the girl you’ve been wanting to ask out will say “no”, how likely are you to ask her out? Maybe that girl would go out with you if you asked her but because you assumed she’d say no, you didn’t ask her out.

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.
Miguel Angel Ruiz

Many of our habits and beliefs have come about because or our assumptions. Successful people have developed a habit of believing they will succeed. This often started with the assumption that they will succeed in this or that and has been used often enough that they develop a success belief. Conversely, many people that believe themselves to be “unlucky” or “failures” have developed this belief over time. If you change your assumptions, you can change many of your beliefs.

What a man believes may be ascertained, not from his creed, but from the assumptions on which he habitually acts.

George Bernard Shaw

While you don’t need to stop making assumptions, why not make better assumptions, keep an open mind, and be willing to adjust your assumptions as needed? When your assumptions are related to the behavior of other people, you might want to discuss your assumptions with the people involved (where appropriate). When there are misunderstandings based on false or incorrect assumptions, it is amazing what can be accomplished when the people involved can have a positive discussion about the assumptions. Knowing the relevant assumptions of all parties involved can greatly aide in solving many problems and can help the parties derive and achieve their desired outcomes.

If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from that person's angle as well as from your own.
Henry Ford

In summary, based on the circumstances:

  • Realize that assumptions are a natural occurrence in life
  • You should be aware of the assumptions that you have
  • Document your assumptions, this can be used to adjust it later or help you realize why you acted in a certain way
  • Before accepting assumptions as beliefs you should confirm or test them
  • When problems occur it can useful to make your assumptions known and discuss them with the parties involved. It can be useful in team efforts if the team is aware of what assumptions were used in planning and throughout the project.
  • Adjust your assumptions as necessary. If you have made bad, incorrect, or unhealthy assumptions you can often adjust or change that assumption to work in your favor.
  • Try to keep an open mind and don’t assume failure or a negative outcome, with some work you can just as easily assume that you will succeed.

Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won't come in.

Alan Alda

How do you handle assumptions? If you liked this article, please share it on or on Digg and pass it on to anyone that you think might appreciate it .Thank you. :)

On Deck…

I’ll be publishing posts about…

  • A recent interview I did with Zenhabits creator and writer, Leo Babauta
  • The next in my series of weight loss strategies
  • Organizing your thoughts with wikis
  • A St. Patrick's day surprise

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