Are Your Assumptions Holding You Back?

By: Andrea Novakowski

“I can’t possibly do this. It’s too hard.”

“This isn’t worth my time. It’s too easy.”

Do you frequently find yourself making judgments like these? If so, you may be a victim of your assumptions. Imagine if Thomas Edison had said, “Inventing the light bulb is too hard!” Or if Michael Jordan had decided practicing took too much time and had a slim chance of paying off, so why bother.

Our assumptions often come from events that happened long ago, during suggestible or vulnerable periods in our lives.Perhaps you were told as a kid that you couldn’t write or sing or draw. So now, when creative opportunities arise, you automatically tell yourself you can’t do it and don’t even try. A lifelong assumption can easily be based upon a single incident. I got a D on a paper I wrote for my 5th-grade science class. From that one poor grade, I drew the conclusion that I wasn’t good at writing – anything, ever.

This is what I mean by outdated evidence. The person I am today is not the person I was when I had that experience and formed that decision.

Sometimes assumptions are born in our environment. These are the toughest kind of assumptions to recognize, because they’re so powerfully reinforced by our parents, our teachers, our friends, our bosses and our co-workers. For instance, we have a pervasive belief in our culture that we need to be doing something every waking moment. Not just something, but something productive. It’s not acceptable to go for a leisurely walk or enjoy your lunch – no, you must be multitasking. You must talk on the phone with a client while you’re walking. Work at your desk while eating.

In reality, pausing in your workday helps you accomplish more (and it’s good for your mental health, too). When you take a break, it allows your brain to make connections that might not have been possible when you were consciously trying to solve a problem.

A third type of assumption springs from our instinctive dislike of the unfamiliar. When change comes along – and it always does – we treat it with suspicion. We dig in our heels and resist. We’ve set up our lives a certain way, and we don’t like surprises. Change taps into our fear of not being in control. When we’re not in control, everything feels out of control.

Suppose you know you can do the report faster and better than your new employee. Heck, you’ve done it a hundred times. But if you don’t start delegating, you’re going to get further and further behind in your work. Sure, it feels risky to entrust the report to someone else – but you hired this person to provide support. Why not give the directions and see what happens? You never know: your new employee could add new twists, ideas, and data that enhance the report’s success. Fresh eyes often bring new insights.

What’s so damaging about assumptions is that they tend to be invisible. Our assumptions are the unconscious filters through which we interpret our world. We may be operating from guiding principles that are inaccurate – and not even be aware of it.

That’s not to say that all your assumptions are, by definition, incorrect. But if you don’t take the time to examine them, you’ll never know. And false assumptions could be holding you back from exploring all the possibilities in your life.

This week, whenever you find yourself thinking, “I can’t possibly…” stop for a moment and notice whether it might be an old assumption rearing its head.Next time, we’ll discuss how to challenge your assumptions, so you can move beyond them.