Assumptions have a high power of influence over human behaviour. As firm believers in the Law of Cause and Effect, we act according to what we believe. If I assume I am not qualified enough for a certain position and for that reason will not be offered a job, chances are I will not fill in that application. Assumptions are of a general nature and tend to follow a common sense approach. They come as deceivingly relatable sweeping statements, that when inspected with objectivity fail to address the complexity of individual contexts, chance or random factors. I may have qualities other than qualifications that might be more appealing to the needs of a particular interviewer at a given moment in time. As I have no way of objectively knowing what the future holds, my choice is ultimately based on an assumption.
Assumptions – or intermediate beliefs, in cognitive terms – derive from our core beliefs about ourselves, the world and other people. Core beliefs are, predominantly, product of our education and upbringing. These beliefs are reinforced through rewards on personal behaviour and tend to reflect cultural values held by a group’s majority. As young children, we learn how to use our core beliefs as personal frames of reference for thoughts and behaviours that are widely accepted by others, such as our parents, teachers and friends. Throughout development, we bond with people who identify (consciously or not) with those same core beliefs, and that are able to relate to the assumptions from which they originate. To go against what everyone else thinks – not to act in accordance with the beliefs of others – makes us stand out as unconventional. Not being considered normal may result in emotional discomfort.
The human experience is so rich that makes the credibility of absolutes somewhat wobbly. Assumptions tend to bypass this very richness, failing to make us justice. We are multi-layered individuals who are constantly adapting to the demands of a new tomorrow. What I thought was right 10 years ago might not be the way to go today, even though I felt so intensively inclined to believing it back then. Those who adopt a flexible attitude towards core beliefs and the assumptions from which they arise are more likely to experience satisfying levels of self-realisation and growth.
Here are two examples of assumptions that are not doing you any favours:
‘If I treat others with respect I can expect to be treated equally’
A golden rule introduced by your mum and dad to justify you being nice to others. It may have taught you good manners back when you were 5, but now it is affecting your mood in a negative way.
Having fixed expectations about people’s responses to you is unrealistic. As individuals we respond to only one agent: our own selves. Even for those who lack real selves, the choice to follow somebody else’s mind is still their choice. We cannot help but be. Beings also includes feeling unfriendly, arrogant, anxious, impatient, cranky, depressed, restless, distressed, upset, distracted and self-absorbed. In essence, feelings are not guided by a sense of fairness. They also precede social conventions or personal intent. There is so much involved in just being, that to take it personally when someone’s behaviour does not correspond to your expectation is a waste of emotional energy. You can save some precious emotional juice by stopping to evaluate everyone’s behaviour in relation to you. Become an observer, make a mental note of what you see and feel without attaching further meaning to it. This is a simple attitude that is bound to contribute to your sense of self-mastery over your moods.
‘If I put great effort into achieving something that means I will succeed’
Another assumption that is frequently at the heart of so many feelings of disappointment. Our focus is so often centred on ourselves that we tend to ignore everything else that plays a part at our life’s developments. So many factors can contribute (or not) to your success in whatever you do. Be it in your personal or professional life, you are not the sole influence on either things or people. You are limited to the extent that you are able to shape your entire reality. Working your hardest may not be all it takes to secure that promotion. Making sure you always look and act your best may not be enough to keep that relationship going. Just because you have quality time with your child doesn’t mean you will end up sharing the same interests.
As cause and effect, the relationship between quantity and quality cannot be defined accurately by absolutes. Hardly anything is 100% certain when it comes to the human experience, only that there is birth and usually a while later, death. Even though you can observe certain trends between your degree of dedication and performance, that still does not mean that your results will always be the same in every single attempt. Opening your perception to the uncertainty of life is as relevant a skill as any other. Knowledge may lead you to power, but it can also make your mind a prisoner of self-reliance. Freedom also comes with acceptance and the courage to just let it be.
Assumptions are not an entirely irrational thing to have, as long as we stick to their denotative meaning. A healthy attitude towards assumptions is to bear in mind that a belief remains a belief in spite of how strongly I feel in relation to it. Assumptions are not facts, but widespread subjective notions that do not require proof to be validated. Time may be an indication of how tightly connected an assumption has become to a group’s sense of identity, but that is all. Because an assumption has been held for a long time still does not make it true. How comfortable would you currently be with the idea that the earth is flat? The belief was held for over 200 years and it still did not change the shape of our planet.