How Your Assumptions are Holding you Back and Creating Pain
“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.”- Seneca
Have you ever considered the fact that we live in two worlds our whole lives?
One is of course, the real world that all of us inhabit, which we perceive through our five senses. The other is a virtual world that exists only in our minds, consisting of our thinking, imagination, memory and dreams.
In this virtual world we keep making assumptions about how things are in the real world. Now while making assumptions may seem harmless on the surface, they can cause us much pain and make us lead limited lives.
But before going further, I’d first like to clarify what exactly I mean by the term assumption.
The first definition of assumption you will come across if you search the internet is this:
a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.
What’s the problem with assumptions?
We, as humans tend to make assumptions about everything. We take them very seriously and often confuse it with reality or the truth.
Since our brain has an inbuilt negative bias, the majority of the assumptions we make tend to be rooted in fear. Making negative assumptions and imagining worst-case scenarios come easier to our mind than positive ones.
Dealing with our own assumptions can be very tricky, because most often we don’t realise we are making them in the first place and confuse them for the truth.
For example, have you ever stopped to consider when you were worrying that you were merely making assumptions about the future?
But isn’t that what worrying actually is? Making predictions and guesses thinking something will happen when we have no proof to support that they will happen.
As Mark Twain once amusingly remarked “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
Author, Don Miguel Ruiz, devotes a whole chapter in his book The Four Agreements to the problem of making assumptions. He says that,
“The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth! We invent a whole story that’s only truth for us, but we believe it. One assumption leads to another assumption; we jump to conclusions, and we take our story very personally…”
A common assumption many of us make is the degree to which we think other people think about us. We assume to know what other people think about us or what they will think about us if we do certain things. This fear can be severely crippling and prevent us from doing what we want and being true to ourselves.
However, as author Elizabeth Gilbert says, “People are mostly just thinking about themselves. People don’t have time to worry about what you’re doing, or how well you’re doing it, because they’re all caught up in their own dramas. People’s attention may be drawn to you for a moment (if you succeed or fail spectacularly and publicly, for instance), but that attention will soon enough revert right back to where it’s always been on themselves. “
Also, many of us don’t allow ourselves to chase our dreams or go after what we truly want, not because they are impossible dreams; but because we “assume” it's not possible. And because of this we don’t even make an effort to go after them.
Now I am not saying that we need to stop making any assumptions, since some amount of assumptions can be actually helpful in planning for the future and making certain decisions.
Instead, what I’m suggesting is to stop readily trusting the fear-based assumptions of your mind and to stop taking it so seriously.
But how can you do that? Here are a few steps that can help.
Realise how often your assumptions are wrong
While I was solo travelling around India for three months, one of the biggest realisations I had was that I could be utterly wrong in my assumptions (of course, at the time I didn’t view them as “assumptions” since I believed them to be true).
I observed that my instinctive judgements and assumptions regarding people, places and certain experiences were repeatedly proven wrong during the trip.
Realising that there is a huge gap between my assumption about reality and reality itself, was a liberating experience.
It made me realise I could just as well be mistaken about my fears and worries coming into fruition, which in fact, were nothing more than assumptions.
Since then, this realisation has freed me up and helped me to detach from much over-thinking and negativity. It has helped me to say yes and be open to more things rather than to make decisions based on my preconceived notions about something.
I am sure you can recall plenty of occasions from your life when you imagined the worst about a situation, but somehow those fears never materialised, and things turned out much better than you expected.
Be aware of the assumptions you make about the future and keep a close track of how often they can be mistaken. Once you realise that most of your worries and fears never end up materialising, it can loosen the power that fearful assumptions can have on controlling your choices and decisions.
Question your assumptions
We usually tend to believe whatever thoughts pop into our mind at any given time regarding a situation, circumstance, or people without actually seeking to question or examine if there is any truth behind those thoughts.
Most of our fears and worries are merely assumptions and not based on proof or facts. Therefore much of our fears can be released if we critically question and stop automatically believing in the thoughts that appear in our mind.
A simple mantra to keep in mind when you find yourself making fearful assumptions is “don’t believe everything you think”.
Making assumptions can be especially problematic in our relationships with others.
We tend to assume we know what other people are thinking and feeling, when in fact our assumptions on this matter could be completely misplaced. This unsurprisingly can cause strain and misunderstandings in our relationships.
To quote Don Miguel Ruiz, “If others tell us something we make assumptions, and if they don't tell us something we make assumptions to fulfil 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.”
Therefore communicate, ask questions, clarify matters, and that will be able to save us much trouble in our relationships.
Be in the present moment
Where do your fears and anxieties exist at this very moment? Does it exist anywhere other than in your imagined thoughts about the future?
Since most of our assumptions (worries, fears, anxieties) tend to be about the future, being present in the moment can help you detach from unhelpful assumptions.
To tune out of the chatter of your mind’s fearful assumptions, be present with your breath by paying attention to your belly rising and falling.
Do the thing you hold fearful assumptions about
Sometimes the only way of knowing our fearful assumptions are illusionary and imagined is to do the thing that you fear. As long as we avoid doing what we fear, our minds can rationalise and convince us to give into our fears. As Ralph Waldo Emerson rightly said 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.'
Detaching from our assumptions can be tricky because if we believe that something is true in our virtual reality, we automatically believe that to be true in reality as well.
It will require us to lead our lives consciously and snap out of living our lives on autopilot.
However, as long as we are willing and have an open mind, it is not beyond any of us. I’d encourage you to examine and become aware of the fearful assumptions that you may be holding in your mind.
Always remember, that most if not all your fears and worries are nothing more than guesses, predictions, or assumptions since they are seldom based on any proof or evidence.
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