In our household, Clint Eastwood, Louis L’Amour and John Wayne are lifetime honorary members of our extended family.
In fact, I was raised on tales of the gritty Wild West in film, print and song (with nearly all of my childhood summers spent visiting hot, dusty fairgrounds to listen to bluegrass music, I learned early on the Wild West wasn’t for wimps).
For instance, let’s say you went out west in hopes of striking gold and getting rich quick. But instead of actual gold, you discovered fool’s gold.
Then imagine your surprise when you went to the bank to cash in your fortune, only to learn your “gold” wasn’t actually gold at all.
This is what I feel like every time I encounter another one of my own assumptions.
Unfortunately, given that I am 45 years old and counting, I have had quite a lot of years to practice constructing plausible-sounding assumptions.
Clearly he doesn’t love me because…
I can tell my box turtle, Bruce, is very unhappy because….
She is obviously mad at me on account of how she said this….
Well, just LOOK at that sky. Obviously it is going to rain today….
Yup. My assumptions tend to sound pretty darned factual. But they are rarely ever correct. I suspect this is because they are based on only the data I have in my own head, which is only about half the data I need to predict any current or future event with any degree of accuracy.
For instance, I don’t have information about what the other party (human, tortugan, atmospheric, global or otherwise) knows or thinks or feels. More often than not, I don’t even really have accurate information about my own part in any assumption I may be cooking up, because I am too busy reacting to my fears or my laundry list of so-called “evidence” to tune in and pay any actual attention to myself.
Yet making assumptions is proving to be a very hard habit to kick.
One of my favorite mentors, Don Miguel Ruiz, Sr., names “assumptions” as one of the four key things that can make the difference between a hellish and a heavenly life. Specifically, in his book “The Four Agreements,” Ruiz states:
Don’t make assumptions.
This is a very clear statement. Planning on making any assumptions today? Don’t do it.
Then, just in case there may still be any ambiguity, he goes on to outline what you should be doing instead:
- Ask questions.
- Express what you really want.
- Communicate clearly to avoid sadness, drama and misunderstandings.
And of course, each of these three alternative activities sounds oh-so-reasonable.
Ruiz even adds in one final carrot as extra incentive for those who are still on the fence:
With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
Life transformation. Sign me UP. Yes, I would like one (1) order of “life transformation,” please – and can you put a rush on that? Yes, I’d be happy to pay extra for the rush.
And yet I continue to churn out assumptions so chronically I rarely even know I’m doing it.
Making assumptions reminds me of the mononucleosis virus. I got mono when I was in my early 30’s. After the year-long recovery process, I continued to experience minor relapses for years. The last relapse was a few years ago, at which point my doctor did a re-test for mono.
When I asked him why he was testing me for mono again, since I’d been told that once you get it, you won’t ever get it a second time, he told me that is actually not true. Once the mono virus is in your body, you can contract it again if the biological stars align themselves just so.
What is particularly ironic about this whole issue is how keen I am in general to get my hands on any tidbits of actual knowledge. “Knowledge is power.” This phrase was a constant sidekick during the years I was battling back an eating disorder. Instead of fleeing from my weaknesses, I would come at them again and again, using the knowledge they gave me to eventually defeat them.
Every time I found another weakness (some recovering people like to call these “triggers”), I would celebrate, because I had found another chink in the eating disorder’s armor. Assumptions couldn’t help me in this fight for my life, but actual knowledge proved to be a life-saver.
During my battles, I learned that assumptions have no power to give – they are like a very old band-aid that has just a teensy bit of the sticky stuff left, so it stays on for about 10 minutes and then falls off just before the oozing wound underneath finally clots.
Ergo, I am continuing to work very hard to break my habit of making – and then believing my own – assumptions. For today, it feels like the assumptions have the upper hand.
But I have Don Miguel Ruiz, and John Wayne, and Dirty Harry with his bad attitude and big guns on my side.
And I have a feeling I’m gonna need ’em.
Today’s Takeaway: Are you good at catching yourself when you are in the process of making an assumption? If so, what do you do next? Do you think there is any value – like from a survival or best practices perspective – to making assumptions rather than just waiting to see how things play out? Have you ever made an assumption and later been glad you did? I’d love to hear what your experiences have been like!