You’ve probably heard what they say happens when you make assumptions. To put it politely, they can set us up for major disappointment. Assumptions can easily evolve into expectations that lead us to make decisions based on information we assume is still valid. In reality, people change, plans change, even store hours change. When we assume things will stay the same way they’ve always been, we will inevitably make mistakes.
Of course, we have to live with some assumptions. We assume what the traffic will be like for our morning commute so that we know when to leave for work, knowing full well there may be a traffic jam that causes us to be late. But when our assumptions cause us pain, disappointment, or judgment, there is a powerful and necessary opportunity to reevaluate our thought process.
Here are 3 tips to avoid making harmful assumptions:
1. Be curious! Ask questions when you don’t understand (and even when you think you do).
Kids constantly ask questions because they are curious about everything and have no shame or embarrassment while they are in their learning phase. As we get older, we tend to stop asking so many questions. Ego plays a big part in this. Either we think we already know everything or fear looking dumb if we don’t.
One simple way to avoid the disappointment that comes from assumptions is to be curious and ask more questions. Be open to the possibility that you don’t know as much as you think you do. Not only will you find that you learn more this way, but you will experience more joy and less of the pain that comes from assumptions.
Next time you make a choice, ask yourself, “Am I basing any of my choices or plans on previous experiences? Am I 100% sure that everything that I think I know is still relevant?”
2. Be open to another person’s point of view and the possibility that you may be wrong.
Assumptions start causing problems when we believe our way of interpretating a situation is the only way to interpret them. Assumptions can lead us to judge others because we think we know better than they do. We might look down on others as ill-informed or ignorant when they see things differently.
When we have a disagreement with someone, we are never as right as we think, and the other person is never as wrong as we believe. It’s never black and white. The other person might be coming from a different place, have a different view, or have a different decision process. Even if they were wrong in this instance, it does not invalidate their experience or opinion, and there can still be something to learn from their perspective.
In our interactions with strangers and even in our close relationships, we never fully know what’s going on in the other person’s life that makes them act the way they do. We never know what their worries are, what their past traumas are, or what their experience is today. If you want to derive the most joy from your experiences, be open to the fact there’s a part that you can’t see. Be open to the other person’s view and the possibility that you are not 100% right. That humility helps mitigate the ego that comes with assumptions.
3. Resist the temptation to judge others. Instead, take every encounter as an opportunity to learn something about yourself.
When we see something in another person that we are uncomfortable with, we often push it away by judging it. We think, “That’s so far removed from me, how could anyone be like that?” We might make assumptions that the other person is immoral, angry, crazy, or just not smart.
The wisdom of Kabbalah teaches that every person we cross paths with, especially those that cause a strong reaction in us, like jealousy, disgust, or annoyance, exists to awaken something within us. In those moments, the Creator is holding up a mirror to us because there is something we need to change by seeing it. If you witness someone yelling and screaming, for instance, you might assume they are a very angry person. Resist the temptation to judge them and instead reflect on how anger manifests within you, even if it’s not in the exact same way.
When someone upsets you, stop and ask, “Why is the Creator showing me this? What is it that they are doing that I can learn about myself?” This is not easy. It’s much easier to judge others, but these are great opportunities for personal growth.
We can’t completely avoid assumptions in our lives. They can be healthy and necessary. But when they cause us disappointment, pain, or lead us to judge others, they can be dangerous. Actively work against assumptions by being curious about the world, asking more questions, and being open to other opinions and the possibility that you may be wrong about your own. Life can be an endless process of learning and growing if we dedicate our energy to it. The less we assume, the more we learn.