When you were in school, you probably had a know-it-all in the classroom. This person didn’t come to class to learn; he came to show how much he already knew. Even when he clearly wasn’t familiar with a particular topic, he probably spoke as if he had an advanced degree on the subject. What audacity! How dare people go to classrooms and assume that they already know everything!This might sting a bit, but here goes: each of us is a know-it-all.What I mean by that is that we constantly make assumptions1. You may not realize this, but when you don’t know something about a person or situation, your brain tries to fill in the blank. We automatically and unconsciously invent a belief to resolve our sense of uncertainty2. Every time we speak with someone, go to work, or come home from the grocery store, we are full of assumptions.For example, a reliable source may tell us that an upcoming dinner party is going to be dull. Most of the time, we will quickly and unconsciously decide that the dinner party will bore us without knowing who is going to be there or even where it’s taking place! We are uncomfortable not knowing the full truth, so it’s easier to simply fill in this gap in our knowledge with an assumption. From that one little piece of information, we decide whether or not we will attend the party as if we had already learned everything about it.That can get in the way of leading a happy life.RESEARCH: Underestimating People’s Blue MoodsIn other Cloud Nine articles, I’ve discussed the importance of not taking things personally and speaking with compassionate honesty. These are challenging things to do, but they are easier to work on if you don’t make assumptions.For instance, maybe you don’t get along with some co-workers. In this case, it’s easy to assume that these co-workers are spreading rumors about you. You might take this hypothetical gossip personally (without knowing if it’s actually happening), and may even say a few nasty things about them. Suddenly, everyone is suffering, all because you made an assumption.As you can imagine, this sort of thing can have a big impact on your relationships.Relationships become difficult when we assume that the other person is a mind reader. They’re not. Yet, that’s what we seem to think! If a romantic partner forgets to pick up our favorite brand of yogurt, it’s easy to surmise, “How could he do that? He should know!” However, if you have not made your desire for this particular yogurt explicitly clear, guess what? You’re making the assumption that this person knows exactly what you want. This is not fair to him or to you!Here’s how to stop making assumptions:
- Realize that this is a strong habit that we all have. It won’t go away immediately—the will to change is a great start.
- Notice each time you make an assumption (hint: this happens many times each day). When you become more aware of your moment-to-moment judgments and beliefs, they become easier to control and are less likely to cause unnecessary suffering.
- Focus on making one healthy assumption: there is always more information to learn. Accepting this truth helps you to stay open-minded, get along with other people, and make fewer assumptions.
- Ask more questions! This may seem obvious but it’s the most effective way to prevent inaccurate assumptions. You may be surprised how willing people are to explain themselves if you simply ask them directly.
When we stop making assumptions, communication in our relationships improves dramatically—we become more compassionately honest and we are less likely to take things personally. Suddenly, we see the necessity of being very clear with what we want and how we wish to be treated. We stop assuming that everyone sees life the way we do.QUIZ: How’s Your Self-Esteem?Remember: It’s okay not to know everything.If life is a classroom, why be the know-it-all? Why operate on assumptions that are not even true? Have the courage to stop assuming and start asking; this will help you avoid a great deal of needless suffering. Learn as much as you can and live accordingly. You will find that this is far more conducive toward living a happy and peaceful life.1Ruiz, Don M. (1997). The Four Agreements. San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Publishing.2Bargh, J. A., & Chartrand, T. L. (1999). The unbearable automaticity of being. American Psychologist, 54, 462-479.