We all have assumptions—hundreds of them—that become our paradigms of thinking, a set of concepts that we accept about something.
A critical life assumption is how we see the world and our place in it.
Business leaders make decisions for their business from their assumptions. They assume the economy will improve, worsen, or stay the same. They assume demand for their product or service will continue. Sometimes they make bad assumptions, too. Consider the following:
- In 1943 Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, famously predicted there was a “world market for maybe five computers.”
- In 1968 Business Week assured the world that the “Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big share of the market for itself.”
- Even the venerable Albert Einstein proclaimed that there is “not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable.”
Faulty assumptions can spell disaster for a business, so good business leaders know to test their assumptions.
Likewise, in our personal lives it’s important to test our critical life assumptions. We hold assumptions about many areas of our lives, but there are four common areas worth special examination:
- My Vocation: The assumptions I make about my value to the world.
- My Relationships: The assumptions I make about the relationships I foster.
- My Spiritual Life: The assumptions I make about God.
- My Physical Life: The assumptions I make about my capabilities and limitations.
Some assumptions we make are healthy. Others are limiting. Assumptions like “I will never have enough money” or “The only person I can trust is myself” are never going to allow us to rise to our highest potential because we won’t inherently believe that we are capable or that we are valuable.
Unhealthy critical life assumptions hold us captive. Often they arise from wounds; when we’ve been hurt by unhealthy people or through unfortunate circumstances. And, they are hard to recognize, yet they profoundly influence the decisions we make about our future.
I’ve had to deal with some of my own critical life assumptions, born from my own painful experiences. It’s easy for me to believe, falsely, for instance, that I must make important decisions alone or that everything I want in life will be harder than I expect or, more painfully, that when someone truly gets to know me, they will leave me.
Some of these are downright silly, and my friends have told me so when I’ve shared those and others with them. And that’s the point. Until I recognized them and brought them out in the open, I couldn’t recognize them for the faulty assumptions that they are.
What are your critical life assumptions? Take a moment to reflect on that question. Is there a pattern you tend to follow when something goes wrong? What are the first words you say to yourself after a perceived failure? Who do you least want to disappoint in your life? And why?
If you are chronically disappointed in yourself, it’s likely that a critical assumption is at work. Maybe it’s time to take Isaac Asimov advice, “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.”
How do you change your critical life assumptions? I’ll explore that in my next post.
Comment below: What is a critical life assumption you have?