Assumptions Are Our Mind’s Flypaper

Reality is what we assume to be true.  What we assume to be true is what we believe.  What we believe is based upon our perceptions.  What we perceive depends on what we look for.  What we look for depends on what we think.  What we think depends on what we perceive.  What we perceive determines what we believe.  What we believe determines what we assume to be true. What we assume to be true is our reality.  -David Bohm

I’ve studied Nancy Kline’s books “Time to Think” and “More Time to Think: The Power of Independent Thinking” to learn her unique approach to executive coaching.  She terms the coaching experience as “Thinking Sessions” and the coach and the coachee are equal partners in thinking together in new ways to resolve issues and develop into our next best selves.  If you are a professional coach, I highly recommend both of Ms. Kline’s books.

A key concept Klien explores is the concept of assumptions.  An assumption is a thought one accepts as true or certain without proof.  Assumptions are highly effective at keeping one stuck in the present state and can form the bars of a self-created cage to prevent personal and organizational change.

Assumptions allow one to conserve mental energy by thinking of plausible sounding stories which confirm our worldview of reality.  If I am an idealist by nature, I am likely to assume this is a normal worldview and may find it odd when I meet a staunch realist.  If I assume it to be cold in January in the Midwest and dress without checking the weather forecast, I might be sweating my assumption when it unexpectedly hits 70 degrees.  If I assume everyone will abide by traffic signals, I may have a collision with someone who fails to stop at a red traffic light.  The knowledge and experience of assumptions proving to be wrong, do not seem to slow down our brain’s natural tendency to continue to use personal assumptions to guide our choices and decisions.

How often we create self-fulfilling prophecies by not challenging and testing our assumptions.  We routinely assume our boss will deny our request for a raise so we fail to give the rationale for why we deserve a pay increase.  We assume we could never afford a college degree, so we never apply to college.

The most important question we can ask ourselves about any significant assumptions we make which offer a convenient excuse for not trying something new and/or different is to simply confirm the assumption with some questioning.  Is the assumption true?  Is the assumption always true?  Is there some different way to think about this assumption which would allow us to not make it true?

One will soon find many assumptions are true and can be classified a truths or facts.  Some assumptions cannot be proven but are likely true.  Other assumptions are not always true, but are the way one wishes to live his/her life so the assumption is decided to be true to them personally.  Some assumptions cannot be proven or disproved and can be thought of as possibilities.   Beliefs are assumptions which we trust on faith and do not seek to confirm.

The sum of our assumptions become the boundaries of our thinking and living.  Comfort zones are built out of seemingly solid assumptions.  To break free of our assumptions and to allow room for growth, one must ask and answer challenging questions.

What evidence do I have which supports my present limiting assumption?

What evidence exists which refutes my assumption?

Often one key assumption is tied to many sub-assumptions.  So if this key assumption is true, what other assumptions must also be true?

Which assumptions are you choosing to accept as true which are keeping you from living a Fired Up! life? If you knew that this assumption were not true, what could you then assume to be true that would be liberating?

Assumptions are our mind’s flypaper to keep us safely stuck in the present situation.  If we seek to grow and achieve our full potential, we must inventory and confirm our limiting assumptions.  A professional thinking partner/coach can help you sort through your assumptions.

Which assumptions need challenged today?



Too Much of a Good Thing Can Be a Bad Thing

Big Ice Cream Weymouth
Image by boliston via Flickr

More is Not Always the Best Answer

If you are not getting what you want out of how you are choosing to live your life, then is continuing to do more of what you are not happy with, the most effective strategy to be happy? Too often we do more of what worked for us once, even when we are confronted with undisputable evidence that we are failing to be successful in achieving our desired goals or outcomes.  It’s tempting to say, “I guess I’m just not good at that anymore.”  When in reality, you may be suffering from too much of a good thing. Overuse or misuse of a personal strength can often appear to others as a personal weakness or limitation.

Know Your Strengths

In my book, “Life Matches: Fire Up Your Life!” I suggest that a great way to uncover and understand your natural, personal strengths is to purchase Tom Rath’s best-selling book, “StrengthsFinder 2.0” and complete the accompanying online personality assessment.

My StrengthsFinder 2.0 ® results revealed that I had the following internal primary motivations:

Achiever-Feels most satisfied with daily, tangible accomplishments.

Activator-A person of action–a doer.

Belief-Hardwired internal values and ethics determine choices and behaviors.

Learner-There is always something new to know in life’s laboratory.

Maximizer-Make the most of the personal gifts you have been given.

Responsibility-Personal commitment to dependability.

In my professional roles as a motivational speaker, human performance improvement specialist, trainer and executive coach, I regularly blend my strengths to perform in ways that successfully meet the demands and expectations of these roles and provide a great sense of personal satisfaction. That’s how it works for me on a good day, when I’m at my best.  On a not so good day, when I’m not able to come up with a winning strengths blend, I tend to choose my strongest strengths by default and things don’t always work out as well. For example, when my achiever-self teams up with my activator-self and desperately want to “just get things started so we can get something done!”  I can appear to others as someone who is lacking in patience, prudence and might be someone who is prone to rushing to judgment.  But, hey man, I am just trying to use my strengths to fire up my life!  What could be wrong with doing that?

A “Life Match” represents the flame of one of your personal strengths and when used properly, they can fire up your life.  When used inappropriately, they can become an overly large open flame in an explosive environment which can cause a disaster.

Too Strong for Your Own Good

Many of my executive coaching clients are often frustrated when their most natural behaviors do not get them their desired results.  For example, an exceptional former salesperson whose strength of persuasive influence provided him/her years of sales awards, might be shocked to have his/her peers and staff described this same behavior as appearing overly pushy, manipulative and inflexible during a 360 degree feedback report of his/her performance as a sales manager.  One’s strength in one role can be perceived as a weakness in another role or situation.

It’s not that one’s strength has suddenly become a weakness. The strength has just been inappropriately used. It was the wrong tool for the wrong job.  Sometimes using 50% of a limited capacity may yield more effectiveness than using 100% of an inappropriate strength.

How do you know if you are abusing your strengths?  Ask people who care enough about you to be candid and brutally honest, which of your behaviors irritate, bother and bug them the most.  As you begin to get a picture of how others view your behaviors, you can then evaluate your motives, desired outcomes and most importantly, your tactics or behaviors that you used to try to achieve your desired outcome.  If you are lucky, your workplace may provide you with an opportunity to participate in a program that offers anonymous 360 degree feedback of our performance.  Your report will typically give you an idea of how others perceive your behaviors.  You can then explore what behaviors and strengths you are using and decide if they are the appropriate ones or if there is an area of limited capacity that you might need to better manage around.

For example, if one of your strengths is the ability to focus your attention for extended periods of time while working on a project it might allow you to produce an exceptional volume of work in a relatively short period of time.  The challenge might be that this focused work might cause other areas of your work to suffer, such as responding to co-workers’ e-mail messages or allowing telephone calls to divert to voice mail.  Your hyper-focus might be perceived by others as negligently ignoring them or as being unresponsive to their requests.  You may not have an actual weakness in communication, but your hyper-focus strength might be so strong that it overpowers your desire to be available to collaborate.

Coaches See What You Can’t

A professional coach is an excellent resource to help someone sort out which of one’s behaviors are counter-productive.   A coach can often see behavioral blind spots and bring them to one’s attention.  Once someone is aware of one’s blind spots, s/he can choose the most effective behaviors in a given situation that are most likely to achieve the most desired results.

It is possible to behave in ways that leave others feeling like someone is too much of a good thing.  That’s a bad thing and can become a limiting factor in one’s career advancement.  Knowing your strengths is a great start to living a fired up life, but knowing the proper strength to use in a given situation and the appropriate intensity of that strength is usually wisdom gained from candid feedback and thoughtful reflection.

If you are feeling ineffective, perhaps using too much of one or more of your strengths is to blame.

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