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Are your assumptions holding you back?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve noticed a number of clients being held back by their assumptions (or the stories they tell themselves about a particular situation). When we make assumptions, and hold on to them as facts, it can impact our mindset and well-being. I’m sure we’ve all been there, I certainly have. 

Something happens - a conversation with a partner, a comment from a colleague or a behaviour we witness - (it can even be something very small), and we make assumptions.

Those assumptions lead us to feel an emotion, and those emotions trigger a reaction in us. 

Often our assumptions are not based on fact, but on our particular beliefs, experiences and inner narrative. Our assumptions may even change depending on how we’re feeling that day, or what mood we’ve in. 

The clients I’ve seen these last few weeks have shared a situation that left them feeling frustrated, doubting themselves, hurt or even angry. Once we worked through the assumptions they were making about the situation, they were able to see alternative perspectives and identify how their assumptions had held them back or limit themselves. 

Exploring assumptions

Assumptions can act as silent barriers that confine us. How many times have you told yourself you can't achieve a certain goal or pursue a particular path, all based on assumptions about your abilities or external circumstances? These assumptions, if left unexamined, become roadblocks on your path to success and happiness. They ultimately disrupt our inner peace.

I thought it would be worth exploring a real life example here to demonstrate how powerful our assumptions can be. So here we go...

Meet Joanne

A recent client, Joanne (not her real name for confidentiality purposes), came into a session sharing feelings of frustration, feeling disheartened, small and dismissed following an email exchange with her manager.

On Monday, she received an email from her manager. She described how she felt reading the email; undermined and belittled. It led her to start questioning her value, and was leading her to doubt her abilities for her role. 

We explored further. Joanne highlighted that she had made a recommendation to her manager via email the week before. She had ideas on how to improve a particular project she was working on and was excited to be given the opportunity for some new responsibilities.

She had worked extra hours over the weekend to articulate the full extent of her ideas. 

In her manager’s reply Joanne said he had been polite and grateful, and advised her to stay focused on the original brief and save the recommendations for another time.

Joanne’s heart sank at this reply. 

I could see that Joanne was agitated by her body language and how animated she had become recalling the feelings when she read the reply. ‘I felt so small, and well, if my manager doesn’t believe in me, I’m not sure I want to continue with this role.'

Together we explored what Joanne could be assuming about her manager’s intentions behind the email. 

Joanne paused and reflected. "I guess I assumed he thought I was incompetent and that he didn’t think I was talented enough to have these ideas. Maybe he thinks it’s not my place to offer suggestions, but I’m really keen to progress and wanted to demonstrate my ambition. I felt he was trying to keep me small, and ‘keep me in my box’. 

There were clearly a lot of assumptions going on behind those feelings. When we don’t inspect those assumptions, we can create our own stories which in turn impacts our behaviour and reactions. The impact here for Joanne, is that she was doubting her own ability and even questioning if she was in the right job.

It is common to make assumptions when faced with a challenging situation. I’m sure we can all think of similar scenarios to the one that Joanne described. However, it's crucial to remember that assumptions are not facts and so it is worth checking in on your assumptions when you notice feelings of frustration or that you become hooked on a particular story that causes you to ruminate on negative feelings. 

I invited Joanne to consider other possible interpretations of her manager's email. This can often be uncomfortable. Sometimes we become fixated on our assumptions and the thought of another perspective can feel challenging. 

Joanne thought and said, ‘Well, I suppose he could be trying to protect me, maybe worried about my capacity for starting something new. He may not know that I am keen to progress into new areas of responsibilities. I guess he also may want the team to stay focused on their agreed tasks for this project. He could have even been preoccupied when he responded to the email, and not mean anything by it at all.’ 

I gently guided Joanne through a process of examining her assumptions and reframing her thoughts, helping her see the situation from different angles. Together, we explored various interpretations of the email, considering the possibility that the manager's intentions might be different from what she initially perceived.

As the session progressed, we identified more helpful versions of the story, based on the facts that she was aware of, and created actionable steps for Joanne to address the situation with her manager. We worked on communication strategies and ways to clarify expectations, ensuring a more constructive and open dialogue in the future. 

By the end of the session, Joanne left with a newfound sense of clarity, confidence and a plan of action. She also identified how these strategies would apply not only in work, but in all areas of life.

Does this resonate?

Consider the relationships in your life – how often do you assume you know someone's intentions or feelings without truly understanding their perspective? These assumptions can lead to misunderstandings, conflict, and missed opportunities for connection and growth.

Prompts to help you reframe your assumptions

Work through these reflection questions (or journal) when you want to challenge your own assumptions.

• What is a situation where you have recently been frustrated, angry, upset…

• What were the neutral facts? Only the things you know to be true?

• What assumptions were you making?

• How did those assumptions make you feel?

• How did those feelings make you act / respond?

• How did those actions make others behave / respond?

• What would be a more liberating assumption to make and where is the evidence to support that  assumption?

• What would you do if you knew that more liberating assumption to be true?

• What is your new insight to the situation? And what might you do differently next time?

As your coach, my role is to help clients navigate these assumptions and break free from the constraints they impose. We need to challenge the beliefs that hold us back and hinder our personal development and contentment. By doing so, we open ourselves up to new possibilities, experiences, and relationships.

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