Here’s a simple example to illustrate the way assumptions can undermine us. Years ago I had an old color TV in my bedroom. I hated it and wanted a new one, but I felt I should wait for this TV to die before I invested in another. One day, my dream came true—the TV wouldn’t turn on! I went shopping immediately, but when I came home with the new TV, I discovered the old one was just partially unplugged. It still worked just fine! I wasn’t terribly sad about my new TV, but I did spend a lot of time shopping that day for something I really didn’t need.
That small incident got me thinking about assumptions and the negative impact they can have on our lives. For instance, suppose someone says something hurtful to you. You might spend minutes, hours, or even days stewing over what the person said and what it means, when, in fact, that person was just having a bad day and spoke out of frustration. They really didn’t intend to be hurtful. Or have you ever driven fifty miles out of your way because you assumed you knew where you were going—despite evidence to the contrary?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how harmful assumptions can be. That’s when I decided to ask ten very successful colleagues if they had ever considered the effect that assumptions have on their work and careers. After reflecting on it, each of my colleagues said they probably waste an hour a day on assumptions. If you do the math, that adds up to 365 hours a year—15.2 days! Over a 30-year career that equals 65 weeks (or 1.4 years) lost to faulty assumptions.
What if I came to you after your career was over and said, “Here’s 1.4 years”? What could you do? How would you help people? That’s the shame of assumptions: they rob us of time that could be used for fun, fulfillment, and helping others.
How often do assumptions interrupt YOUR life? I urge you to start noticing.
In general, assumptions get in the way when you let the emotion of the moment take over. So here’s what you can do. When an assumption hits you, sit back for a few seconds. Then ask yourself, is this really what’s happening? Look at everything else in the environment that could provide contrary evidence. See what else might be having an impact. If you stop and think about things for a few extra seconds, the erroneous nature of the assumption may be revealed, allowing you to act according to the facts and not a faulty assumption. Learning to invest those extra seconds could save you from surrendering hours of your life to false assumptions. As a result, you will have more time to devote to fun, fulfillment, and making an Impact on this world.