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by David N Johnson

July 8, 2023

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Assumptions. They’re the silent puppeteers directing the theater of our lives, subtly influencing our decisions and actions. They simplify our world, provide a sense of order and predictability, and fill in gaps in our understanding. But, like unnoticed puppet strings, they can pull us along a path not of our choosing. So, how do we regain control? How do we cut these strings?

The first thing to understand is that it’s not the questions we ask of others that help us to better understand the why behind our assumptions. It’s the questions that we ask ourselves

Illuminating the Hidden Corners: The Impact of Questioning Our Beliefs

Questioning our beliefs isn’t just a mental exercise. It’s a doorway to personal growth and enlightenment. Consider it like this: our mind is a room filled with light and shadow. Assumptions are those shadowy corners that often go unlit and unchecked. When we start examining our assumptions, we’re shining a light into those dark corners, bringing to conscious awareness what was previously hidden.

By challenging our assumptions, we open the door to a room full of newfound insights. Imagine the seismic shift in human understanding when Copernicus dared to challenge the geocentric model. A long-standing belief, held unquestioned for centuries, was upturned, fundamentally transforming our understanding of our place in the universe. That’s the power of questioning our assumptions.

Sidenote: For those of you unfamiliar with Copernicus, most people believed during his time that the earth was the center of the universe, and everything else, like the sun and planets, revolved around it. He challenged that assumption and put forth the idea that the sun was the center, and the earth and planets orbited around it.

Societal Constraints: The Collective Power of Assumptions

Even our societies are built on a bedrock of shared assumptions. They shape our societal norms, expectations, and beliefs. These collective assumptions can create invisible barriers that often limit our potential and growth. Let’s revisit a time when societal norms held that women were unfit for politics. This assumption, left unchallenged, could have kept us trapped in an unbalanced and unfair political system. However, brave individuals who questioned and challenged this belief became agents of change, leading to the women’s suffrage movement and fundamentally altering the political landscape.

Challenging Assumptions: A Toolkit for Self-Growth

With the significance of challenging assumptions now clear, the question becomes: How do we practically challenge our assumptions? Let’s dig into the toolkit for self-growth:

1. Critical Self-Inquiry: Start questioning your beliefs. What underlies them? What evidence supports them? This introspection is the first step towards challenging our assumptions. I’ve written about this in other posts, but begin by asking yourself, “how do I know I’m right?”
2. Empathy and Perspective-taking: Engage with others who hold different beliefs. Understand their viewpoints. This helps us to see our assumptions from different angles and broadens our perspective.
3. The Reality Check: Test your assumptions against evidence. How well do they hold up? This step is crucial to sift out unfounded assumptions.

This process is like undertaking a renovation of your mental architecture. You’re not just moving the furniture around. You’re knocking down walls and building new ones. Understand that this is no easy task, it will take work. Take the biases that we all have. These mental shortcuts or thinking patterns can cause errors in judgment and decision-making, preventing us from critically examining our own assumptions.

Take confirmation bias, for example. It’s a common bias that derails the process of questioning assumptions. This bias nudges us to seek and interpret information that aligns with our existing beliefs, while conveniently disregarding contradictory evidence. It’s like surrounding ourselves with like-minded folks and ignoring differing perspectives.

Another roadblock to challenging assumptions is cognitive dissonance. This discomfort arises when we hold conflicting beliefs or when our actions clash with our beliefs. To ease this unease, we might rationalize our assumptions or simply ignore evidence that challenges them. Sadly, this hampers self-reflection and prevents us from reevaluating our assumptions.

Let’s not forget about availability bias, which can restrict our ability to challenge assumptions. This bias tricks us into relying on readily available information that pops into our minds easily. We might lean on examples or information conveniently stored in our memory, even if they’re not accurate or representative. This limited and biased information can lead us to make assumptions without considering alternative perspectives.

Overcoming biases and challenging assumptions demands conscious effort and a commitment to critical thinking. It’s essential to actively seek out diverse perspectives, carefully consider contradictory evidence, and dare to question our own beliefs. By acknowledging our biases and actively challenging them, we can break free from their limitations and approach the evaluation of assumptions with an open mind and objectivity.

Unleashing Our Potential: How Challenging Assumptions Transforms Daily Life

This ‘renovation’ isn’t reserved for grand assumptions about the universe. It’s something you can – and should – apply to your daily life.

Think about a time when you thought you were not a “morning person.” You avoided early morning tasks, believing you couldn’t be productive. But have you ever questioned this belief? Have you ever tried to change your routine to see if you could enjoy the peace and quiet of early mornings? Challenging such an assumption could open new routines and opportunities for you.

Finding Our Path: Embracing the Power of Self-Determination

By questioning our assumptions, we free ourselves from invisible barriers and preconceived limitations. We gain the ability to set our own course rather than merely following the path laid out by others’ beliefs or societal expectations.

This is an invitation for you to begin this transformative process. Reflect on your own life and identify an assumption you’ve held onto. Begin to question it, to understand it, and see what changes when you start to challenge it. Share your thoughts and experiences. Let’s create a dialogue that encourages growth and self-discovery.

Remember, it’s the questions we ask ourselves that propel us forward on the path to personal growth.

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David N Johnson

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David N Johnson

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