You’ve may have heard the old adage that when you assume things, you make an ass out of both u and me, (ass-u-me, get it?) and if you’re anything like me, you try not to make assumptions. But if you are human, you also have what’s known as a negativity bias.
A negativity bias is the notion that as humans who are biologically wired for survival, we focus on the negative more than we do the positive. Worse, we take negative situations more personally and allow them to have a greater impact on our psyche than we do positive situations.
Assumptions & Negativity Bias
Even though I try not to, this past week made me realize how much I do this and how often others do too. To help, I came up with eleven questions that will show you when assumptions are getting in your way and how to clear up your own thinking.
Here’s what happened.
Last week I spoke at two conferences, one live and one virtual. During the virtual presentation I was not present in the breakout rooms, so I assumed everything was going well. In fact, while waiting for participants to return to the main Zoom room, my mind said things like, “This is going great, I’m so proud of me!” Which left me feeling like a rock star!
During the group discussion following the breakout rooms, my belief that “this is going great I’m so proud of me” led me to focus on the insightful comments being made by some of the participants, thus bolstering my belief that I was doing well. I didn’t think twice about the participants who didn’t participate. I assumed they were just as happy as everyone else.
But in the live presentation, I could hear the interaction. So when I overheard a woman say, “I’m lost. What are we supposed to be talking about?” my thoughts changed. In this instance, I assumed that I was doing a terrible job, which colored the way I saw the comments in the discussion and left me feeling like a failure.
Instead of focusing on the engaged and insightful comments (like I had during the virtual presentation) I scanned the room looking for blank faces and disengaged participants. In both instances I was making wild assumptions, but I didn’t sit in my room stewing about the positive assumptions I had made. I only did that with the negative assumptions, which cut deeper. Negativity bias in full force!
Assumptions & Taking Things Personally?
This week, before teaching my weekly boot camp class, I ran into a participant who hadn’t been in class for a while. I bounced over to her, said it was great to see her, and asked if she had been on vacation. My assumption was that if she was in town, she would have been in class. She said that she quit coming to my class because she knew she was no longer welcomed, and although she missed it, she knew we didn’t want her there.
Stunned, I dug deeper. She said that during class last month I said, “If you can’t do this, just stop!” She assumed I was speaking to her because she was modifying the movements when I made that comment.
Horrified, I apologized and explained that I was talking to the class in general and that my intent was to set people free to do their own thing and not feel like they had to push themselves into something they weren’t able to do.
After clearing up both of our assumptions, she’s back in class and we are better because of it. I’m more aware of how my words can be interpreted and she can once again enjoy the class she loves. But it was interesting to see how we were both making assumptions about the other, and how we were both taking those assumptions personally, and making something about us that had nothing to do with us!
Living Free from Assumptions, Negativity Bias, & Taking Things Personally
What would it be like if we did not make assumptions? How much freer would we be to feel good about ourselves and enjoy life? And how much more balanced would our perspective and interpretation of what was going on around us be?
The Living in the Glitter exercise in my book FLAUNT! Drop Your Cover and Reveal Your Smart, Sexy, & Spiritual Self has eleven filter questions that you can use to challenge your assumptions and help you to become freer, happier, and more balanced.
I have summarized them and turned them into a handy-dandy pdf that you can print out and use in your daily life anytime you need a dose of clarity or anytime you feel like you are stressing out, feeling angry or judgmental, or are unable to get go of a situation or interaction with another.
Just print out a copy of the questions, take a few deep breaths, and answer honestly. When you do, and you begin to see that you are making assumptions, that your negativity bias is kicking in, or that you are taking something personally that has nothing to do with you, you will calm down. Your nervous system will begin to regulate, and once again you will find the peace and calm you desire!
Are you living or working with someone who has a tendency to make assumptions, focus on the negative, or get defensive because they are taking everything personally? Go ahead and share this blog, or this checklist with them. Doing so has the potential to help you both!