Assumptions—A common anxiety pitfall

Although there seems to be a myriad of situations that can make us feel anxious and powerless, a large number of them fall under one major theme: making assumptions.

In general, assumptions are a normal part of life. There are simply too many variables and possible outcomes to consider. If we didn’t act and make decisions based on assumptions, we would become completely overwhelmed and paralyzed.

Yet negative assumptions can make us feel angry, hurt, ashamed, and especially fearful and insecure. One of the fundamental problems with negative assumptions is that we often don’t recognize them as such. For example, think about the “what if” game. Any thoughts starting with “what if” should give us a clue that we’re about to venture off into a fictional reality. We can get lost thinking through the consequences of terrible disasters, painful rejections, or enormous failures, without realizing that they’re all based on one, frequently ludicrous “what if” assumption. Other, more subtle indicators that we’re about to enter into fantasy land are phrases such as “I know what he’s thinking” or “It just won’t work out” or “She is so much better off than me”―you get the idea. We make generalizations, ignore certain facts, and misread and over-interpret others, all to concoct stories that are detrimental to our inner peace and well-being.

Usually negative assumptions don’t make logical sense; they aren’t based on facts, they cloud our minds with insecurity and anxiety and hold us back from achieving our goals. Anxiety-triggering assumptions stem from the subconscious mind and are created for one valid purpose ―to prepare us for and protect us from danger, rejection, or pain. But despite these positive intentions, negative assumptions never make us feel safe. Instead, they tend to deplete our energy, undermine our confidence, and take control of us rather than giving us control. Ultimately, we abandon ourselves, and our subconscious responds by generating more fear and anxiety.

The following simple steps will help you to interrupt this self-limiting pattern and direct your mind towards greater peace and empowerment.

Step 1: Notice when negative assumptions make you anxious and tempt you to spring into frantic action and control the circumstances. For example:

  • You get stuck in traffic on your way to work. You tell yourself, “I’ll be late for the team meeting, and the others will think I’m a flake.” So you are driving faster and taking more risks on the road.
  • You see that your neighbors bought a brand new car. Immediately you compare yourself: “These people are much more successful and happy than I am. I will never be able to afford what they can.” So you are calling your bank to see if you could qualify for a car loan.

Step 2: Instead of spiraling into anxiety or frantic action, take a deep breath and ask yourself the following three questions:

  • Am I giving my power to the assumption?
  • Is acting on the assumption really the best use of my time and energy right now?
  • How can I view and respond to this assumption in a more empowered way?

Step 3: Address your negative assumptions with a counterbalancing positive statement, starting with “I trust”: For example, to counterbalance the two assumptions above, you might try:

  • I trust in the value I bring to the team, regardless whether I’m late or not.”
  • “I trust that I am in charge of my own success and happiness. Each person’s life is unique and therefore can’t be compared to one another.”

Through these simple steps you’ll sharpen your awareness of how often you’re tempted to raise negative thoughts, abandoning the present and, with it, your sense of control. And you’ll increase your mental and emotional flexibility and, thus, your ability to quickly shift back into the now and to choose to think and act from a place of self-empowerment and inner peace.