Einstein said that if he had only one hour to save the world he would spend the first fifty-five minutes defining the problem and the last five minutes finding the solution. The reasoning behind this is simple: the better we understand a problem, the closer we’ll be to finding a solution. And one of the best ways to move towards clarity is to examine the long-held assumptions that we’ve accepted as fact.
The key here is the engagment of our intention. Specifically, how can we intentionally recognize our assumptions (or beliefs)? What we need to do is become cognizant of our beliefs and challenge them. It’s a fascinating process. It won’t take long to realize that we’ve built a whole mental landscape based on them. We may discover that some assumptions do not work for us any longer and need to be updated or even abandoned completely.
The problem is that we’ve given too much control to our assumptions. We’ve been operating on automatic pilot ever since. Let’s get ourselves back in the driver’s seat. To do this we’ll need to expose and challenge our assumptions. Once we identify that pesky assumption, we need to ask ourselves “what would be the worst thing that could happen to me if I let it go right now?”
For example, let’s say that over the years we’ve built ourselves a nice comfortable assumption about how we don’t need to give our opinion at team meetings or during conference calls since we have nothing valuable to offer the group. So we sit there and watch the activity from the sidelines. Since we don’t expect to contribute to the discussion we allow our attention to drift. Soon we’re lost in a daydream and completely disassociated from the group. Not a good career move.
Then one day we wake up and decide thatwe don’t want to be a bystander anymore. We challenge our assumption and imagine what are the worst things that could happen if we began to speak up. Here’s what you may come up with (your reaction is in parenthesis):
1. Everyone ignores me (loss of self-confidence)
2. People listen to me and then dismiss my opinion (feelings of humiliation and shame)
3. People listen to me and vehemently disagree with my opinion (feelings of defeat and failure)
Well at least we know where we stand. And best of all, we’re back in control. We’ve identified the negative feelings that have formed the basis of our assumption. Now we can make a decision on how to move forward.
(Hint: Many times it’s not what we say that people respond to, but the way we say it or present ourselves. In that case, Toastmasters can help us find our authoritative voice and engaging presentation style).