Don’t Make Assumption: Seek and Face the Truth

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Success Principles" by Jack Canfield. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you feel like you tend to rush to conclusions too soon? Why is it important to hold yourself off making premature assumptions about the events in your life?

It’s common to make up “stories” about a situation or experience to help us interpret it rather than asking questions to learn the truth. Often, our stories are negative, and they affect how we choose to act.

In this article, you’ll learn to ask questions to determine what’s going on rather than letting your negative stories affect your emotions and guide your actions.

Avoid Assuming

When you spend too much time thinking about what others think about you, it’s common to assume the worst. If you don’t check into it, you can’t know how others feel, and you run the risk that you’ll start acting based on how you think they feel rather than how they actually feel. However, you may feel hesitant to check in with someone because talking about feelings can be intimidating. Yet, don’t make assumptions. Instead, push through your insecurity, and check in with the person you’re wondering about so you can learn the facts and act accordingly. You may find out their behavior has nothing to do with you.

For example, during one of Canfield’s seminars, he could see a participant whose body language indicated he wasn’t enjoying himself: The participant had his arms crossed and a displeased expression. Canfield approached him during the first break to check in. He explained what he saw and asked if there was anything he could do to improve the presentation. The participant replied that he was greatly enjoying the presentation but was feeling under the weather, and it was taking all of his energy to concentrate. Canfield felt proud of himself for checking in with the man and not letting himself be consumed for the whole presentation with whether the participant was enjoying himself.

Checking in can also help set clear expectations for the future. For example, instead of assuming your coworker knows when you expect them to turn in their report, ask them directly for verbal confirmation that they’re okay with the specific deadline you have in mind.

Ask Questions to Help You Succeed and Achieve Your Goals

In addition to the benefits of avoiding assumptions, asking questions can help you succeed in your career and achieve your goals in two ways:

  1. You learn what you need to know and establish guidelines in the beginning. Companies that discuss expectations and how challenges will be dealt with in the beginning of a project or partnership will be more capable of tackling challenges that arise. For example, if you start doing business with a new company, creating guidelines on how you’ll resolve conflicts at the outset will help you handle the conflict rather than facing the stress of both the conflict and not having a procedure to resolve it.
  2. You learn the rules and how to use them to your advantage. In certain situations, you might think you should avoid asking questions so you appear competent. But it’s better to ask them and work confidently with the answers rather than operating without clarity. For example, Tim Ferriss had experience in wrestling when he decided to attempt to win the national kickboxing championship with just six weeks to train. He investigated the rules to determine how he might play to his strengths. He learned that in addition to winning a round if you knock your opponent out, you can also win by throwing them out of the ring twice in a round. He asked his coach to focus his training on learning to throw opponents out of the ring, using his existing athletic strengths. By not assuming he had to knock people out to win, Ferriss found a way to win a game he had little experience with.

Take Action: Tips for Asking Good Questions

Here are a few ways to begin your questions:

  • “Do you mean…?”
  • “Are you feeling…?”
  • “Do you think…?”
  • “I’m wondering if…?”

Even with these kinds of questions, you may get “no” responses that don’t inform you about what the person actually thinks of the situation. Men may be vague about why they feel or think a certain way while women may explain in greater detail. If you encounter a vague “no,” keep asking different questions to get to the heart of the matter.

The “Do you mean…?” question can be especially useful in these situations. For example, you ask your spouse if they’ll help you clean the garage on Friday night, and they reply, “no.” At that point, you can ask, “Do you mean that you never want to help me clean the garage or you just don’t want to help me on Friday night, or something else?” Phrasing questions in this way encourages people to clarify their thoughts and feelings.

Don’t Make Assumption: Seek and Face the Truth

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  • The 67 principles to help anyone achieve their goals and dreams
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  • How to take responsibility for your own life

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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