Hello Dear Readers, and welcome to September! I hope you’ve all been enjoying these last days of summer and that the hustle and bustle of going back to school happens as smoothly as possible for you. As I write this, I am sitting on my back porch listening to the sounds of the birds and wildlife in my yard and imagining all of the little animal families getting ready for the colder months ahead. I can see squirrels filling up on seeds and nuts and chipmunks lining their dens for winter in my mind’s eye. Isn’t it great to have such imagination? Sometimes. And sometimes there are certain conclusions that we draw about life that are less than helpful. Have you ever heard of that saying, “don’t assume, it makes an a** out of u and me”? Well, Dear Reader, today I’m assuming that you want to learn more about how letting go of assumptions can reduce stress in your life and help you access more mental aptitude for whatever challenges you are facing in real-time.
As part of being human, we make so many judgment calls every day that at times it’s hard to know the difference between fact and fiction. One of the topics that frequently crops up when working with mindfulness practice (stress relief) is the idea of letting go of labels (assumptions) and experiencing life directly rather than through the lens of our mind’s interpretation.
What’s wrong with my mind making assumptions, you may ask? What might not be working for you is that assumptions are rarely optimistic and very rarely correct. Making an assumption is akin to trying to look into a (broken) crystal ball. You cannot predict the future or know exactly what another person is thinking, no matter how smart or intuitive you are.
Now, don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of good reasons for our brains to try to predict the future. Driving a car is an excellent example of the value of prediction-we need to anticipate the movements of other drivers and judge road conditions to stay safe. However, the problem with assumption occurs when we take that predictive behavior and apply it to things that do not require it. Take, for instance, a meeting with your boss. Have you ever received an email from your supervisor asking to meet unexpectedly and immediately felt your blood pressure rise? Why? Were you anticipating the big promotion you must be getting? Probably not. Most likely, your mind raced through the last twenty projects you were in charge of to analyze the possible mistakes you made. That kind of thinking is very common, so don’t feel sheepish if you can relate, Dear Reader. The point is that you assumed that the meeting was for a negative reason. Now, maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t, but either way, you can’t know ahead of time what to expect, so why spend the afternoon imagining getting fired? That’s not going to help you do a great job on project number twenty-one.
Read on, Dear Reader, and collect some tips on how to let go of assuming (the worst).
Challenge Assumptions: When you think about something stressful and you try to shake that magic eight ball called your mind, don’t forget that you can challenge your thoughts. Ask yourself the question “Is it true?” and “Can I know for certain?”. Stopping and asking yourself these questions can give you time to breathe and pull yourself out of the story your mind is telling you. Remember, just because you think it, doesn’t mean you have to believe it.
Cultivate a Zen mind: In Zen, (a form of Buddhism that focuses on meditation)meditators cultivate a state of “no-mind”. In a nutshell, this is when a person tries to see the world (and their thoughts) from the perspective of a newborn baby. Simply looking at things as they are rather than by our preconceived notions. You can try this the next time you’re talking to someone. See if you can simply take in what they’re saying without overlaying things that they have said before, what you think they will say next, or what you wish they would or wouldn’t say. I think you’ll find, Dear Reader, that you might experience people in a different (more interesting) way.
Focus on the Here and Now: By focusing on the present moment, you can bring all of that mental energy back from the future and put more into what is happening right now. That gives you more battery power to do your best in any situation and helps you reduce your stress by spending less time worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. Take three deep, mindful breaths and see what happens next, Dear Reader.
Life is a mystery unfolding in each moment and sometimes it’s good to just sit back, and enjoy the ride!