Throw Away Your Assumptions

Plato’s famous allegory of the cave is a powerful analogy for understanding the effect assumptions have on our lives. The myth resolves around prisoners chained inside a cave. Behind them is a fire, and other people walk inform of that fire, which creates shadows. The prisoners are unable to see these other people, and can only see the shadows.

For these prisoners, it is only these shadows that comprise reality. They don’t know that the shadows are really reflections of people that the fire is creating.

Our conception of the world (and the way we see ourselves in it) is a group of biases and assumptions about the way things work. There are so many different points of view, belief systems, and possible interpretations of an event. As we grow up and begin to understand the world around us, we create assumptions about everything—this isn’t inherently bad. Assumptions are extremely useful in decision making, and they help us not get too caught up or lost with mundane or repetitive things. For example, we assume that the next step we take will be on solid ground, that the food we buy is safe to eat, and that we will get paid next Friday.

However, there exists a dark side to overreliance on assumptions. Assumptions can keep our minds closed to new information. For example, assumptions one has about the best method to get a job can keep many people unemployed. Assumptions can also hold us back from personal growth, or being humble enough to accept life’s surprises. At their worst, when we fail at something, assumptions can needlessly pin feelings of unhappiness and despair on ourselves.

The solution isn’t to determine and accept the “right” assumptions instead of the “wrong ones.” Many assumptions aren’t really much better than their opposites. The solution is to make a habit of periodically checking one’s assumptions—testing them continuously, and being willing to at least temporarily dislodge them in the face of new information.

So if you are ready and willing to make significant changes to your life, be willing to drop your preconceived assumptions.


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