Be careful about making assumptions

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Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.
—Isaac Asimov

Assumptions—we can’t function without them, but sometimes they mislead and get us into trouble. Often they are based on sound evidence and are helpful, providing order and predictability. But sometimes they are built on false premises in which case they can jeopardize critical thinking and good judgment. At their worst, assumptions are the lowest form of knowledge.

Some assumptions are helpful: I assume my house will be standing when I get home tonight; I assume my heart will keep beating; I assume my bank will accurately handle my checking account. Without the aid of basic assumptions, we would constantly be anxious, obsessive, and distracted. But we often imperil wise living when we think, “I just assumed…”

Here are some ways to analyze assumptions and separate the good from the bad.

Consider the importance of every action; the more critical the action and its consequences, the more dangerous assumptions can be.

  • I assume my car is going to start in the morning, but if my first appointment of the day is a critical job interview, I’m going to have a backup plan.
  • If I’m teaching a workshop at an unfamiliar venue, I should not assume my computer will work with the venue’s projector. I better test it the day before my workshop, because if it doesn’t sync properly, the result could be disastrous.
  • I’m depending on my friend to take me to the airport. I can assume he remembers, but I would be wise to confirm the arrangement because if my assumption is wrong, I’ll miss my flight.

Consider what the probability is of each assumption being accurate; the higher the probability, the more secure you can be in acting on the assumption.

  • I assume that the sun will rise in the morning.   [99.999999999% probability]
  • I assume that the drinking water in a developed country is purified.   [97% probability]
  • I assume my flight will leave on time. [78% probability]
  • I assume that the soap dispenser in a public restroom will work. [33% probability]

Consider the source of information and evaluate its trustworthiness.

  • An unknown mechanic tells me that I need $1,000 worth of repairs to my car. Should I assume he’s telling me the truth?
  • The office rumor-mill says that layoffs are imminent. Should I assume the rumors are true?
  • My doctor tells me my blood pressure is high. He’s a terrific physician so I assume he’s correct. Why would he lie?

Don’t embrace unsubstantiated thoughts, particularly when they are tied to critical consequences. Trust in facts and evidence.

If we don’t scrutinize our assumptions, we’ll live naively and suffer for it.
If we disallow all assumptions, we’ll be unduly paranoid and anxious.

Find the right balance.

This sweet girl made the wrong assumption. I’m glad she wasn’t hurt.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


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Tell jokes


  • A wife says to her husband, “I’ve lost five pounds.” He replies, “Oh, you finally got all your makeup off?”
  • A wife sees her husband standing on the bathroom scales, sucking in his stomach.
    She says, “That won’t help.”
    He replies, “Sure it will; otherwise I can’t read the numbers.”
  • Did you hear about the agnostic that was dyslexic? He didn’t believe there was such a thing as a dog.

Admit it. You feel better.

Not yet?

  • Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon. Neil A. spelled backwards is Alien. Anyone else freaked out right now?!?!
  • When you really want to slap someone, do it and say, “Mosquito!”

Now do you feel better?

According to, laughter has many benefits

Physical Health Benefits

• Boosts immunity
• Lowers stress hormones
• Decreases pain
• Relaxes your muscles
• Prevents heart disease

Mental Health Benefits

• Adds joy and zest to life
• Eases anxiety and fear
• Relieves stress
• Improves mood
• Enhances resilience

Social Benefits

• Strengthens relationships
• Attracts others to us
• Enhances teamwork
• Helps defuse conflict
• Promotes group bonding

Tell jokes for your own good and to benefit others.

Subscribe to and you’ll have plenty of material.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Spread hope

hope3Finding temporary and specific causes for misfortune is the art of hope. Finding permanent and universal causes for misfortune is the practice of despair. Boyd Clark

Years ago I counseled a husband and wife who were having severe marriage problems. Sitting in my office, they clung to opposite sides of the couch; the physical distance they maintained reflected the deep resentment they had for each other. At the end of the first session I gave my assessment: “You have a toxic relationship.”

I didn’t hear back from them for several weeks, so I called the wife to see if they intended to return for another session. She said, “No, Don, we’re not coming back. The last thing you said to us was that we have a toxic relationship. That seemed to be your final conclusion. We left with no hope.”

I learned a valuable lesson that day—I must always be a purveyor of hope.

I think hope is most helpful when paired with an understanding and acknowledgement of present struggle; otherwise, words of hope can sound glib, naive, or even patronizing. But when we fully embrace present difficulties, expressions of hope become believable. Regarding the past, be a realist; regarding the future, be an optimist and spread hope.

Leaders must be purveyors of hope, always giving an honest assessment of present reality but predicting a brighter future. Winston Churchill was realistic about the perils of World War II but conveyed a stubborn optimism about England’s future. After the fall of France to the Nazis, many in England felt defeated, and a sense of resignation and impending doom hovered over the populace. In a speech given to the British House of Commons, Churchill embraced the gravity of the situation—“The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us”—but he also spoke a message of hope and optimism that promoted a firm resolve and determination in the hearts of his countrymen—“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”

When was the last time you spoke words of hope to a discouraged person or group of people? Well that’s been too long. It’s really quite simple: acknowledge the challenge and then advance a realistic, plausible, and better alternative.

  • Our sales for the month are down…but we can still make our quarterly goal.
  • You’ve had a hard time finding a job…but I admire your constant effort; you’re going to land in a good place.
  • Your business failed…but this will not define your life. You’ve learned a lot, and I have no doubt that you will succeed in the future.

Maintaining hope comes from seeing the potential in every situation and staying positive despite circumstances. G. Campbell Morgan tells the story of a man whose shop burned to the ground in the great Chicago fire. He arrived at the ruins the next morning carrying a table and set it up amid the charred debris. Above the table he placed this optimistic sign: “Everything lost except wife, children, and hope. Business will resume as usual tomorrow morning.” [John Maxwell, Developing the Leaders Around You, p72]

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Have more behind the counter than you put on the shelf

Plus - recommended article - The Benefits of Despair

12248903Expressions of arrogance and pride are distasteful, almost comical.
Expressions of humility and modesty are attractive and honorable.

I am deeply moved by expressions of humility.

  • I have a friend who is President of a private bank. When he introduces himself in public he says, “My name is _______ and I work at _____ bank.”
  • I have a friend who was President of a major university. When he speaks of that time in his life he says, “For several years I served on the leadership team at ___________.”
  • I have a friend that I knew for four years before I discovered he has a Ph.D. in geology from a major research university.

These men and women are exceptional in their character, credentials, and experiences. They have accomplished a lot in life. But it takes a long time to discover their depth, because they are so humble. They have a lot more behind the counter than they put out on the shelf.

How about you? Are you eager to tell people what and who you know? When meeting people for the first time, do you quickly try to impress them with your credentials and experiences, or is your discloser slower and more subtle? Do you overstate or understate your strengths and assets? Do you hide your weaknesses and failures, or do you acknowledge them as a natural part of your life’s narrative?

I love the following story because it is utterly fascinating and, the protagonist exemplifies what I’m advocating in this essay.

The 17th century French mathematician Pierre de Fermat proffered a theorem that became the Holy Grail of math problems for 350 years: prove there are no whole-number solutions for this equation: xn + yn = zn for n greater than 2. Some mathematicians spent their entire lives trying to solve the problem; many thought it was impossible.

On June 23, 1993, Andrew Wiles—a quiet, unassuming professor of mathematics at Princeton University—stood before his peers at a conference in Cambridge and for several hours scribbled math equations on the chalkboard. Finally, he said, “I think I’ll stop here,” and put down the chalk. He had solved Fermat’s Enigma. With little fanfare, he had deciphered one of the most complicated problems in mathematics and then simply said, “I think I’ll stop here.”

Understated. Humble. Let’s follow suit.

[The book, Fermat’s Enigma by Singh, tells the whole story; it is a must-read. There are many videos on YouTube about Fermat’s Theorem. For a four-minutes summary click here.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

What? — Humility is a noble virtue; bragging is not. We should be slow to reveal the depths of our personal assets and strengths.
So what? — Always have more behind the counter than you put on the shelf.
Now what? — If necessary, adjust your thinking about this issue.

Occasionally, I’ll include in a post, the link to an interesting article which addresses a different topic than the post.

Here’s a great article – The Benefits of Despair – written by Lisa Feldman (June 5, 2016; New York Times) She shares some good thoughts about why “emotional granularity” is beneficial. Sam Harris says, “We read for the pleasure and benefit of knowing another person’s thoughts.” Read and benefit from Feldman’s insights. Click here for the article.

Learn from bad role models

Plus - recommended article - Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person

rolemodel3Role models provide an effective shortcut to learning. Find someone who is succeeding at what you want to do or who you want to be, study her, and copy her actions.

You can also learn from bad role models. Find someone who is failing at what you want to do or who you want to be, study him, and avoid the undesirable traits.

For instance:

  • Recently, I read a book that was poorly written. I was frustrated trying to make sense of the author’s sequence of thoughts (or lack of). I analyzed what it was that made his writing disjointed, and now I want to eliminate those characteristics from my writing.
  • I observed a leader who is autocratic, egocentric, and draconian. I don’t want to be like that.
  • I was annoyed by someone who talked too much. Do I do that? (Probably not; my wife calls me the king of brevity.)
  • I have an acquaintance who is reliably late to all our appointments. That bothers me and prompts me to analyze myself: Am I ever tardy?
  • I studied under a professor who was intentionally intimidating. I found it very unappealing.

Young people are particularly susceptible to the influence of role models so, parents and teachers, teach them the value of identifying both positive role models and anti-role models; train them to be selective in whom they idolize and emulate.

Question: What are your thoughts about this topic? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Recommended Article

Occasionally, I’ll include in a post, the link to an interesting article which addresses a different topic than the post.

Here’s a great article – Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person – written by Alain De Botton (May 29, 2016; New York Times).  He shares some good thoughts about why marriage is so difficult. My favorite sentence in the article is: “In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be, ‘And how are you crazy?'” Click here for the article.