Making an Assumption Can Lead to Stress

Have you ever made an assumption about someone or something? Of course you have. We all have done it. Unfortunately, assumptions are the mother of so many screw-ups because they are often based on false beliefs. These can lead to botched situations, missed opportunities, troubled relationships, and ultimately stress.

Consider this example: A father is walking through the forest with his three-year-old daughter. As they are walking, he repeatedly tells her to stay on the path. The little girl is walking all around. She looks at a green fern, a red bush, and meanders here and there. The father repeatedly says, “Stay on the path. I told you to stay on the path.” Eventually, he gets so angry with her that he pulls her over, shakes her a bit, and shouts, “I told you to stay on the path!” The little girl looks up at him with tears in her eyes and says, “Daddy, what’s a path?”

Clearly, the father made an assumption about what he believed his daughter knew and did not know. As a result, his stress level increased—all because of a simple assumption.

Assumption vs Expectation

Some people interchange the term “assumption” with “expectation.” However, to make the difference clear, “expectation” connotes looking forward to or anticipating something, whereas “assumption” indicates something taken for granted. The prime point to understand is that articulating someone else’s motivation is both an assumption and guesswork. No one can know for certain the motivation of other people—and in many cases, people won’t or are unable to articulate their own motivation.

False assumptions are prevalent in thousands of classrooms in schools of all grade levels. (I can attest to this having served as an elementary, middle, and high school principal.) Specifically, teachers teach a lesson and assume students have learned what was taught—without checking to see that ALL students know how to implement the lesson.

Check Your Assumptions

My wife’s thinking is rather circular; mine is linear. In order for me to truly understand my wife’s communications to me, I do not assume I know what she wants. I continually check to be sure I understand that what I hear is what she meant. Perhaps, the point can be “humorized”: “I know you believe you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Learning to check your assumptions is something you can do if you focus on it. Assuming we know a person’s motivation is common and even necessary in certain situations. For example, my wife writes novels, and explaining motivation is often critical for character development. In real life, however, assuming another person’s motivation is guesswork.

I no longer waste time and energy trying to identify the motivations of other people. Instead I have learned to focus solely on behavior. I find that this approach allows me to make better decisions, have better relations, feel less stress, and have more control in a conversation.


My new book, Live Without Stress: How to Enjoy the Journey, is now available as a Kindle book. This book will show how to use some simple strategies to significantly reduce your stress, promote responsibility, increase your effectiveness, improve your relationships, and truly enjoy life’s experiences.