I take a break. I stare out the window. From the outside, my eyes seem to be drawn outward. In reality, my vision is drawn inward. My thoughts introspective.

I shift my gaze to the right. I see a man. He is wearing a blue ball cap, blue jeans, blue sneakers, blue polo. I am struck by blue!

He is staring out the window, his gaze outward. Outward? I am assuming. He’s in his fifties, on a lunch break. Is he? I feel myself make up a story. I really do not know. 

I am fascinated by the knowing and not knowing of people and situations. I notice the outward appearances, colours, movements and facial expressions. I observe. I wonder about the situation. I speculate, extrapolate. We all do it.

I have become more and more curious about assumptions being made about me, others, the world.

Why?

I am learning the significance of checking in on the stories we tell ourselves at any given moment.

I leave the office ready for a walk, for a break. I look forward to quiet time, to walk and put aside my emails, tasks and deadlines. 

I step forward. I take a self-selected thirty minute walking break. I am working on instilling two habits – taking work breaks and filling those breaks with walking to get fit. 

Several weeks ago, I participated in a Fitbit ‘Workweek Hustle’ challenge – competing to get the most steps between Monday and Friday – with a competitive group of friends. What a great way to instill a habit! Getting those steps takes planning, effort and a little healthy competition. The good news for me is that my walking stats increase significantly during the challenges!

I spend about five minutes walking across the street and towards a shopping centre near my office. I feel myself smile outward and inward. I am ready to breath out the morning and welcome the break. I am steps into the doorway towards my favourite walking spot when …

My mobile phone buzzes. 

I pick up. 

Habit. Damn! I could have left it to voicemail. 

Habit. I answer. 

“Hey Lucy, I’m in your area. I need your help. Where are you?”, I hear the voice say.

Before I know it, I am pivoting. The phone call turns into an invitation to visit my office to continue the conversation. I hang up and walk back to my office.

Just as I reach the doorway to enter the building, I stop. I step back. 

It occurs to me that I had made an assumption. I assumed that my visitor is coming straight away. 

I was wrong. 

I reflect on this memory as a lesson about making assumptions. This assumption is on me. It would have taken one quick question from me on timing: “Are you coming now?, I could have asked.

The answer would have been, if I had asked: “No, I’ll be there in about thirty minutes.”

I could have continued on my walk and hosted my visitor after my much needed break.

This is a relatively harmless assumption. What about the assumptions we make about what others think about us, believe about us and how they feel about us?! Assumptions leading to misunderstanding and unnecessary drawn-out drama. As creative beings, we are very good at stories. It’s a gift. It’s a curse.

“The creative individual has the capacity to free himself from the web of social pressures in which the rest of us are caught,’ John W. Gardner said, “He is capable of questioning the assumptions that the rest of us accept.”

As creative individuals, we also have the immense capacity to build relationship. In the building of relationship, having open dialogues about what we want, need and expect is vital. Breaking through assumptions starts with noticing the assumptions being made in the first place.

How do we know that we understand?

We say so. Choose your response: Understood. Copy that. 10-4. And if not, ask.

I am building this habit into my interactions and in my vernacular. I am striving more to check in on my assumptions and ask. I believe it is even more vital to acknowledge by saying one of: ‘Understood. Copy that. 10-4”. I love the short form of these expressions.

In my continuing learning journey, I’ve noticed that to check in on assumptions, it is helpful to notice the inner twinges that signal an assumption being made. For me, it’s when I notice myself take a mental and physical pause. I quite literally Stop.

Here’s a strategy that works. When you find yourself making an assumption, do this:

S: Step back – literally and figuratively

T: Think with your Gut: What’s most important, right now? What does your gut instinct tell you?

E: Evaluate your thoughts, your assumptions, your expectations, your feelings.

P: Proceed

This mental exercise allows us to slow down, pause and re-think an assumption, decision, emotional response.

I stare out the window. I STEP back with my thoughts. I pause. I reflect. I proceed. I am curious. I shift my gaze. I take in the view and suspend judgement. I just notice and enjoy the sights and sounds.

It’s time to take a break.

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