Before you set your goals – check your limiting assumptions

Posted on: January 2, 2015

The start of a new year usually heralds a host of sincere resolutions for things that you will do differently or better in future. Many start a new year with revised goals.

Much of my work is spent straddling two ponies – strategy for organisations on the one hand and people development and motivation on the other. The two need to work in harmony for real change to occur.

I learned some time back that a powerful tool in my coaching armoury could not only help people set more ambitious goals but also increase their determination and effectiveness at achieving them. It often leads to transformational change.

Whilst all coaching processes include a stage where goals are developed, not all direct you to examine your limiting assumptions. These are deeply held beliefs – sometimes unconscious – that limit your horizons and aspirations. They may lead you to believe that you do not have the ability to achieve more. They may lead you to think that those around you will not support you. They may force you to look at the world with a narrow perspective and to remain within established boundaries and practices.

Assumptions prove dangerous in strategy too. When a group of leaders share the same (often wrong) assumptions, they risk “group think” where together they hold onto and plan for a flawed model of reality. In strategy, you would devote time to thorough analysis to reveal and perhaps refute such assumptions. Creative thinkers examine, redefine and reframe assumptions.

So. Having set yourself some goals for the new year, stop and reflect. Think about the limiting assumptions that you have adopted as you set those goals. Now consider whether those limiting assumptions are real – or whether they can be challenged, revised or over-ruled. Then return to your goals and see how they might be changed now that these self-imposed limits have been removed.

Here are some quotes to inspire you:

  • “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
  • “Treat with utmost respect your power of forming opinions, for this power alone guards you against making assumptions that are contrary to nature and judgments that overthrow the rule of reason” Marcus Aurelius
  • “Most of our assumptions have outlived their uselessness.” Marshall McLuhan
  • “When you’re surrounded by people who share the same set of assumptions as you, you start to think that’s reality”. Emily Levine
  • “You must stick to your conviction, but be ready to abandon your assumptions” Denis Waitley
  • “The creative individual has the capacity to free himself from the web of social pressures in which the rest of us are caught. He is capable of questioning the assumptions that the rest of us accept” John W. Gardner
  • “We’re living in a whole new social and economic order with a whole new set of problems and challenges. Old assumptions and old programs don’t work in this new society and the more we try to stretch them to make them fit, the more we will be seen as running away from what is reality” Ann Richards

And one of my favourite poems (by Robert Graves) is also on the theme of assumptions:

In Broken Images

He is quick, thinking in clear images;

I am slow, thinking in broken images.

He becomes dull, trusting to his clear images;

I become sharp, mistrusting my broken images,

Trusting his images, he assumes their relevance;

Mistrusting my images, I question their relevance.

Assuming their relevance, he assumes the fact,

Questioning their relevance, I question the fact.

When the fact fails him, he questions his senses;

When the fact fails me, I approve my senses.

He continues quick and dull in his clear images;

I continue slow and sharp in my broken images.

He in a new confusion of his understanding;

I in a new understanding of my confusion.

 

I wish you a freer, more creative and ambitious New Year. Kim Tasso.

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